What thoughts come to mind with the word “integration”? Does it correlate to heated political debates, ignite emotional and negative racial connotations, or stir memories of conflicts in education systems and the civil rights movement? At Duke University, the Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) has created events and programs to celebrate and recognize their 50th Anniversary of the integration of five African American students at Duke University in 1963. OIE created a ten-month long commemoration of a historical event that contributed to the civil rights movement. Receptions are also held in five cities: Washington, DC, New York, Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles. Benjamin D. Reese, Jr., Psy.D., Vice President of OIE, has been employed at Duke for 17 years and involved in diversity and race relations for 43 years. He is also the President of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education and works with chief diversity officers in higher education institutions including Ivy League universities and private, state run, or historically black colleges. According to Reese, most colleges and universities have diversity-focused departments and are configured in different ways. At Duke, their mission statement focus is “enhancing respectful, diverse and inclusive work and learning environments for the Duke Community. They provide a range of services that uphold values of equity and diversity, as well as support compliance efforts in the areas of equal opportunity, affirmative action and harassment prevention.”
Whether at Duke or at other universities or organizations, this mission is powerful and relevant for all institutions and communities locally, nationally, and worldwide. The 50th Anniversary of the Integration of Duke University addresses these historic stories of injustice, inequality, and discrimination in American society. Reese said, “Like many universities and in the south, they did not admit any black students, but a resolution was passed by the trustees (at Duke University in 1963) to allow the first five black students to enter Duke. Three of them are still alive.” These types of stories and historical events have a double-edge theme of segregation, hardships, disrespect, and struggles to attain basic and equal justice for all, which seem impossible during conflictive and turbulent years. Therefore, celebrating the progress and courageous actions to dilute prejudice, racism, and elitist attitudes to contribute to social change seem more important than ever. During the month of September through October, Duke will host a variety of presentations, music, and arts events on campus and in different venues in downtown Durham. “We thought that arts are important to Duke,” said Reese,” and we know that black-inspired music played an important part in the early years when black students arrived at Duke. It continues to play an important part at Duke and across the country.” OIE and other collaborations with Duke departments, like the Jazz Department and its director, John Brown, have created a variety of genres of music and performances for a multi-day celebration. See the 50th Anniversary celebration schedule below.
The simple and pure meanings of “equity, fairness, and social justice” are layered with complexities from conflictive historical and current events and unfortunate predictable behaviors of human nature that still challenge social advancement and how we treat one another. Reese shares his 43 years of professional insights and examples of hope for continued progress. He said, “There was a time when I started doing this work, in the late 60s early 70s, where the work was done primarily and exclusively by people of color.” One significant social change during the years is that “increasingly, there are leaders who are deeply committed to equity and fairness from a host of different backgrounds – male, female, white, Latino… that's one of the hopeful things that has occurred. ‘All people of goodwill…’, like Dr. Martin Luther King said. It wasn't as true when I first started,” said Reese.
Reese explains that diverse backgrounds contribute to new viewpoints and perspectives to inspire and stimulate new ideas and solutions for building more inclusive work and learning environments. His wisdom, reality focus, and much needed eternal optimism for such issues are evident as he said, “(Current social injustice) events that occur can take us back to the 70s and 80s and certainly are disturbing, but I don't get disheartened in terms of where society is moving. But without a doubt, there is a real need to continue to struggle and mobilize people and to push. It's unfortunate when I hear people say ‘we’ve arrived’ (based on the works of) a couple of people or organizations. It does not reflect the working challenges that are still before us in our society. Ingrained systemic issues of an organization, that is a challenge,” said Reese.
One of the most important solutions for social changes is basic. Reese explains, “Individual engagement does make a difference. A lot of people feel overwhelmed by organizations and get disheartened that their individual behavior can't make a difference. At an opening for incoming undergraduates, the head of admission told 1700 students, ‘Among you are those who started your own non-profit in Louisiana, someone who started a program to help kids to do ‘thus and so,’ and what I interpreted is that young individuals single-handedly made important contributions to our society. And so, one of the messages for all of us is that individual commitment and engagements are important and (we should) not get disheartened by trends that someone might see in an area our society, and that individuals make a difference. You just never know who will be that one. Even if you're not the one, your contribution is still important. We all in the course of a day, week, month, or year have countless decisions and opportunities that can either reinforce the values of equity, fairness, and social justice, or not.”
There are core and deep messages in the 50th Anniversary of the Integration of Duke University program. Reese said, “It's a combination of stimulating reflection of the past, the contributions of Duke, and how the presence of African Americans has change the institution. It is certainly commemorative and celebratory, but hopefully, this event propels us forward into thinking and acting in a more focused, diligent and creative way of the years ahead of us.”
The 50th Anniversary of the Integration of Duke University is filled with entertainment and opportunities to viscerally experience or understand some of these social issues and contributions from African Americans. And beyond peaceful protests, forums, debates and open dialogue for equity and justice, music and the arts are another powerful bridge and platform that connect diverse people together, express human conditions that can be felt and be moved, and communicate the essence of true humanity. The profound beauty in music and the arts can be heard and seen, and can create physical and mental ease to help remove defensive guards that build fears and ridged misunderstandings that lead to judgment.
When human dignity and trust are breached based on harmful and abusive behaviors and treatment, the end result is evident in history and the outcomes of events in today's society. Those who experienced inhumane treatment, psychological and emotional wounds, and physical scars to remind them of the suffering can become heroes, villains, or victims. The journey to heal and overcome depends on complicated variables, but the words are simple: compassion, respect, and love that can be reinforced with acts of kindness. It is written in literature, scripts, poetry, and the lyrics of so many songs. And in the words of Maya Angelou's simple and profound quote, "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."
Reese sums up the complex recipe and variables to continue making a positive impact. “When you have cultural change, you got lots of aspects of the cultural organization that shifts,” he said. “So it's what people say, the words. It's what people write, who is involved in making decisions, the way leadership looks, and it’s the programs and policies that you start that will promulgate. Real cultural change, changes all the major aspects of an organization. We all have our responsibilities.” So now, what comes to mind when you think about “integration”?
Musical Celebration Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Integration of Duke University
The Black Experience - featuring vocalist Michael Hanna (Poetry Slam) Thursday, September 19 - Beyú Caffé 335 West Main Street 6:00–8:30 pm (Band) 9:00–10:30 pm Tickets $8.50/$5.50 for students with ID. Also available online: beyucaffe.com/events Tickets
9th Wonder Music - producer, lecturer DJ and rapper Friday, September 20 - Motorco Music Hall 723 Rigsbee Avenue 9:00 pm–1:00 am Tickets $10.50 Also available online: motorcomusic.com/duke-durham
Terence Blanchard and the John Brown Big Jazz Band with special guest: Kate McGarry & Keith Ganz /Duo Palooza Saturday, September 21 - Carolina Theater 309 W. Morgan Street 8:00 pm $23.50/$5.50 for students with ID at Box Office—Monday–Friday from 11am to 6pm. Also available online: carolinatheatre.org/events
Luther Barnes & Local Choir Sunday, September 22 - Duke Chapel Duke University 4:00 pm More information available at spotlight.duke.edu/5oyears Tickets::Free and open to the public. For more information: email@example.com or (919) 684-8353
The Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble featuring Dianne Reeves and the Ying Quartet Friday, October 4 Baldwin Auditorium 8:00 pm. The show includes the world premiere of a Duke Performances' commissioned piece written by Childs. For more information www.dukeperformances.org