Manchester Student Wes Heath offers a review of the recent Soulforce Symposium held at Manchester College
Note from Director of Programs Jason Conner: This Symposium would not have been possible without the tireless and valiant efforts made by Wes. Our thanks go to him for making this such an exceptional event!
After just under a year’s worth of organizing, conference calls, reservations, and possibly hundreds of emails, I was very excited to see Jason Conner and J. Mason pull onto the campus. After a quick meal at Manchester’s finest restaurant, El Mesquite, we returned to campus for a quick tour and made our way to the location for the Leadership and Non-violence training. Upon arriving, we were all excited to see that we already had a good crowd waiting. After a few minutes of preparation, the presenters and the audience were both ready to begin.
The atmosphere was fantastic! Jason introduced Soulforce and the meaning of their visit to campus, and J. Mason introduced the training. Everyone seemed very intrigued and receptive as the presentation carried on. The audience was made up of several Peace Studies students, student leaders from several different organizations on campus, and a few faculty and staff members. In total, the amount of visitors was around 30 people, and proved to be the perfect size group. People were comfortable questioning the topics that did not make sense or that were not agreed with, while others felt the one-on-one attention of the Soulforce crew. After the training, several students made their way to the front to thank Jason and Mason for the wonderful opportunity. We also heard from two students who drove all the way from Cincinnati, OH to hear the dynamic duo speak!
The next day at 3:30 in the afternoon, Soulforce was heard once again on campus. This time, they were here to provide a convocation requirement for many students known as VIAs (values, ideas, and the arts) at Manchester. The panel arrived early to prepare while Jason and Mason made last minute arrangements. Originally we had ordered 250 chairs for the program, but as time quickly faded, we realized the need for more seating. In total, another 50 chairs were added, and the VIA still had people filling up the aisles and standing along the wall without seats. We quickly estimated that roughly 400 students were in attendance making this the biggest turn-out in Soulforce history for their panel. Panelists Mason, Dorothy, Michael, Cheri, and Whitnee took their seats while Barb (professor of social work), the moderator, introduced the schedule of events. Questions dwelt with personal definitions of intersectional justice, how society and individuals can help with intersectional justice, and what groups are currently working to achieve intersectional goals. The audience was captivated by some of the emotional answers in which panelists told of their minorities and stories of social denial and acceptance. Following the convocation, several students stayed behind to discuss their insights with the panel and the Soulforce crew. One particular conversation lasted well over forty-five minutes!
Later that evening, Soulforce and students reconvened for a night of open mic and the performance from J. Mason (J. Mase III). The crowd was a good size, roughly 30 people, which helped keep the event on a personal level, and with a variety of talent. Joseph Myers, a sophomore Communication and English major was first to present at the open mic. His poem recalled an array of stereotypes that surround the Black community while refusing his participation or acceptance in a single one. Following suit, students read segments of autobiographical essays, told stories of their pasts, and continued with emotional poetry. As a nice intermission, Jason Conner taught the attendees his infamous “Window Dance!” Complementing the talent of Jason, J. Mase III took the stage with his impressive, comical, and emotional routine of poetry. All-in-all, the evening was very inspiring and uplifting.
Soulforce was an amazing experience for Manchester College, and I, on behalf of everyone here, would like to thank them for the outreach, talent, and charisma that they brought to us!
Wes Heath is the co-president of the Active Inclusive Movement or AIM at Manchester College. He was the student liason for the recent Soulforce Symposium.
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