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Black History Month Chat with Dr. Steve Michael and Dr.George Garrison from Kent State University
Students from five Yerevan and six US schools participated in an online chat culminating the end of Black History Month. Dr. Steve Michael, Vice-Provost for Diversity and Academic Initiatives at Kent State University, and Dr. George Garrison, Professor in the Department of Pan African Studies at Kent State University, answered students’ questions related to the black history in general and particularly Malcolm X and Martin Luther King as prominent Afro-American leaders. Before the online discussions the students were asked to view the film “Malcolm X” to have a better understanding of the topic. Below is the chat transcript::

Nune_Amiryan: Hello everybody! I am happy to welcome everybody to the online chat on Black History Month. During the one-week online discussions on the topic of black history the students explored different internet resources, got familiarized with the roots of the black history and the most prominent figures that have had some significant contributions in the world history. The students will be given opportunity to learn more about the black history through directly asking questions to the experts on the above-mentioned topic, Dr. Steve Michael and Dr. George Garrison.

Steve_Michael: Good morning from Steve Michael and George Garrison from Kent State University, USA

Nune_Amiryan: Today’s chat is to serve as a culmination of all discussions held virtually. Hope it will serve to further enhance the knowledge you have obtained during one-week online research/ offline discussions and one-week online discussions.

Nune_Amiryan: I would like to introduce myself! I am Nune Amiryan, Partnership Coordinator at Project Harmony-Armenia! I will be facilitating the chat from Armenian side and Naomi Wachs from US side will be moderating it.

Naomi_Wachs: And I\'m Naomi... I will try to organize everybody\'s questions and post them. I ask that you be patient while Dr. Garrison and Michael type answers to your questions...

George_Garrison_professor: I am George Garrison, Professor of the Department of Pan African Studies at Kent State University

Nune_Amiryan: Dear students. Let me introduce Dr. Steve Michael! Dr. Steve O. Michael is the Vice-Provost for Diversity and Academic Initiatives at Kent State University. His administrative experience includes directorship of the Center for International and Intercultural Education and interim Associate Deanship of Education. Dr. Michael was an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow in 2000-2001 under the President of Carnegie Mellon University. He also served part of his fellowship year under the Vice-Chancellors of the City University of London and the University of Bath in England. Steve Michael is a professor of higher education administration with a specialization in higher education finance and strategic management.

Nune_Amiryan: Welcome to the chat session, Dr. Garrison! I was going to introduce you! Thanks for introduction.

Naomi_Wachs: I have a lot of questions coming in now... I\'ll start putting one or two out there...

Muradyan_Karapet: How do you celebrate those holidays connected with black history?

Muradyan_Karapet: We would like to know about the life of Martin Luther King. In your opinion, why he was murdered and by whom?

Steve_Michael: Many organizations and institutions celebrate the Month differently, but something they all have in common is attention to the past struggles of Black people, to the current struggles for social justice that transcend the Black race.

John_Davidek: Hi, this is John Davidek, teacher at Flint SW Academy...some of my 11th-graders are online this a.m. My first question has to do with the celebration of BHM. Is it still light of the dramatic changes in American history and society regarding African American achievement? Take Academy Awards, for instance...

Mane_Esayan_from_Yerevan: I am Mane from Yerevan! I watched the film and I want to know do you think that Malcolm was right when he changed his religion in the prison? And what do you think could he win the struggle if he were Christian?

Steve_Michael: Professor Garrison and I will try to respond to as many questions as possible. I have responded to the question of how we celebrate the BHM. The important goal of the Month is to draw attention to the past struggle of the Black race and to draw attention to the ongoing struggle for social justice that goes beyond the Black race

George_Garrison_professor: Yes, it is, and I think it will for some time yet, since there is no uniformity in this country concerning the content of African and African American History and Culture, and what K-12 students are receiving. Hence, quite a few school districts are not yet doing a thorough job on educating them about this subject.

Steve_Michael: Is the Month still necessary, YES. As long as we have injustice in our society, here in America, and anywhere in the world, there is a need for us to use this platform to draw the World\'s attention to this problem

Naomi_Wachs: We have a few student answers to Mane\'s question...

Muradyan_Karapet: Hi!.yes, I think he was right when he changed his religion on the prison.(To Mane Esayan)

Kuchatyan_Narek: No he wasn\'t and I think could win if he were Christian.

Nune_Amiryan: Dear students, please respect each other. Before asking questions to the experts please wait until they answer the previous question. Be brief in asking questions.

Steve_Michael: Professor Garrison will answer the question regarding why he changed his religion

George_Garrison_professor: Malcolm X changed his religion to Islam, because one of his brothers introduced him to the religion. His father had been a Christian Minister. He embraced Islam, the Nation of Islam, because he saw in it an opportunity to address the problem of racism and discrimination that African Americans were facing in this country.

From_Elina: How did Elijah Muhammad influence Malcolm\'s future life?

Steve_Michael: However, I should say that the Black race has always used religion as part of their struggles because they are a deeply spiritual group of people.

Ohanyan__Gurgen: Why Shabazz was called \'\'the angriest black in America\'\'?

Steve_Michael: Elijah Mohammed was a mentor at a point and his spiritual guidance.

George_Garrison_professor: Elijah Muhammad became Malcolm X\'s teacher. He taught him about the philosophy of Black Nationalism. This would be perceived as the strategy necessary to free African Americans. He also taught Malcolm X about his history and culture, and the fact that Black people were the originators of the first civilization, and had made many contributions to the development of world culture.

John_Davidek: Hi, this is Mr. Davidek...on another link. I\'m wondering if one of the prof\'s could give opinion on the Christianity/Islam switch of X: Was it because the Christian religion was \"tainted\" by white history/society?

George_Garrison_professor: Shabazz was called the angriest man in America, because he was totally dedicated to the cause of Black Liberation in this country, and it placed him in direct confrontation with the forces of oppression

Steve_Michael: With respect to Christianity and Islam, I believe all religions hate injustice. However, in the United States, the perpetrators of injustice happened to be Christians. They traded and owned slaves. Therefore, it is conceivable that one who seeks freedom from this oppression would also seek freedom from the religion of his perpetrators.

George_Garrison_professor: Although many things have changed for the good since Malcolm X was assassinated, still today there are many disparities between African Americas and White Americans in the areas of education, economics, politics, etc. Whites still have greater advantages than African Americans.

Lilit_Galstyan_from_Yerevan: Hi, I am Lilit. I am interested in American history. I know some facts about them. I would like to give you some questions about Afro-Americans. Does your country organize anything to protect Afro-Americans against racial discrimination?

Steve_Michael: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian Minister and he led the struggle effectively using the platform of Christianity

Steve_Michael: Most Black Americans use Churches and Christianity as the basis for their Struggle and we still do today.

George_Garrison_professor: Yes, the political system over the last century has evolved laws that make racial discrimination illegal, and there are important constitutional amendments--14th--that protect African American equally under the laws. The Civil Rights Bills of 1964, 1965 and 1968 have also advanced the cause of African Americans in this country.

Juleta_Vardanyan: We heard about an outstanding person: Nelson Mandela. He led the fight against Apartheid in South African Republic. Does this struggle has something in common with the struggle for the rights of Afro-Americans in the US?

Steve_Michael: There is also a general feeling among the Black race that a white man is not true to the religion he upholds insofar as he oppresses and discriminates against the blacks.

Tanzania_Singleton: Yes we do we have affirmative action that allows blacks to receive equal opportunities in the educational and employment fields.

George_Garrison_professor: The system known as Jim Crow has disappeared at this time. That was the system of segregation that had been established by law, and Supreme Court Decisions.

Steve_Michael: I strongly believe that the Black race has one Struggle--the struggle to bring about social justice in the world. In South Africa, Nelson led the struggle, in India, Ghandhi led the struggle, but you can also lead a struggle where you are. We all have a role to play in this struggle.

George_Garrison_professor: Religious differences are part of the reality of Afro America. The religious differences are not as important as the philosophical differences amongst African Americans

Steve_Michael: Yes, religion still plays a role today. First, we use religion as a source of inspiration to confront injustice, we use it as a basis on which social justice itself should be defined. Do unto others, what you would want done to you. Love your neighbors as yourself, etc.

George_Garrison_professor: Today, there are Orthodox Sunni Muslims who have integrated into the mainstream of American life, same as Christians.

George_Garrison_professor: Both Christians and Muslims can be Black Nationalists, as we saw in Marcus Garvey, the Christian, and Elijah Muhammad, the Muslim.

Ohanyan__Gurgen: How do black people reach their career goals nowadays? Aren\'t there still any challenges for them?

Roneshia_W_from_Michigan: I feel that because of the advancements we have made in the past have affected our future indefinitely.

George_Garrison_professor: So, the philosophical differences, historically, have been more important than the religious differences in Afro America.

Tanzania_Singleton: We reach our goal like everyone else. We go to college and work hard to reach our career goals.

Cheryl_Jamison: Black people are really coming up in the world. We finish high school, and attend college, which lead to our advances in our careers.

George_Garrison_professor: Today, African Americans go to integrated schools with White and other children. We are fully Americans, even though there is still prejudice and discrimination. Black youth pursue their goals same as White students, and many are fulfill, as we see amongst the political leaders, business persons, educators, etc. African Americans are excelling in all areas of life in the USA today.

Steve_Michael: Are there still challenges today? Yes, of course. People often say we all have equal rights now in America. However, what good is your right if the social system and public policies prevent you from accessing the opportunities within the society? What good is your right if majority are poor, are in prison, are unemployed, etc. This is not Black problem alone, but a problem against those who have been shut out of the system.

Nune_Amiryan: We know that Afro-Americans played the major role in development of musical traditions in the US, particularly we know about jazz. What other fields of American culture benefited from your rich cultural heritage?

George_Garrison_professor: All the cultural areas have benefited--art, education, science, politics, sports, medicine, space explorations, etc. We are in all those fields, and this country would not have the status and prestige it does, without the Black contribution.

Tanzania_Singleton: Well soul food was introduced by African Americans.

Steve_Michael: Should our past continue to affect our future? Yes. Those who forget their past will repeat the mistake of the past. This is why we draw attention to this issue. But the issue is larger than the Black race. We seek justice everywhere in the world. We seek it for women where there is gender inequality, we seek it for the disabled where there is insensitivity, we seek it for those who are politically oppressed.

George_Garrison_professor: Many persons do not know that it was Black politicians during the Reconstruction Period in this country, who founded the public education system, for example.

John_Davidek: I need to know why history books largely ignore Paul Robeson. I\'m the only teacher around that makes sure anyone taking American History in my class knows his contribution/struggle regarding American history. To me, Paul Robeson was a GIANT in the struggle for human rights, dignity, and equality for working class people (not just blacks).

Lusine_Avagyan: What are the main qualities that a leader should have? Did Malcolm X have all these qualities necessary for being a good leader?

George_Garrison_professor: That\'s true about Paul Robeson. This makes the point that I mentioned earlier, that there is no uniformity in what is taught in K-12, and that that is why Black History Month must be continued. There are many giants like Paul Robeson that go unnoticed, for example A. Philip Randolph, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Fannie Lou Hammer, etc.

Steve_Michael: The first quality a leader should have is a vision, a vision for justice, a vision to take a people from one place to another. The second is the courage, the courage to stand against adversities and the courage to stand against perpetrators of injustice. The third is wisdom so that in our struggle we do not become a victim of what we are fighting against

Steve_Michael: The fourth quality is passion for what you believe in. I believe Malcolm X had these qualities and you should ask yourself how you can develop these qualities too.

Tionna_Lang_MI: I think that Malcolm X had a lot of great qualities for being a leader. I also think that some of his methods were extreme, and didn\'t always seem rational.

Naomi_Wachs: Someone mentioned affirmative action earlier. I\'m not sure if that concept is familiar to the Armenian students; could you explain a bit the history of affirmative action?

George_Garrison_professor: Malcolm X had all the qualities I think are important for a leader: knowledge, the courage to speak the truth, respectability, excellent oral and written communication skills, experience from living in the world, and understanding of the political, economic and social system, and above all respect by those you\'re leading.

Steve_Michael: Hmmm Tionna, some people say extreme situation or condition demands extreme actions. Perpetrators of injustice go to the extreme to maintain the status quo and sometimes it is important to confront this in full measure.

Ruzanna_from_Yerevan: Hi! I am Ruzanna from Armenia. I am a teacher. I would like to thank you for your participating in this online chat. I can say that our pupils are interested in American History. This project has given our pupils a chance to know new things about Afro Americans, about Black History. Thank You!

George_Garrison_professor: Some people think the methods of Malcolm X were extreme, but that is because his critics have distorted what he taught and did. He never advocated anything that the Founding Fathers of this nation didn’t\' advocate. His methodology was consistent with that of the Founding Fathers of this nation.

John_Davidek: Thanks, Prof Garrison! I also teach the heck out of Ida B. and Asa Philip. ABC TV did a Nightline special on lynching was really special. They mentioned Ida B.; she was a crusader for justice in that area.

George_Garrison_professor: Affirmative Action does not mean hiring people who are not qualified, or admitting students who are not qualified.

Steve_Michael: Yes, Of course, there are many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The point though is what are we doing today to continue this struggle? What are you doing in your schools, community, countries as leaders of tomorrow? You must learn about the past and translate the lesson to actions to move the world forward.

George_Garrison_professor: Affirmative action means to remove the traditional barriers of discrimination and prejudice that gives whites an advantage, while disadvantaging blacks.

Steve_Michael: We need to prevent wars and genocide, we need to confront hunger, we need to battle against diseases and we can do all these together if we join hands across the oceans to lift up humanity.

George_Garrison_professor: Black people are always qualified under affirmative action. It means equal opportunity.

Steve_Michael: Therefore, I believe the Message of the Black Race to the world is: STAND AND CONFRONT THE HUMAN DARKNESS. You have a role to play in this struggle.

Naomi_Wachs: Students, what role do you think you can play in the struggle for rights and justice?

Tionna_Lang_MI: Can you further explain that, Dr. Steve Michael. I don\'t understand what you are trying to say.

Ani_Meliq-Pashayan_from_Yerevan: First of all we must know and protect our rights.

Nune_Amiryan: Dear experts! Thanks for your efforts to express your ideas as simple as possible as there are really some terms or background information that Armenian students are not familiar with or lack.

George_Garrison_professor: The X indicates that he does not know his African name. It represents that part of his past that has been lost.

Muradyan_Karapet: we also think that we must struggle against hunger, diseases and we can win if we join together

Steve_Michael: What I mean by Human Darkness can simply be described as all the bad things human beings do to oppress and subjugate each other

George_Garrison_professor: If I\'ve used any terms that need further explanation, just let me know.

Steve_Michael: The evil we do against each other

Tionna_Lang_MI: I agree Muradyan_Karapet any obstacle can be overcome if we all join together.

Lilit_Galstyan_from_Yerevan: In our school we teach a lesson about Human\'s rights and it helps us to protect our rights

George_Garrison_professor: Yes, I agree, that the world has become very small now, and we need to view ourselves as global neighbors, with social, political and economic responsibilities toward each other.

Gayane_Petrosyan: I think that every human can fight for his and others\' rights and against any kind of stigma/discrimination. The main issue here is that one is willing to do so.

Steve_Michael: Thanks to the organizers of this session. I have enjoyed it too. I am glad we have students from Armenia and from the US chatting together about social justice and the Black Struggle. I contact the organizers to look into the possibility of continuing this dialogue especially with our undergraduate students. Unfortunately, I have to go now. I have another meeting to attend. However, Professor Garrison will stay on for a little while longer. Thank you and God bless.

Naomi_Wachs: Thank you Dr. Michael!

George_Garrison_professor: Yes, we can communicate more easily with each other now, because of the internet. We get instant news about what\'s going on in the world. We have both the technology, science, and expertise to solve most of the problems we face on this planet. We simply need to develop the \"will\" to do so.

Steve_Michael: Thank you Naomi, Nune, and Anush for your excellent work. Thanks to all the teachers out there. You are the reason for us to be hopeful about the future. Shallom.

Juleta_Vardanyan: Thank you for information. We learned a lot of new things.

Lusine_Avagyan: We know that Afro-Americans live mainly in big cities (New York, Philadelphia, Washington) in the US. Are we correct? What is the reason for that?

George_Garrison_professor: Yes, that is probably true today, but it was not a century ago. Blacks moved from the south, where they had been slaves, to the cities in the early 20th century, because of the jobs that were there then. Those jobs are not there now, but back then they were.

George_Garrison_professor: When they arrived there, they were forced to live in what we now call Ghettos. This was forced on them, because landlords would not rent to them in certain areas. They wanted to maintain those areas for whites only. The 1968 Fair Housing Law, changed that.

George_Garrison_professor: Ghettos still exist because of those earlier patterns. But housing discrimination, if identified, is illegal today.

Cheryl_Jamison: Flint Michigan was the first city to enact the Fair Housing Law!

Cheryl_Jamison: So I am very glad that you mentioned that

Naomi_Wachs: Does Armenia have any laws against discrimination?

Mane_Esayan_from_Yerevan: Yes, of course

Howie_Davis: Could you give us some examples of some??

Brittney_G_MI: What kind of laws do they have?

Naomi_Wachs: Any final question for Dr. Garrison?

Gayane_Petrosyan: Yes, we have such laws. Particularly there is a law which prohibits to discriminate against HIV infected people. There are other similar laws as well.

John_Davidek: Things are patterns and living styles are changing. Flint\'s previously all-white suburbs are becoming integrated. It\'s slow, but it\'s happening. The important thing for education is the cold, hard fact that economic disparity still exists between suburbs and cities. Flint schools are in pretty bad shape; suburban schools are showcases.

Earl_Greene: Professor, did you know that when Malcolm X converted to the Islamic faith he changed his name to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz?

Muradyan_Karapet: Yes, there are laws but there is no race discrimination.

George_Garrison_professor: In the last year of his life, he left the Nation of Islam and became and Sunni Muslim, and then adopted that name. Yes, thanks for pointing that out. His story would not be complete without that important piece of information.

George_Garrison_professor: His philosophy changed also, during that time.

Shayla_Thrash: What does that name mean?

Tionna_Lang_MI: In what ways did his philosophy change.

Hasmik: Professor, will you tell please, why did Malcolm change his religion?

George_Garrison_professor: Its meaning is long: it indicates that he has made the trip to Mecca, which is required of all Muslims; Malik means messenger, which he was, and Shabazz is the name given to the first community of Blacks on this earth, according to Elijah Muhammad.

George_Garrison_professor: He changed the political philosophy that was advocated by Elijah Muhammad, which suggested that Blacks and Whites were different species. He adopted the view that we were all part of the same human family created by Allah, and therefore were capable of living together in peace

Avagyan_Lusine: Professor, why was Malcolm killed by his people???

George_Garrison_professor: He changed to Sunni Islam, away from that of the Nation of Islam, because he was in search of the truth, and thought that it was to be found in Sunni Islam.

George_Garrison_professor: The assassination of Malcolm X is still a mystery. Black people killed him, but it is not believed by all that they acted along. There have been some books written about what some thing is a conspiracy that involved whites, as well as Blacks in his assassination.

George_Garrison_professor: I need to leave for class now, but have enjoyed chatting with you. Goodbye for now, but send me any other questions that you want answered.

Nune_Amiryan: Dear participants! I guess you all asked a lot of questions and got answers to all your questions. Now I would like to thank once again Dr. Garrison for being so patient and giving wholesome answers to all your questions.

Naomi_Wachs: Thank you so much Dr. Garrison! It was a great experience!

George_Garrison_professor: You\'re welcome...................Bye

Juleta_Vardanyan: Thank you, professor.

Nune_Amiryan: I think this chat was very useful for everybody. The film Malcolm X was very informative. However, without your explanations, dear experts, I am sure there should have been a lot of gaps for Armenian students. Once again great thanks for your participation and time.

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