The coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop the Redbird community from coming together for this year’s virtual Culturally Responsive Campus Community (CRCC) Conference.

Event organizers reported that nearly 1000 people registered for the fifth annual two-day event held October 29-30, a significant increase in registration from last year. Even with the uncertainty created by the pandemic, organizers felt it was critical to hold the conference and focus the programming on combating anti-Blackness.

“We really wanted to be intentional and that we were conveying information that is applicable to the world right now,” CRCC Program Co-Chair Angell Howard ’10, M.S.W. ’13, noting the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake that led to protests throughout the summer.

Supported by the Division of Student Affairs, the Multicultural Center, Office of the Provost, and the Office of the President, CRCC is organized by a team of volunteers from within the University.

This year’s event was headlined by activist Tamika Mallory, who presented a talk and Q&A session on the first day of the conference. Mallory’s viral “State of Emergency” speech at a Minneapolis press conference in the wake of Floyd’s death brought her to the forefront of public consciousness.

“I literally replayed that speech eight times in a row. I kept replaying her words over and over again because every word hit my soul,” said CRCC Program Co-Chair Dr. Shamaine Bazemore-Bertrand, assistant professor of elementary education and the co-founder of the Equity & Diversity Cohort in the School of Teaching & Learning. “Tamika articulated my thoughts, and she articulated my pain.”

Even though her national profile was raised by the speech, Mallory is not new to the work of fighting for equality.

“My parents started me in the movement when I was 3 years old,” she said. “I grew up in the movement.”

Mallory’s parents were founding members of the National Action Network (NAN), a New York-based nonprofit started by the Rev. Al Sharpton. She served as a youth volunteer for the organization throughout her teens.

She went on to work with the organization to combat gun violence and poverty in the Black community. Later, she served as a member of Vice President Joe Biden’s gun control task force. Mallory was also a primary organizer of the Women’s March on Washington. The event drew and estimated 500,000 marchers to Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017. Sister events worldwide drew nearly 5 million people.

Mallory has been a presence at Black Lives Matter protests across the country, not only to make her voice heard in the face of power, but to encourage her fellow activists to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

“If you protest in the streets and you don’t go to the polls, you haven’t finished the job,” Mallory said. “If you protest but don’t directly connect it with policy work, you haven’t finished the job.”

Mallory also encouraged Redbirds who want to make a difference. She stressed the importance of working with like-minded people and surrounding yourself with those who support you.

“The most important thing I am going to say today, and I want you all to take this with you, as young, budding activists, as people who want to be in this work, it is important that you find a tribe of individuals that you love and that love you as you are out there on the streets, doing the work,” she said.

After Mallory’s talk, attendees had the choice to attend two of four concurrent sessions led by Dr. Angel Acosta, Melissa Denizard, Rosa Clemente, and Dr. Kisha Porter. These talks focused on healing and mindfulness, recognizing anti-Blackness; Afro Latinx identity, culture and politics, and anti-Blackness in academia.

The second day of the event was kicked off by a panel of alumni, led by Student Government Association President Lauren Harris. Panelists Shacoby S. Tines ’14, Khia Donald ’18, and Isaac Hollis ’20 were all student activists during their time at Illinois State University. They shared their experiences as leaders on campus and how those experiences impacted their time at ISU and their lives after graduating from Illinois State. They also encouraged the campus to not only hear the experiences of black students, but believe them, and act to make the institution more equitable and just place for them to thrive. The panel also encouraged current students to carry the torch of activism after they graduate.

“There is a community here that is built for you guys, not just at ISU but in your respective careers,” Tines said. “All the progress you made in the University is still going to resonate in your life.”

“Know what you are doing is important and that your experiences are valid,” Hollis added.

After the alumni panel, attendees went to concurrent sessions that organizers call The CRCC Institute. Groups were asked to reflect on what they learned during the previous sessions and talk to their fellow attendees about what kind of changes they can make at Illinois State to fight racism.

CRCC Chair and Director of the Multicultural Center Dr. Christa Platt ended the event with a call for Redbirds to stand up against anti-Blackness and racism.

“I really want you all to be thinking about making commitments around being an anti-racist,” Platt said. “Whether you are recommitting, or are making commitments for the first time, we all have a moral obligation to stand up to racism and anti-Blackness.”