This past week the African American Student Union (AASU) and the Student Center collaborated to host a free screening of the film Selma, followed by a discussion about race and equality. Selma focuses on Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership during a pivotal point in the Civil Rights Movement. A number of scenes in the movie were filmed in Tech’s own Historic Academy of Medicine, where the screening and ensuing dialogues were held.
“Certain sociopolitical issues facing African Americans have featured heavily in the national conversation over the past few months. And so Selma speaks perfectly to the current moment,” Auston Kennedy, AASU’s Black History Chair, said regarding the process of bringing this event to Tech.
Turnout was high – the first 200 people to arrive were granted admission. A second screening and discussion was scheduled for the next day in the Clary Theater, but was delayed by inclement weather prompting a campus closure. Free popcorn and sodas were available.
Dr. Kim D. Harrington, Interim Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Georgia Tech, led the event. After the movie, she invited the crowd to share one-word descriptions of the emotions and concepts that they felt Selma portrayed. “Heroism,” “Courage,” “Faith,” and “Powerful” were some of the many words contributed.
Dr. Harrington hopes that the event inspires people to “keep the conversation going – this is a starting point.” Describing the event as a safe space for open discourse, she urged people to speak up and actively learn from one another in smaller, designated “talking point” rooms. A special room had been set aside for people to leverage their thoughts and contemplate silently.
Several of said rooms had a small poster outside showing what scenes had been filmed within. The Historic Academy of Medicine’s parlor was the hotel room in Selma‘s opening scene; the library had been transformed into the Governor’s office for the movie.
The crowd established its own guidelines for discussion before splitting up, which included being respectful to others and considerate to new viewpoints. Moderators kept the various dialogues flowing.
The range of topics were diverse. The portrayal of race in the media, the effects of privilege, involvement in student movements and activism, and racism in today’s world were all discussed at length. Attendees were welcome to introduce their own topics as well – one participant suggested focusing on cultural appropriation, and another pointed out the role education plays in ending ignorance.
People were encouraged to take a free t-shirt with them as they left; the shirts had a blank space on the front for attendees to write in their own hashtag reflecting what they took away from the conversations. #BlackLivesMatter was a common theme.
Selma is one of several events the AASU has been involved with this semester. They close out Black History Month with their annual Onyx ball on Feb. 27. On the subject of the Selma screening and discussion, Kennedy says, “We’re hoping that this event will spur important conversations about lingering inequalities with respect to civil and human rights.”