The Dream in Black & Brown BIPOC Leadership Youth Summit convened more than 160 high school students on Oct. 24 to imagine the changes necessary to prepare BIPOC youth for leadership positions. The inaugural event featured commentator and hip-hop intellectual Dr. Michael Eric Dyson as the keynote speaker.
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The inaugural Dream in Black & Brown BIPOC Leadership Youth Summit got underway Oct. 24 at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.
The leadership summit convened more than 120 community leaders and partners, 160 high school students from Lakewood, Gibbs, Boca Ciega, St. Pete, SailFuture and Lealman Innovative Academy, along with college students from the University of South Florida and St. Petersburg College to imagine the changes necessary to properly prepare BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth for leadership positions.
Fresh off from attending a historic city council swearing-in ceremony, Mayor Ken Welch stopped by to show his support for BIPOC leadership.
He told the audience that despite years of service in the Childs Park community and throughout the city, Bro. John Muhammad, of the Muslim faith, only scraped by with a 4-3 split vote to represent District 7 on the city council.
“There were questions about his religious affiliations,” Welch said. “Questions that we have not heard, for example, for those affiliated with groups and individuals who are actively engaged in, for example, rolling back civil rights or undermining elections…or even the attack on the United States Capitol.”
“This is what you will face as BIPOC leaders,” he warned the young people in attendance. “Let’s be real about the reality of 2022 in America.”
Disrupting the status quo is not easy, the mayor said. Still, it is “necessary trouble,” paraphrasing the late Congressman John Lewis, and noted the manner of the disruption is important as well.
“I believe the most effective way is surgical and strategic planning, strategizing and a steadfast reliance on the truth, on facts, coupled with the ability to boldly and effectively speak truth to power,” Welch said. “And that’s why I was so excited to see the announcement of this summit and elated to see the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete has secured one the most dynamic advocates for a fact-based interruption in Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.”
Mayor Welch officially proclaimed Oct. 20, 2022, as BIPOC Youth Leadership Day in St. Pete.
“I urge all citizens to recognize the importance of creating opportunities for youth to thrive, no matter their race, ethnicity, or background,” Welch said.
Event organizer Dr. Loretta Caldwell introduced Dyson as a “professor, commentator and hip hop intellectual who has written over a dozen books on race, politics and the Afro-American experience.”
Not pulling any punches, Dyson, 64, came right out speaking bluntly yet poetically — at times breaking out into song. Promising to “talk it real this morning,” he immediately called Florida a state where the “indignant indifference to Black and Brown people is entrenched in the culture.” Then he called out Gov. Ron DeSantis as a “manifestation of an antithetical to democracy impulse.”
And he was just getting warmed up. Referencing the bill DeSantis signed in April that severely limits racial discussion in public schools, Dyson explained the governor did so because he didn’t want to make white students feel uncomfortable.
“What you think Black and Brown students have been dealing with for the last 400 years,” he asserted. “Real education makes you comfortable!”
As BIPOC people who “are inheritors of a strong commitment to our people and our nation, we better understand we belong here,” he told the audience.
Dyson then took aim at Kanye West, who recently garnered controversy by posing with a “White Lives Matter” shirt, scoffing that the billionaire rapper did it merely as a fashion statement. He further called out West, who had once spoken out when he saw Black people being ignored after Hurricane Katrina, for now being a “mouthpiece for white supremacy.”
“Saying ‘white lives matter’ is redundant because we know they matter,” Dyson said. “In fact, they matter too much to too many — and us not enough to most! So, we’re not dissing white brothers and sisters; we already know your life matters. We’re trying to catch up in the game!”
He underscored the fact that everyone belongs — people of every gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation — and recalled a woman in Cleveland who approached him after he had preached and told Dyson he was destined for hell because he believed God made gay people.
“‘We belong’ means everybody,” he said. “Don’t nurture your individual bigotry at the expense of another vulnerable population, especially by appealing to church and religion and God and the Bible…we’re all in this together; we all belong here!”
Dyson stressed to the BIPOC youths in attendance that they must do everything they can to maximize their participation in this society.
“What are you doing in your own community?” he asked, adding that though he believes in freedom of speech, it doesn’t serve anyone “if we are translating that into vicious assaults upon each other in our communities.”
He put it simply: “Anti-Blackness can come in Black skin too. Ask Kanye. Ask Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. That’s white supremacy by ventriloquism! Black mouth open, white supremacist ideas flowing from it!”
Dyson said these days, young people have access to more resources than previous generations.
“There were barriers from within that we overcame as a result of our historic struggles against inequity,” he said, “and now we have to ask the question: ‘What are we doing with the resources in our own communities, and how we are determined as young people to be involved in the process of our own deliverance?’ ”
Dyson urged the young people to take an active part in the voting process because we all have a part in the political system. For example, he said some white politicians are against President Biden’s bill to forgive student debt because they believe Black and Brown students will benefit most by it.
“Don’t misunderstand; that’s against you!” he said. “Black and Brown people continue in 2022 to face prohibitive barriers, so you all need to be involved politically in your communities,” adding that creating infrastructures, achieving racial equity, creating revenue streams and building wealth are all connected to local legislatures.
Nationally renowned facilitators led facilitated break-out discussions to create a space that would generate discussion and produce outcomes about how Pinellas County can develop BIPOC young community leaders.
About Transformative Leadership for Advancing Racial Equity
The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Young People Leadership Initiative is a measurable and transformative program created by The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. This initiative connects BIPOC youth to opportunities which accelerate race equity, build community, and create personal wealth.