By Brandon White
On March 18, Senator Barack Obama made his "A More Perfect Union" speech. In it, Obama addressed a topic he had long tried to avoid making the focus of his political campaign - the issue of race. He was basically backed into a corner in the aftermath of the controversial remarks made by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. While Obama found Rev. Wright's words "not only wrong, but divisive," he also understood the resentment felt by many African-Americans of Wright's generation who grew up before and during the Civil Rights Movement. "This is the reality in which Rev. Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up," the Illinois senator stated. "They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted." Obama's speech opened the doors to a discussion that found its way to the University of Houston-Clear Lake April 3, the eve of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. The "Let's talk about race" forum took place in the Student Services and Classroom Building. The event was sponsored by the Women's Studies Student Association and the Black Students Association. Everette Penn, professor of criminology and BSA adviser, felt as though the event was a well-needed program because race is still a significant factor here in America and it is something that needs to be discussed and not ignored in order to bring about change. "As one looks at the history of the United States, race and gender are two constant characteristics that have often defined and divided Americans," Penn said. "This weekend I was in Money, Miss., where Emmett Till was brutally murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. I was also in Little Rock, Ark., where federal troops were required to enforce the law of integration and I was in Memphis remembering the death of Dr. King. I saw hope as thousands from all racial and ethnic backgrounds gathered together. I could not help but believe ‘the dream' is materializing; yet the dream will truly be realized when a person's skin color is not the defining measure of their worth. Instead, I hope for the day when race and ethnic differences are assets to enhance any personal relationship, corporation, organization and, of course, our country." The panel for the forum consisted of Joel Carter, cross cultural graduate student at UHCL, and Kim Case, assistant professor of psychology and women's studies. The forum started with the panel replaying Obama's speech. Afterward, the floor was open to a variety of issues regarding the different facets of Obama's speech, from black and white sentiment here in America to individual experiences with race issues. Students and professors, young and old alike, engaged in dialogue with each other and the panelists, quoting Obama's words and comparing them to their own life experiences. "No matter what political affiliation you are - whoever you are supporting - when you read the speech, it's like when I was growing up watching Dr. King's speech and J.F.K.'s ‘Put a man on the moon' speech," Carter said. "It was like I was actually in history, actually seeing it happen." With race being such a controversial issue to discuss, the panel felt that the sponsors for the event, as well at the panelists and students who participated in the event, exhibited a strong showing of courage by just taking part in something of this magnitude. "I'm thankful that people showed up to the event," Case said. "There is a lot of social pressure not to. There is social pressure on us [the panelists] not to host it, social pressure on student groups not to cosponsor it, social pressure on people not to come to it or, if they do come, not to say anything out loud because somebody might say that they are a racist or who knows what. I thought the event was very productive. It is definitely a good place to start." While the event, in itself, was a success in the eyes of the panelists, a few of its participants felt as though something more could be added to it to bring about actual change in the minds of those who took part in it. "I think it was terrific that the forum took place," said participant Howard Eisner, associate dean for the school of Human Sciences and Humanities. "I wish it happened far more often here on this campus. The thing that I would like added to a forum like this is the opportunity to hear people with other visions of the U.S. or race or the election so that the conversation can be extended beyond a group of people who agree with themselves to begin with to a conversation amongst people of differing opinions but with enough leadership from people like Dr. Case and Joel so that it winds up being enlightening rather than a shouting match. But, again, I was delighted that this event took place. I look forward to a lot more of them. It hasn't happened often enough here on this campus."