‘Getting to the Root’ returns to the Coretta Scott King Center
- Published: March 28, 2023
For over 40 years, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, PISAB, “a national, multiracial, anti-racist collective of organizers and educators,” has been working with the aim to “undo racism and other forms of oppression” in the United States, reaching thousands of people since the organization’s inception.
This year, two of the New Orleans-based institute’s veteran trainers, PISAB co-founder Diana Dunn and anti-racist Barbara Major, will be on hand along with Coretta Scott King Center Director Shadia Alvarez to train individuals from local community organizations during a two-day “Getting to the Root” workshop on April 26 and 27, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., at the Coretta Scott King Center on the Antioch College campus.
Historian and anti-racist organizer David Billings will also present at the workshop. Billings is an ordained Methodist minister based in New York and has spent the last 50 years doing civil rights work.
The purpose of the workshop is to strengthen “current anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the region.”
On the first day of Getting to the Root, participants will “analyze the construction of racism, the construction of whiteness, and what it means, as well as look at both the historical and the contemporary impact of racism,” Coretta Scott King Center Executive Director Shadia Alvarez told the News in a recent interview. “Then on the second day, we talk about how to organize against [racism], how to dismantle it, and what are the things that we can do as everyday citizens to undo the damages of racism over time.”
The workshop returns as an in-person event on campus after going virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A key component of PISAB work is to move beyond the symptoms of racism, and according to the PISAB mission statement on the organization website, they do so through a “national, multiracial, anti-racist collective of organizers and educators,” utilizing the organization’s trademarked “Undoing Racism®/Community Organizing Workshops, technical/human assistance and partnerships, to support nationwide community efforts” to undo the causes of racism.
According to Alvarez, Getting to the Root’s own roots were “born out of PISAB,” whose roots were in turn, born out of the Yellow Springs nonprofit and human rights organization, H.U.M.A.N. — Help Us Make a Nation.
H.U.M.A.N. was formed in 1978 following a human rights conference held at Antioch College and was founded by Antioch professors William D. Chappelle and James N. Dunn and community activist Glynna Garrett. PISAB was founded by the late James N. Dunn, his wife, Diana Dunn, and civil rights leader the Rev. C.T. Vivian in 1980.
Diana Dunn is a former clinical microbiology and immunology professor who taught at Wright University School of Medicine and was also active with H.U.M.A.N. “Diana has been with us a couple of times this year, working with mostly white groups, but for this training, she and Barbara [Major] will be working as a team,” Alvarez said.
Major is also a community activist and co-author, alongside the Rev. Joseph Brandt, of the book “Deconstructing Racism: A Path toward Lasting Change.”
Major co-chaired the Rebuilding New Orleans Commission with former president George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina decimated the city in 2005.
“She’s an amazing trainer, but most importantly, she was one of the key organizers during Hurricane Katrina that sat down with President George Bush and basically said, ‘This is what we need to keep New Orleans alive.’ She represents over 40 years of history,” Alvarez said.
According to Alvarez, PISAB came together with the belief that undoing racism was necessary for a better world. Alvarez — who graduated from Antioch in 1996 — said the institute has a long history of partnership with the college.
“They came and did a lot of undoing racism workshops here while I was a student,” she said.
According to Alvarez, the workshops are for people who believe that racism is an issue in the United States and want to better understand ways to undo it.
“It is for everyone — from leaders, nonprofits, schools. We’ve done this work around this nation with hospitals. We’ve done it with school systems, we’ve done it with Chase Manhattan bank, we’ve done it with an assortment of corporate entities which is new to us,” Alvarez said, adding that she believes interest garnered from businesses has to do with a response to the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Alvarez said that people should expect to work as a community during the workshop, alongside 25 to 30 other participants.
“Most of the work that we are sharing is a framework, so we’ll be counting on things that you have experienced as a human being, to help us move through the framework. … And what we want folks to be able to see is what are the commonalities of those experiences, and how they’ve been framed by our positionality in the world,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez emphasized that the training done by PISAB is built on 40 years of strong community work.
“I will tell you, my family attended, my mother, my father, my sister, who’s a union organizer. It’s good work. It’s deep work, and I think it clarifies a lot of the confusion, around what racism is and what it is not, that we have in this nation,” she said.
Antioch students and faculty have an opportunity to participate free of charge. Scholarships are also available for Yellow Springs residents. The cost for the two-day workshop is $350. For registration information, visit the Coretta Scott King Center webpage at antiochcollege.edu/coretta-scott-king-center.
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