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Archive for Thursday, April 19, 1990

RACIAL INCIDENT ALARMS EX-KU ACTIVIST

April 19, 1990

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When Jeffery Harris was attending Kansas University 20 years ago, the first meeting of the Black Student Union was held in his apartment.

Harris, who has since founded Greater Harvest Christian Ministries, remembers what it was like to be a black student who was upset about what he called the administration's lack of sensitivity.

After hearing about recent events at his alma mater, Harris is concerned that what the organization accomplished two decades ago hasn't made a bit of difference.

"The one thing we learn from history is that we don't learn anything from history," said Harris, who returned to Lawrence about a year ago. "Where have we come?"

HARRIS SAID he had a sense of deja vu when he was told about an incident last month at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, where KU student Ann Dean said she was struck and racially insulted by a member of the fraternity.

The student protest at KU that followed on April 11 also rang a bell. Harris led similar protests when he was a student.

But Harris' tactics have changed since then, and now he believes that such crises cannot be solved by confrontation.

"I understand why those students did what they did," he said. "You can only be pushed so far. They have legitimate concerns. But resolutions don't always have to be confrontational.

"As Christians, we have the resolution of reconciliation. That doesn't mean that you should sit down and be quiet during injustice. But you have a resolution of delivering justice. Delivering justice is the act of reconciliation."

HARRIS, WHO was raised in Eudora, thinks someone should help Matthew Willenborg, the fraternity member whom Dean said was involved in the incident. Although Harris understands the Black Men of Today's frustrations, he doesn't think that kicking Willenborg or the SAE house off the KU campus will solve anything.

The Black Men of Today organized the protest against the fraternity and against the administration. Its leaders, Mark McCormick and John Lewis, have been vocal about wanting to bring change within the university. They originally called for the suspension of Willenborg and the SAE fraternity.

They were scheduled to hold a news conference at noon today concerning their demands, McCormick said.

Andrea Katzman, facilitator of Students Concerned About Discrimination, is scheduled to meet Friday with Judith Ramaley, executive vice chancellor, to talk about creating a positive environment for minority students on campus.

HARRIS AGREES that change needs to come to both KU and Lawrence.

But the best way to combat racism is to provide a method of interaction between people of different cultures, he said.

Toward that end, Harris has developed a series of spiritual concerts, in which people can interact with one another, he said. The next concert will be at 7 p.m. May 5 at Hoch Auditorium. Gospel musician Beau Williams will perform. About 300 people attended the last concert.

"Those people saw peace and harmony, and black and white folk enjoying themselves together," Harris said. "That's what we need. When people come together and learn about each other, they aren't so afraid."

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