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Program explores race and reconciliation

June 27, 2007

Photo of student meeting in South Africa last summerHigh School students from South Africa and Marin county are joining together to collect the oral histories of people who fought for civil rights in the United States and of those who struggled against apartheid in South Africa. The "Journeys of Reconciliation" project, initiated by Trevor Getz, associate professor of world and African history and oral historian Kelly Philpott Brisbois, will culminate with a documentary film and model curriculum for middle and high school students.

"This cross-cultural and intergenerational exchange between the students and older generations of anti-racism activists will give the students -- and anyone who views their work -- a perspective that no history book could," said Getz, who is also associate producer of the documentary film about the project and the author of books and articles on the Atlantic slave trade, slavery and reform in West Africa, and civil rights.

"The power of oral history is learning about the past through open and honest dialogue," said Brisbois. "What the students experience is a healthy discussion about race and reconciliation. We hope to build a model for exchange on these topics." In 2004 Brisbois curated an oral history exhibit of World War II veterans, also based on interviews conducted by students, at the Marin History Museum in San Rafael.

The six South African students and seven U.S. students -- from San Rafael, Branson and Marin Catholic high schools and St. Mark's School in Marin County -- were selected by their teachers to participate. Last year, the U.S. students traveled to South Africa and recorded interviews with several persons including an activist who had participated in the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, an Afrikaner from a farming family, and people of different faiths who grew up in the midst of apartheid.

All of the students will reunite on the SF State campus June 28 for discussions and lectures on the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s, the Black Panthers, and race and identity. In addition to conducting interviews with U.S. activists, the students will view the Martin Luther King, Jr. papers at Stanford University, visit the Museum of the African Diaspora and take an oral history workshop at the University of San Francisco.

Bay Area activists to be interviewed for the project are Banafsheh Akhlaghi from the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement, which defends the rights of Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian persons in the U.S.; civil rights attorney Tony Lawson; civil rights attorney Clarence B. Jones, who was a speechwriter for Martin Luther King, Jr.; Clayborne Carson, head of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University; Mas Kawaguchi who was interned at the San Bruno Japanese internment camp during World War II; and Ann Marie Sayers, Tribal Chair of the Indian Canyon Nation of the Costanoan/Ohlone California indigenous people.

Primary collaborators on the "Journeys of Reconciliation" project include SF State and ChedzaMedia, a South African filmmaking company as well as two educational programs, "Facing History and Ourselves" of Brookline, Mass. and Hayward, Calif. and Vulindlela, Inc. of Johannesburg.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified July 2, 2007 by University Communications