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Union forum addresses Jena 6 controversy

Union University business professor Roland Porter (right) leads a discussion about the Jena Six during an Oct. 4 forum. Also pictured are Mary Anne Poe and Larry Mercer. (Photo by Matthew Diggs)
Union University business professor Roland Porter (right) leads a discussion about the Jena Six during an Oct. 4 forum. Also pictured are Mary Anne Poe and Larry Mercer. (Photo by Matthew Diggs)

JACKSON, Tenn.Oct. 5, 2007 – Paying attention to the gospel and fighting racism within their own communities can help people implement change and unite under circumstances such as Jena Six, said Roland Porter, associate professor of business at Union University.

Porter was the facilitator of a discussion and forum, entitled “A Call to Care: Jena 6,” held Oct. 4 at Union. About 150 Union students and faculty members attended the event.

Participating in the discussion along with Porter were social work professor Mary Ann Poe, Christian studies professor Justin Barnard and Rev. Larry Mercer of Cerro Gordo Baptist Church in Madison County.

The forum focused on the situation in Jena, La., involving the trial of six black teenagers who were charged with beating a white teenager at Jena High School after nooses were hung from a tree at the school.

“Those images and symbols (of the noose) have a devastating meaning,” Mercer said. “It goes back to the history of a race of people and individuals we have to consider. You can take the cross and look at what it represents to Christians and the sacredness of it, but you can take the cross and put fire to it and it takes on another meaning.”

After watching a video about the Jena Six, the panel led a group discussion on the media’s role in the Jena Six case, the symbolism of the nooses and the quality of life between different races in the Jena community.

The video discussed the accuracy and fairness in the coverage of the case from the town’s own newspaper, The Jena Times.

Barnard said one of the things that struck him in the video on the Jena Six was the importance of language, and how language is not taken as seriously as it should be, as shown by the coverage of the trial by The Jena Times.

“Words have power and meaning to convey a certain message,” Barnard said. “Think about your time here at Union as an opportunity to cultivate a right course of habit in the way you use words in the kinds of things you write about and say.”

At the end of the night, the panel discussed practical ways to reconcile racial tensions among different groups.

“You have to be educated about it and know the stories,” Poe said. “You also need to be intentional because it is the systemic nature that is embedded and dominant in culture.”

Barnard said that being realistic about the depths and complexities of racial problems and becoming educated are two practical ways to help solve racial issues. He also said students should practice looking for injustice in situations they will be in after they graduate.

“You need to begin to spend your career at Union University trying to understand the ways in which the structures in your field, whatever that field may be, are unjust,” Barnard said. “A practical step to the question of what can I do now, is to begin to prepare yourself for the role you’re going to have when you finish school, or the kind of changes you’re going to be in the position to make.”

Porter agreed, saying that it will take time and work.

“Racism is an uphill struggle,” Porter said. “You’re going to have to push to make change.”

By Sarah McBroom (’09)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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