Documentary 13th: A Panel & Discussion on Race, Education and Community

By Chris McBride

On Monday, the documentary 13th was screened for a crowd of about 50 students, faculty and citizens in Youngstown State University’s James Gallery in Kilcawley Center.

The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, touches on heavy subject matter such as race and the mass incarceration of black males. The event was put on by student group Sisters With A Vision in accordance with the NAACP.

After the film, Shienne Williams, a chairwoman of SWAV, led a discussion featuring, Dr. Cryshanna Jackson-Leftwich, an associate professor at YSU; Andrea Burton, an Ohio Attorney; Carla Baldwin, a Youngstown Juvenile magistrate; and Amy Gordiejew, who helps with incarcerated individuals. Also on the panel briefly via call was Ohio death row inmate Keith Lamar.

Each panelist was chosen to participate because of their dedication to making Youngstown a better environment for those who call it home despite the barriers that may be preventing it.

Originally, the discussion was supposed to examine the film and how it relates to Youngstown. Instead, the discussion turned into more of a broad reflection on race, education and community.

A question from a student regarding the usage of clear backpacks in Youngstown schools kicked off the discussion. Panelists Baldwin and Jackson agreed the policy created an unfair stigma about the kids that go to these schools.

Burton also challenged the idea of black kids being more prone to violence. Burton suggests emphasizing a strong community foundation to reinforce what the child learns in school and back home.

A discussion about inmates in prison quickly followed when someone asked the panel what could be done to help inmates, particularly juveniles, stuck in the prison system. Keith Lamar, who is currently on death row, said knowledge is the only way to help.

“Information is really the key, if you don’t know your history you’re bound to repeat,”  he said. “Reading, getting books in to people in juvenile facilities—that’s what it’s mainly about, knowledge.”

From there, the conversation moved to local issues.

A concerned student expressed frustrations over lack of emphasis put on local elections on campus. Two panelists then discussed the importance of local voting to evoke community change compared to presidential elections.

“Your vote is your capital, no matter your social economical background,” said Baldwin. “If I vote you’ll pay attention; if everyone who doesn’t vote votes, you’ll create change and you have power,”

Jackson-Leftwich echoed Baldwin’s statement and said that local elections often get ignored even though the effects of them can be seen much faster.

“Local elections are way more important; you pass a local law and  it goes in effect tomorrow—a lot of people don’t know that …” she said. “When they turn 18 they need to know they need to vote for councilmen, legislators, courts, sheriffs and city council.”

Another point largely touched on was the lack of representation of African Americans in education fields. Jackson Leftwich stressed the importance of changing stigma about education to make more African Americans interested in becoming teachers.

In the final moments of the discussion, panelist Gordiejew matched Lamar’s statement about juvenile delinquents and knowledge.

“85% in the juvenile system are illiterate,” she said. “If they don’t get taught literacy, 70% become long term offenders; if they get a little literacy help it’s 17, a huge gap.”

Reflecting on the discussion, moderator Williams said that the panel did what it was intended to do, be a platform to openly discuss race and issues within the community.

“The discussion was more broad than what was intended, but I wanted a forum for people who usually can’t speak about race issues because they don’t have this environment to voice their concerns,” Williams said. “So this was about giving them a chance.”