People who want to discuss how the present-day Black Lives Matter movement and the legacy of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s affects Harford County residents can participate in an online forum, “An Uncomfortable Conversation: National Events with Local Implications Concerning Race, Equity, and Justice,” on Thursday.
The forum, which is being hosted by the Harford Civil Rights Project at Harford Community College, is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and can be viewed live via Microsoft Teams link. A panel discussion will happen first, followed by an audience participation session — participants can submit comments and questions using the Microsoft Teams text feature.
The forum was organized following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police May 25 and the subsequent protests that happened nationwide, including multiple demonstrations in Harford County, according to James Karmel, a history professor at HCC and director of the Harford Civil Rights Project.
People have been protesting against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which started as a social media campaign in 2013 following the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who had been charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in 2012.
Black Lives Matter has reached “I think, a critical mass” in 2020, Karmel said Monday.
“I think that there is a demonstrated interest in the community to have these conversations” about relations between police and the Black community, according to Karmel, who noted that a number of local organizations, including the Harford County chapter of the NAACP and Bridge Maryland, have recently issued recommendations to police agencies in Harford to improve relations between them and minority communities.
The panel scheduled for Thursday consists of about eight people, including staffers with the Harford Civil Rights Project, representatives of Harford’s faith community, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, the local chapter of the Coming to the Table community organization, as well as HCC faculty, staff and students, according to a news release from the college.
Karmel said, when asked what he expects people will take away from the forum, that his first hope is participants “would have a chance to express themselves.”
“I would also hope that they have some, maybe, broader awareness about how the national issues are impacting people locally,” he added.
Police brutality is the main concern for many people now because of recent events, but “to me, it’s a deeper issue,” Karmel said.
“To me, the current issues related to law enforcement stem from bigger issues in society,” he said, noting racial inequality that persists in the areas of education, health care, income, employment, housing, as well as “de facto” segregation, despite progress made since the 1960s.
Those issues manifest in the difference between the quality of life in Harford County communities north and south of I-95 and Route 40. Karmel described those highways as “almost like an invisible line that separates people” in the county. He also highlighted the COVID-19 pandemic, which “has brought out major disparities” in health care in the U.S.
“I don’t have the solutions, but I think we want to have the conversations and address and identify what is going on and bring people together surrounding these issues of race and civil rights,” Karmel said.
The work of the Harford Civil Rights Project, which was created with more than $97,000 in grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, started in 2019. The three-year project is designed to get HCC students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the community, involved in documenting the history of and studying the history of the 20th Century civil rights movement in Harford County, plus build connections between that movement and present-day movements for racial equality, according to the news release.
Key project goals involve creating a digital archive of historical records from the 20th Century movement, plus a GPS-enabled app that people can use to visit sites around Harford where events related to the movement happened, according to a brochure provided by Karmel.
Multiple civil rights project activities happened during the 2019-2020 academic year at HCC. Such activities included nearly 500 students working on civil rights related projects in their classes. Curricula also has been developed for a number of drama, English and history courses, according to a list provided by Karmel.
A number of presentations involving people involved in the civil rights struggle or those affected by segregation in Harford County have happened at HCC this year, such as programs involving graduates of the former Central Consolidated School in Hickory or Willie Stamps, who advocated for the desegregation of Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace in the early 1960s.
Karmel said another goal of the project is to determine what aspects of the 20th Century civil rights movement can be applied to 21st Century movements.
“To the extent that the project can help enact positive change where necessary in Harford, we’d like to pursue that, mainly through providing forums for people to communicate,” Karmel said.