Witherspoon to be honored at CJMM annual dinner
By Duluth Budgeteer News on Mar 21, 2016 at 12:29 p.m.
Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc. holds its ninth annual dinner 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, March 26 at Greysolon Ballroom. This year's honoree is Sharon Witherspoon, who has worked for decades toward economic and social justice in our community.
She moved to Duluth in 1968 with her late husband, Dr. Sylvester Witherspoon of New Hope Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Church. Together they were instrumental in the Crusaders for Jesus Christ in the 1980s. She raised 10 children and is now a grandmother and great-grandmother.
Currently retired, she was a University of Minnesota-Duluth financial aid advisor for 24 years and supervisor of the One-Stop Student Assistance Center. During this time she served on the board at Churches United in Ministry (CHUM) for over 15 years.
For decades, she has continued to work for educational equality as the chairperson of the ISD 709 Education Equity Advisory Council and serves as the long-time secretary for the Duluth branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was honored as a Woman of Distinction in 2010 by the Duluth YWCA and the 2016 Drum Major for Peace at this year's Martin Luther King Day celebration.
"We chose Sharon as CJMM Inc.'s 2016 nominee because she exemplifies the spirit of reconciliation and sustained effort toward educational equality that has been CJMM's mission since its founding," says board member Susan Ault.
Community Discussion around Racism in Duluth featuring CJMM, Inc. Co-Chair, Rogier Gregorie.
March 07, 2015
On Tuesday March 3rd an event took place at Denfeld High School that has had and will continue to have an important impact on the entire population of the city of Duluth now and well into the future. Two students using the image of a Black student drew a noose around his neck and captioned the resulting image with the words “Gotta hang em all”. It is our understanding that the image was passed around the students in the classroom and shared digitally by a cell phone application to others, eventually it was posted on Facebook and until taken down as “hate speech” was shared with potentially millions. As far as we now know the teacher was oblivious to the event. The image with the noose around the neck of the young Black man was discovered on Facebook and brought to the attention of the school administration.
There are several layers to this event that embroil not just the participants and the object of their behavior but the entire community of Duluth. That image of a Black man as a threat or a warning to People of Color is clearly not only a sign of our times but an indication that such racist ideals are consciously or unconsciously alive and well in Duluth, a city in which three Black men were hung publicly lynched in 1920.
A simple teenage prank perhaps meant to influence a smaller interest in bullying and intimidation has revealed the undercurrent of racism and fear that can contaminate every life in our community. For whatever the reason, the image of a person of color being hung is a familiar and painful one for every living soul in our community. Perhaps even more frightening is the indifference that still nurtures such attitudes among our young.
This terrible event that some might dismiss as a teenage prank is a wake-up call for each of us and particularly our institutions to squarely address the hidden terror that has poisoned another generation of our children.
This is an opportunity for the schools to take the lead in promoting a humane approach to education that brings us together as equal members of the human family. There are things that can and will be done to address the current situation brought about by these young men. Those processes are engaged and will continue to be observed by the larger community. The equally important work will be for all of us to pay careful attention to promoting a more humane society.
We will invite the students in the class that gave attention to the image of abuse to visit the Clayton Jackson and McGhie Memorial as the preface to a dialogue about the lynching of other human beings. We see this event as an opportunity to encourage the schools to formerly address the need for a racial equity component in the school syllabus.
We also invite the larger community to visit the memorial, a national treasure that reflects the highest aspirations of the city of Duluth and all of Minnesota.
November 23, 2014
The fact that all over America concerned citizens will demonstrate in various ways about the murder of a person of color by a policeman leaves me with a feeling of unfinished business. Despite the demonstrations the slaughter goes on certified by laws and policies of an inherently racist society designed to protect policemen rather than the people of color they murder with impunity. Racism sits inside our institutions impervious to our demonstrated desire to be treated fairly. Simply going after an individual officer, even when they are prosecuted, does little to undo the institutional racism imbedded in the policies in the criminal justice system that enables police persecution of people of color.
In Superior WI. the officer who beat a young black woman was exonerated by the underlying racist policies of the criminal justice system. Every police union wants to protect their own from unwarranted accusations but they also know that the institution will protect them from the malfeasance of their own racist and misogynist fellow officers, The “Bad Apples.” We want to believe that their bigotry and brutality was brought into the police department undetected. We also know that nothing is done to detect these officers and get rid of them until they have worked their evil on innocent Black men and boys. And even then, the criminal justice system is designed to protect them and perpetuate a culture of racism within the department.
I admire our police chief and his efforts to infuse his department with a dedication to fairness and professionalism but I also know that the odds favor the existence of police officers who, given the opportunity, would shoot me dead in the streets of Duluth and the criminal justice system would let them go free. Most Black men in America lives a life filled with that fear. It is institutional racism, buried deep within the same criminal justice system designed to protect and serve the larger society.
I want the criminal justice system to examine itself through the lens of the people they serve. They need to examine the assumptions that go unexamined in our public schools and get reinforced throughout white society. I know that the irrational hatred of people of color is promoted by the public schools in the denial to formally reveal and examine the assumptions derived from the myth of race that gives credence to racist behavior. Our children are carefully conditioned to accept the irrational bias of race without knowing how and why it poisoned America. I understand that white America is ashamed of the persistence of racism even as we depend on its existence. Racism as a tool of the economic system is used to control workers a technique perfected through slavery. Slavery was the nursery of industrial capitalism in America and its mother’s milk was the myth of race. We all depend on racism to a greater or lessor degree and it’s a disease that kills quickly as well as slowly.
Each day I get into my car as a Black Man understanding that in America I can be killed with impunity by a policeman who, in elementary school, was denied the opportunity to understand that we are both human beings.
Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc.