Friday, Feb 23-24: Summit on Race Matters in WV

On Friday, February 23rd (5:00-8:00 PM) and Saturday the 24th (9:00 AM-5:00 PM) there will be a splendid opportunity for folks to improve their participation in the improvement of race relations.  A Summit on Race Matters in West Virginia will be held at the Kyle and Ann Fort Arts and Sciences Building of New River Community and Technical College in Lewisburg.  This will be the third such summit in Lewisburg since the fall of 2015, and the theme is “The Time is Now”.  Race Matters in West Virginia is a diverse group of people from across the state with the expressed intention of bringing people together to raise awareness, educate, confront and eradicate personal, systematic, and institutional racism.  This February event will be presented by the college and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The local steering committee for these summits has carried out several similar projects in the area and more are in the planning stages.  People attending previous summits have participated in them and will surely participate in the future.

The keynote speaker for Friday evening will be Dr. William M. White (pictured above).  He is a native of Bluefield and the Executive Director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, a Cabinet level position in West Virginia government.  His contributions as a leader in education in West Virginia are most notably with the West Virginia Board of Education, the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority, and Mountain State University.

Friday night, there will be performances by the Greenbrier East High School steel drum ensemble and student, Shaylen Lafferty, a participant in the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest. With her recitation, Shaylen Lafferty is following in the footsteps of another Greenbrier East High School student, Neely Seams, who twice won the state title in the poetry recitation and excelled at the competition on the national level.  This year, Ms. Seams received a Martin Luther King , Jr. State Holiday Commission’s Living the Dream Award.

Renowned storyteller, W. I. “Bill” Hairston (pictured above), will tell one of his best after Dr. White’s speech.  As outreach director for the Religious Coalition for Community Renewal on the East End, Bill Hairston spreads the word about housing programs available to the homeless. He’s best known for the storytelling programs he presents to promote African-American contributions to Appalachian culture.

Following the session at the college, there will be an 8:15-9:30 PM free concert at the Lewis Theatre on North Court Street presented by Lady D (pictured above. Also known as Doris Anne Fields and “West Virginia’s First Lady of Soul”) accompanied by her band.  Lady D competed in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee this January.  The International Blues Challenge, considered the world’s largest gathering of blues bands, is presented annually by the Memphis-based Blues Foundation.  Lady D won the right to participate by placing first in the Washington, D.C. Blues Society’s Battle of the Bands in August.

Saturday’s keynote speaker will be Arley Ray Johnson who will start things off for the day.  He was the 1987 recipient of the West Virginia Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission Living the Dream Award for the advocacy of freedom.  He has considerable experience on the Huntington City Council and with West Virginia State government.  Arley Johnson is a the former Executive Director of Advocates for The Other America assisting in building advocacy coalitions interested in supporting low income issues and legislation.  This year during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program at Marshall University, he portrayed Dr. King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington.

Saturday morning and afternoon, participants will choose from seven 45-minute workshops and one about twice that length.  They will have the opportunity to take part in a total of either three or four workshops during the day.  The longer workshop will be presented by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and it will be about training people to meet in classrooms with young students to help them learn about the history of race relations and civil rights in America.

The 45-minute workshops are (1) Local African American and Civil Rights History with Loretta Young and Marjorie Fuller, (2) Implicit Bias and Confronting Racism with Joseph Cohen, (3) Health Disparities and Race with Gabrielle Chapman, (4) Faith (Religion) and Racial/Social Justice with Rev. Larryetta Ellis, (5) Black Lives Matter with Dr. Keisha McKenzie, (6) Environmental Racism with Pam Nixon, and (7) Help Increase the Peace with Lida Shepherd.

Two of the workshop leaders have recently been involved in related programs in Lewisburg.  Rev. Larryetta Ellis was the keynote speaker at Lewisburg’s 2018 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration.  In her speech, she made a strong case for us to do all we can to improve race relations and fight for civil rights.  The last workshop leader listed is Lida Shepherd, and she works with the American Friends Service Committee on the West Virginia Economic Justice Project.  She coordinates racial justice initiatives such as reducing racial disparities in the education and criminal justice system. She was a key organizer for the last two Summits on Race Matters in Lewisburg.

After lunch on site, there will be a compelling performance by Poetik Entertainment (featured photo).  Founded by Jamela North Starr Brown and Malik “Duality” Brown, they use their spoken word talent to uplift community.

The registration fee is $15, but there’s no fee for High School and College students.  Go to, search for Race Matters Greenbrier Valley and click on that. For more information and to apply for a scholarship, email  Those without internet access should call Larry or Ann Davis at 304-645-6919. 

– Larry Davis. Hashtag #98. February 2018.

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