Focusing on legacy to interrupt racism

Print More

Tomorrow, Simeon Banister will tell his story. He will share the importance and meaning of creating and leaving a legacy at the Urban League of Rochester’s Interrupt Racism Summit.

Banister, president and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, believes he has had both the honor and obligation of being part of a family that has been actively engaged in the civic life of Rochester. 

In some ways, his personal story has helped him see opportunities for the community and the region.

“One of those real opportunity areas for us to continue to grow is to interrupt racism. So much of what has limited our opportunities as a community really has been kind of structural racism, and even individual bias,” Banister says. “What I want to demonstrate to folks is that if we are going to seize this future that’s ahead of us, if we’re going to thrive as a region, we can’t do that unless we address these issues related to lack of diversity, inequity and history of exclusion.”

His thinking fits into the summit’s theme: “Legacy: What will yours be?” Now in its fourth year, the Urban League event, slated for Sept. 19-20, builds on last year’s focus: actionable steps to interrupt racism.

“This year, with our fourth annual summit, the goal is to inspire attendees to reflect on the legacies they have inherited, how they are building on those legacies, and what they plan to pass on to those who come after them,” says Candice Lucas, senior vice president of equity and advocacy at the Urban League. “We will highlight individuals whose inherited legacy (has) led them to continue the work of their parents and ancestors and encourage attendees to be intentional about creating their own legacies of interrupting racism.”

Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is the keynote speaker for the in-person portion of the event at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center. Tutu, who is expected to inspire intentional plans to create a legacy, will also meet on Sept. 19 with Rochester’s faith-based community at St. Paul’s Church, from 5 to 7 p.m. 

Other notable speakers include local leaders such as Jamila Evans-Rogers, daughter of James Evans Jr., the first Black president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School; Tiffany Owens, daughter of minister and civil rights leader Franklin Florence; and Constance Jefferson, daughter of Connie Mitchell, the first woman and African American to serve on the Monroe County Legislature. Abdul Tubman, a relative of Harriett Tubman will make his first visit to Rochester, Lucas says.

The summit addresses the task of interrupting racism at the individual, institutional and structural level, exploring systems and structure that perpetuate racial inequity, and the legacy of Rochester’s activism, through breakout sessions. 

Both Lucas and Banister believe Rochester’s fight against racism needs to continue at every level.

“Our city and county are challenged by the need for ongoing education for individuals to learn and unlearn behaviors that influence and perpetuate racism,” Lucas says. “As individuals we have inherently learned to uphold systems of inequity and our work in Greater Rochester must be to interrupt these racist systems in our interactions, organizations, and governing laws.”

She points to the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity report that shines a light on these inequities. The Urban League is taking a leading role in helping to build an equitable community, Lucas says. 

The summit has been a step in that direction. It began in 2020 with the need for healing and education, Lucas says. It has grown from a virtual attendance of 500 people to 1,000 attendees in last year’s hybrid format. For the first time in 2022, the Urban League brought youth into the fold.

The Urban League hopes to match the number of attendees this year. Ticket sales have been slower, Lucas acknowledges, and the Urban League staff attributes the change to the shift in diversity, equity and inclusion focus and “fears that individuals and organizations are becoming fatigued with DEI initiatives, as the attacks on DEI efforts are increasing.”

The summit, which builds on last year’s work, includes a track for the community to understand the RASE report and learn how to assist in fulfilling the proposed recommendations. Lucas points to the words of Urban League president and CEO Seanelle Hawkins: “Everyone has a role in interrupting racism.”

Rochester has work to do. Understanding the past, Banister says, is not just a charitable exercise. 

“This is an investing exercise. We are investing in our future by making these kinds of choices to ameliorate racism,” he says. “I think we need to appreciate that kind of dynamic to have the requisite inspiration and the requisite motivation to continue forward.”

Fatigue with this work and, in some cases, regression makes many community activists worry. Frustration and anger over the deaths of George Floyd and Daniel Prude have slipped into the past, which sometimes means going back to business as usual, Banister observes.

“Guess what, business as usual wasn’t working before George Floyd was murdered,” Banister says. “Daniel Prude was an example of business as usual not working.”

He believes Rochester has an opportunity to move further along the learning curve with those experiences. 

“That wisdom that we’ve gained, if we don’t fully leverage it, if we don’t really utilize it, then we are wasting it and that would be tragic,” Banister says.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

4 thoughts on “Focusing on legacy to interrupt racism

  1. While I believe the subject is one of importance, the one thing left out is education. The individuals slated to present are all educated. Highly educated. For some reason education, the foundational issue in any society, urban, suburban, etc. is overlooked. The RCSD is thee worst performing district in NYS. We also have too much crime. The governor was here pledging 2 plus million to address the car jackings. Not a peep, not a dollar for the education failure. When are we going to see the obvious, when will we finally address the RCSD failure. When are we going to teach the way kids learn. When will we show kids careers and professions so that they can connect those opportunities with those boring academics. When will we give them the opportunity to learn in a classroom as opposed to the streets. When. Mr. Banister has achieved his position because of his efforts with an in education. That and his life experience gives him the opportunity to teach and heal. Why can’t we include our urban kids in that pathway. Semper Fi.

    • Status quo systems don’t seek change. The leading facilitators of the status quo systems (especially in the 501c3 sector) livelihoods depend solely on keeping things status quo. Who’s Zoomin who?

  2. Fatigue with the event is likely attributable to the format and the host organization. Seems like there is no effort to connect with the people. The cost and arrangement to sit in the cavernous convention center needs to be questioned?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *