Kicking off the Middlebury Institute’s Center for Conflict Studies’ fourth annual conference “Breaking Down Shades of Color: Power, Privilege and Potential in Race Conflicts,” poet, activist, former Black Panther and political prisoner Ericka Huggins asked the audience to become allies against racism. In her Thursday evening talk, she asked the audience to discuss and share thoughts on this topic as she shared her experiences, observations and suggestions. By becoming allies we are in effect providing a powerful anti-dote against racism. It was an inspiring start to the conference which continues through Saturday.
Ericka’s political activism began in 1963 when she attended the “March on Washington.” She was a leader in the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party with her husband John Huggins. Three weeks after the birth of their daughter her husband was killed. Following his murder Ericka moved to New Haven Connecticut to be with his family and opened up a chapter there. She and party leader Bobby Seale were arrested on conspiracy charges in 1969 and Ericka was forced to spend time in solitary confinement as she awaited trial for two years before charges were dropped. For the past 35 years Ericka has lectured on human rights, restorative justice and the role of spiritual practice in sustaining activism. She encouraged audience members at the opening session of the conference to do their part, saying “If there is a need, step forward and meet it.”
Dr. Pushpa Iyer, Institute professor and founding director of the Center for Conflict Studies remarks that it is hard to find a conflict today, especially an identity based conflict, where race is not an important factor. “It is therefore crucial that we break down the many shades of color – symbolically described – to develop in-depth understanding of the many facets of race, its histories, challenge the different roles it plays in conflicts and most importantly build on the opportunities it provides to develop greater respect for identities.”
Visit the Center for Conflict Studies website for more information about its programs and events.