By Ericka Alston Buck,
Special to the AFRO
On the evening of Oct. 9 a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation filled a much needed space at Loyola University in Baltimore. The occasion? The grand opening of the new permanent home for the Karson Institute for Race, Peace and Social Justice, founded by the esteemed Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead.
Whitehead is a distinguished professor of communication and African American Studies at Loyola University Maryland and an award-winning radio host.
Committed to creating a scholarly haven for the exploration of vital questions surrounding inequality, injustice, and racial inequity in America, festivities for Kaye and the institute began their celebration early at 8 a.m. with “Koffee and Convo with Colleagues,” a gathering of like-minded faculty members eager to engage in meaningful conversations.
At 10 a.m., “Kupcakes at the Karson” offered sweet treats and more opportunities for dialog and discussion with students. However, the day’s highlight was the standing-room-only ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception, held in the institute’s new space at 6 p.m.
The Karson Institute stands as a beacon of hope and transformation, providing a platform for professors, students, social workers, and activists to come together and explore answers to some of America’s most pressing questions. Kaye’s vision for the institute is rooted in research and data, cultivating an environment that thrives on intersectional, liberated ideas and ideologies.
Three years ago, in 2020, the institute was launched virtually on Zoom, leading the way to a remarkable journey. For its one-year anniversary, the institute planted a symbolic tree to celebrate its growth. And on this special Monday night, the ribbon was finally cut, symbolizing the transition from virtual to tangible. The opening ceremony was hosted by Loyola University alumnus Dr. LaMarr Darnell Shields.
The program for the evening began with a melodic backdrop performed by two talented student musicians, followed by thought-provoking and emotion-stirring spoken word performances, delivered by two amazingly talented 11th grade students from Baltimore City College.
Isabella Akillo performed “America Where?,” which challenged attendees to view America through the lens of racial inequity. Her words were a call to action, a reminder that the work of the Karson Institute was more critical than ever.
Shields’ son, Mosiah Shields, followed with “Negro Please,” a powerful piece charged with the pain of police brutality. His performance was an in your face, stark reminder of the urgency of the institute’s mission.
Elected officials, activists, students, Loyola faculty and leadership, friends, colleagues, and Kaye’s parents, Bishop Carson and Bonnie Wise,all shared remarks filled with adoration, pride, and unwavering support for the institute’s mission and for the work that would unfold within these walls. It’s evident that this new physical space symbolizes a turning point in the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.
Food and fellowship were at the heart of the evening, reinforcing the idea that meaningful change often begins with conversations around shared meals. The atmosphere was one of hope and anticipation for improved race relations, led by Kaye, who was planted firmly and exuded poise and passion within her vibrant new space.
Kaye’s motivation for this work can be traced back to her nana’s words: “Do the work for the children of your children.” Kaye hoped that her nana was watching, seeing her efforts to create a better world for generations to come. She’s striving to honor this legacy and hopes her efforts will make her nana proud.
The new physical space itself is a testament to the institute’s commitment to a brighter future for Black and Brown people, it is adorned with a vibrant mural designed and painted by Calvin Coleman, and the shelves are lined with books and publications from Kaye’s personal library, including contributions from Dr. Camille Cosby.
The entire evening was filled with inspiration, reflection, and hope. Kaye’s dedication to advancing the cause of racial justice and equality is a testament to her unwavering commitment to shifting the narrative for future generations to come. The institute’s new space is not just a physical location but a symbol of progress and possibility in the ongoing struggle for a more just and equitable society.
The evening was a celebration of not just an institute but a vision, a commitment, and a promise. All who attended couldn’t help but feel inspired by the hope and anticipation that filled the air. Kaye and the Karson Institute for Race, Peace & Social Justice are leading the way towards a brighter future, one where equality and justice are not just words but lived experiences for all.
The Karson Institute for Race, Peace and Social Justice is located at 200 Winston Ave, Suite 2018 on the Campus of Loyola University.