Bryant K. Smith, also known as “The Human Potential Specialist,” visited the College to deliver an eye-opening and engaging presentation to a crowd of eager students in the Library Auditorium on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
In a presentation hosted by Sigma Lambda Beta, Smith’s multimedia slideshow titled “I Am Not Racist: Black Student Identity, Development and Activism at a Predominately White Institution” informed his audience of how growing up in Chicago, one of the most racially segregated cities in the U.S., lead him to where he is today.
Smith’s interactive presentation covered topics like race as a social construct and hip-hop culture. He incorporated his funny and energetic personality, yet carefully included serious subject matter when necessary.
“We live in a time when you get in more trouble for calling someone a racist than you would for committing a racist act or for supporting racist ideologies,” Smith said.
One part of the presentation included a video that featured an interaction between a black rapper, Joyner Lucas, and a racist white man. Set in an empty room with a table and two chairs, along with a hip-hop beat playing in the background, the two men attack each other with racial slurs and harsh stereotypes, while blaming each other’s racial group for problems in the U.S..
The shocking and brutal exchange caused the audience to fall silent.
“The presentation as a whole was inspiring and eye-opening, but it can’t end here; we have to actually make a change and enforce it on the community,” said Kashana Ricketts, a senior urban elementary education and history double major.
Students were constantly mumbling to their neighbors and gasping in shock as Smith presented videos with racial slurs and offensive remarks. One student stood up out of a mix of excitement and anger to share his perspective after one of the videos. Though the presentation upset many people in the crowd, Smith strongly emphasized that this is the reality of racism in the U.S., and it must be recognized.
Dejon Ricketts, a junior urban elementary education and history double major, said some of the videos and pictures he saw during the presentation were disturbing, but important for people to see.
“This event should be publicized and not only exposed to a small intimate space,” Ricketts said.
Novia Brooks, a senior sociology major, agreed that Smith’s presentations should have been shown to a larger audience of campus community members.
“The videos we watched were just disgusting because you don’t always know the context of them,” Brooks said.
Smith holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communication and a Master of Science in organizational communication. He has presented at more than 500 college campuses and is the author of nine published books.
Smith frequently paused his presentation to spend time asking questions about some of the students’ reactions to certain slides. Some slides displayed the brutal honesty of racial stereotypes. Others were focused around false equivalencies, or an argument that simultaneously condemns and excuses both sides in a dispute by claiming that both sides are equally guilty of inappropriate behavior or bad reasoning.
Smith illustrated false equivalency in his presentation by describing a white nationalist flaunting his gun collection in a hotel room who claimed that this behavior was justified since innocent people died at what was supposed to be a peaceful protest against racism in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Smith connected his point about the problems of defining people based on race to celebrities like Halle Berry and her mixed-race daughter Nahla. Smith asked the audience if her identity should be defined racially or culturally. No one in the crowd could answer the question.
Smith compared arguments on the existence of racism in the U.S. to age-old debate of whether or not ghosts are real.
“Race can be treated in a similar way because some people may ignore race but as fake as it is, it impacts your life — whether you believe in it or not,” Smith said.
Michael Rojas, a junior mechanical engineering major, programming chair of the Unified Greek Council and president of Sigma Lambda Beta, organized this event for the College.
Rojas previously attended one of Smith’s presentations in Washington D.C. and was immediately inspired.
“I figured that hearing it at a more predominantly white institution, like TCNJ, would be very beneficial,” Rojas said.