The 2020 Community Engagement Institute took place on October 2nd featuring an incredible lineup of guest speakers and the theme of Sharing the Torch: Mobilizing Across Generations. For the first time, this event was held in a virtual format, with over 200 participants tuning in from across the region to take part in conversations about issues facing communities in the Deep South.

The event kicked off with an interview-style discussion between keynote speaker Lauren Simmons, the youngest trader, only female, and second African American woman at the New York Stock Exchange and Dr. Shauntice Allen, CEI lead and Assistant Professor with the School of Public Health at UAB. The discussion covered many topics including how Lauren came to be in her position, what it took to get there, how individuals in minority communities can create spaces for themselves in any arena, the need to remember and honor those torch-bearers that paved the way through history to create the opportunities of today, and the call to action to pay it forward for younger generations.

Next, participants heard from a panel of guest speakers moderated by Attorney A. Michelle Clemon, JD, MS, SPHR. This panel featured Activist and Speaker T. Marie King, Deputy Director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA), Carlos E. Alemán, Executive Director of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Corey Wiggins, and Student Activist, Isabel Hope.

Clemon began the panel discussion by digging into the theme of “passing the torch.” Panelists discussed their own definitions of “torch” and what it means in the context of community and collaboration, leveraging the power of community, and sharing stories of success as means of empowering others. T. Marie King said, “The torch to me means support, guidance, and release. When I think about the Olympic torch being passed, you actually have to take it somewhere, give it, make sure it has the support in that person’s hands, and let it go. Ego has to be let go, knowing that idea of what we wanted or envisioned may change due to the next generation getting a hold of it and running with it as they see fit.”

The panel included 18-year-old college student and activist, Isabel Hope, who brought a unique perspective on the characteristics of her generation (Gen Z) and the ways they are equipped to create change. “We are very racially and ethnically diverse,” she said, “diverse in terms of political thought, and we have a lot of diversity in what kind of activism we’re willing to do and how we mobilize people.”

The panel went on to discuss barriers to sharing the torch and ways we can facilitate the transfer of knowledge and activation of the next generation. Corey Wiggins said, “I tell people that social justice work is like a buffet. Take as much as you want or as little as you want, but there’s work still to be done. It is a space for everybody.”

The remainder of the discussion covered a range of topics including examples of public figures who have modeled effective sharing of knowledge and moving generations to action, and advice from the panelists on how to help others understand the importance of sharing their torch. The panelists shared rich discussion around all of these topics and more, and through the event streaming platform, audience members were able to ask the speakers questions in real time. Panelist Carlos E. Alemán said, “We need real dialogue with the communities we want to serve so that our service reflects their needs and priorities.” This event was a powerful reminder of the importance of dialogue among communities and across generations in order to create the change needed to move society forward in creating equity for all people.