Bestselling author and professor visits Ford House

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QUESTIONS ANSWERED | The event allowed a panel of students from the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods to ask Dr. Kendi questions regarding the topic of racism and “The Other America”. Senior attendee Maelisa Watkins expresses her gratitude for Dr. Kendi’s advice and the sense of community that was created at the event. “It was truly an amazing experience, just to see all these students coming together for the same cause, to see [Dr. Ibram X. Kendi] being able to answer their questions and to see the discussion that was going on, it was awesome,” Watkins said.

March 14 marked the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Grosse Pointe South, where he delivered his “The Other America” speech to 3,000 spectators. This was one of King’s last public appearances before his assasination three weeks later. In remembrance of King’s speech, the Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hosted an event called “The Other America 2022”, a nod to the title of King’s speech, at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. This event featured bestselling author and professor Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, who is most known for his books “How to be an Antiracist” and “Stamped from the Beginning.” Dr. Kendi shared his views of our current society, alluding to some of the ideas that Dr. King highlighted in his 1968 speech.

Rather than a traditional audience-speaker style, students from the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods served as panelists, who asked Dr. Kendi questions about topics such as community change, the polarization of society and overcoming racist boundaries. 

Dr. King came to Grosse Pointe after his presence had been requested in a letter from racial equality activist Jude Huetteman. Huetteman later received a letter from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that her request had been granted. Following King’s arrival at a nearby hotel, Huetteman accompanied him to his speech at South.

For her involvement in King’s visit, Huetteman was honored at the “The Other America 2022”. Principal Dr. Kate Murray recognizes Huetteman’s instrumental role in bringing King to Grosse Pointe.

“[Hutteman’s] three children were there that evening to tell the story of their mother, her activism and the details that they remembered from that day and what was happening to their family during that time period and it was riveting,” Murray said.

Additionally, the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit performed at the event. Mosaic is made up of young people from Metro Detroit who receive professional arts coaching and training, and travel both locally and internationally on tours. Senior attendee and panelist, Anaya Winesberry, reflected that their energy filled the room and allowed the audience to form a relationship as a group. 

“The Mosaic Youth Theater did an interactive performance, where they had the whole audience stand up and sing and dance with them,” Winesberry said. “I thought that was so cool because the community in the room was created so quickly.”

As one of the several students that had the opportunity to join Dr. Kendi on the stage, Winesberry was able to ask a prepared question. She expressed that the process of choosing only a single question to ask Dr. Kendi was a difficult task, but ultimately she requested his insight on the most efficient ways to make change regarding inclusion. 

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with administration and teachers and students about the changes that we want to see in terms of inclusion [at school], but I never really knew how to go about actually changing any policies,” Winesberry said. “I thought asking Dr. Kendi would be a good way to get me started on that path, and he told me to figure out what policies actually need changing, and then to figure out who can change those policies.”

Prior to the March 14 presentation, Winesberry was familiar with Dr. Kendi’s work through portions of his book “How to be an Antiracist.” She emphasizes the profound level at which the author both writes and speaks, and says that her biggest takeaway from the novel was his discussion of the word “not racist” versus “anti-racism.”

“It really stuck with me when he talked about how racism is so ingrained in our society,” Winesberry said. “That it’s more important to try to actively be anti-racist than to try to not be racist, or try to not associate yourself with that label.”

Dr. Kendi’s ideas not only inspired his audience, they allowed the room to feel comfortable and confident with expressing their own opinions. Senior and event attendee Maelisa Watkins noticed that the mindset was similar among all of the attendees. She felt as though she was in a safe space where her thoughts mattered and her questions were valid.

We need to create space for people to come together and talk about things like this, especially in a city like Grosse Pointe. I feel like, as a person of color, a lot of things slip under the rug.”

— Maelisa Watkins, senior

“We need to create space for people to come together and talk about things like this, especially in a city like Grosse Pointe,” Watkins said. “I feel like, as a person of color, a lot of things slip under the rug.”

The comforting space created allowed the panelists to ask a variety of questions, which all received profound answers. Dr. Kendi shared details from his own life and knowledge, and pushed the students in his audience to make change of their own. Winesberry will take his words with her as she works with North students to promote inclusivity. 

“I have a lot of ideas just from the encouragement that [Dr. Kendi] gave me to network with certain people,” Winesberry said. “I’m definitely going to try and do some things with the other Black Student Unions at other schools. His advice really helped me, and I’ll take it to heart.”