Sue Hyde, the director of the National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change Conference, began a chant for thousands of conference attendees during the opening session for the Racial Justice Institute.
“What do we need?” Hyde asked the crowd.
“Racial justice,” the crowd chanted back.
“When do we need it?” Hyde responded into the microphone.
“Now,” the crowd shouted back.
The Racial Justice Institute began the 29th-annual five-day national traveling conference, which is being held at the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott.
During the opening session Wednesday, Hyde said she reflected on the meaning of the day as the country enters a new presidential administration.
“There is nothing more important than focusing ourselves, our minds, our bodies, our hearts, our souls, on the building of a more racially just LGBTQ movement and a more racially just society,” Hyde said.
After Hyde’s introduction, Task Force Deputy Executive Director Russell Roybal spoke about his experiences with the Racial Justice Institute. Roybal attended his first Creating Change Conference in 1995 in Detroit, Mich. The first session he went to was called the People of Color Organizing Institute.
“It literally transformed my life, my thinking, my political analysis and I will always be grateful and indebted not only to the faculty that day but to the participants that I got to meet,” Roybal said. “It made me want to do this work and to use a racial- and economic-justice lens through all of the work that I’ve done since then.”
Roybal talked about the importance of attendees using what they learned after the conference concludes.
“It is important that we continue this work throughout the weekend so that what we talk about today doesn’t only happen in this space but happens throughout the conference and that we take it home to our organizations in our home communities,” Roybal said.
Attendees broke into pairs to discuss experiences with conversations on race, times when they witnessed racist acts and other topics on racism and intersectionality.
The Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, the president and founder of the Washington Consulting Group, spoke to the audience about how the conversations would be facilitated for the day.
“We want to send a message that every voice and perspective matters,” Washington said. “This is not going to be a space where we are talking at you. This is going to be a space where we are going to be engaged with each other.”
Additionally, Washington talked about honoring the work of others who did activism work in the past. He mentioned the legacy of Native American people and the “LGBTQAI folks who suffered, struggled and shared” for the conference attendees to be in this space.
“In order for us to fight for racial justice in 2017, we must recognize those who went before us,” Washington said. “This didn’t start with us and it won’t end with us. Our work today is to look at ‘now what.’”
Conversations continued in morning breakout sessions where individuals could separate into four rooms designated based on their identities and whether they attended the conference in the past. The rooms included: people of color and multiracial first-timers; people of color and multiracial returners; white first-timers; and white returners.
During the session for white first-timers, participants shared experiences of realizing their white privilege and how they can be allies to people of color. Lois McCullen Parr, who co-facilitated the session, said that "people who identify as white are taught not to talk about race and in fact given negative messages that if you talk about whiteness, it's a bad thing." She said white individuals need to examine how they have been socialized, and in turn, step out of that socialization.
"That takes learning and introspection and paying attention to feelings and what's in your body and being willing to be uncomfortable," Parr said. "So we're inviting people to embrace discomfort as a place for growth."
In the afternoon, participants engaged in sessions where they could share experiences with individuals matching their identities. Workshops were in place for people of color; multi- and biracial people; white people; and trans and genderqueer people. Some rooms also had mixtures of all races.