Melanie-Anne Atkins is hoping people leave Tuesday’s City Symposium in London, Ont., feeling energized, educated and empowered to confront anti-Black racism in their own lives.
The acting associate director of graduate programs at Western University’s Centre for Teaching and Learning is a co-host of the latest in a series of City Symposiums that began in 2019. Tuesday’s is the seventh event and the third to be conducted virtually due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
Each event focuses on a specific topic and features speakers from a variety of professions — artists, researchers, activists and civil servants, for example.
“We’ve got some really great guests, just from a broad range of experience,” Atkins told Devon Peacock on The Morning Show on Global News Radio 980 CFPL.
“I think it’s important that people come away with a sense of energy and a sense of what they can do to confront anti-Black racism both in their own lives and then start to have some really difficult conversations in their outer lives, their professional lives as well.”
While public dialogue surrounding anti-Black racism has increased since the May 25 death of George Floyd in the United States and the resulting demonstrations, Atkins says the July 7 symposium topic was borne out of her experience during the May 7 City Symposium on quality education.
“I was hosting and someone had gone into our panel chats, and they posted over and over and over again ‘kill all’ and then N-word, but they said the word, over and over and over again in our private chat,” Atkins explained.
She said she posted about it on her personal Facebook page and was struck by the messages from friends who were dismayed and angry about what had happened.
“It was almost like there was this groundswell of people who were starting to confront this in their own lives and see that it’s here and it’s happening right now. So this experience, for me, happened before George Floyd happened, before that amazing 10,000 people who stood with Black people around the city,” she explained, referencing the Black Lives Matter march in London, which has been described as the largest protest the city has ever seen.
“So then, when I saw that happen, I said, ‘OK. This may be something, a movement, something is changing. People are ready to have those conversations all over the world and also in our own community.’ But now we have to decide, will we go back when things get back to normal or will we change?”
Atkins adds that almost 300 people have already contributed questions for the symposium, which gets underway at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Atkins and Dobijoki Emanuela, a Western University doctor of education candidate, will co-host the event.
The panellists include Colette Chapman, a clinical social worker and former president of the Congress of Black Women; Nyabuoy Gatbel, an author, poet, activist and University of Calgary student; Leroy Hibbert, multicultural outreach co-ordinator at LUSO Community Services and a member of several local education-related committees; Arielle Kayabaga, city councillor and community activist; and Malvin Wright, a community development practitioner, founding member of the Black London Network and member of the board of directors for Pillar Nonprofit Network.
A concert will be held beforehand at 6:40 p.m. with Matthew Atkins. Registration for the event is free and expected to be open until the event gets underway.