Wichita Urban Professionals invite all to ‘lean into discomfort’ in conversations about race

KSN Digital Extra

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Occasionally painful conversations are the ones most worth having. Parents are often confronted with a difficult subject matter in the process of sending their children into adulthood. But for families of color, the breadth of these conversations often carries messages of social nuances non-minority families, typically, do not often address.

Joseph Shepard, director of Multicultural Engagement and Campus Life at Newman University, is using his community stature to create room for discussions considered fairly common, and all too frequent for families of color that everyone can be a part of.

“Lean into the discomfort and see the world through a different lens,” says Shepard. “When I was growing up, we always talked about the idea about the expectations feeling a bit more heavy than my counterparts, but the conversation didn’t look like today.”

Today that conversation, observed even by a modest historian, carries the resemblances of warnings young black children received in the Jim Crow era south, but with modern updates.

“Based on the conversation that I’m hearing from students today, they’re afraid to even go outside with a hoodie. They’re afraid to go outside after a certain time frame,” said Shepard of students he’s encountered at Newman University and the Wichita area. “Their heart drops when they see a police officer get behind them because they don’t know what’s coming next.”

Joseph and like-minded young professional African Americans in the area pool their knowledge, resources and community efforts at organizations like Wichita Urban Professionals. Shepard and Wichita Urban Professionals Leadership Team member Danielle Johnson say such an outlet is beneficial for those trying to navigate areas thinly populated by people of color.

“We’re seeing folks from Houston, St. Louis, and they are used to full black spaces and they are the majority,” says Danielle Johnson, Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Wichita State University. “Coming into that space, where you’re navigating being that only person can be very intimidating if you’re not prepared. So Urban Professionals, among other programs, are working to make sure that the network feels comfortable, and there’s a safe space to have open, very real conversations about what they’re dealing with.

Broaching these topics in spaces like ones provided by Wichita Urban Professionals can help open the door for conversations about barriers like mental, higher education, and interacting with law enforcement. For information on upcoming events and discussions, follow the group on social media or go to their website.


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