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Conversation, especially when it concerns race, requires a “generosity of spirit,” National Public Radio host Michele Norris told an audience of more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and community members last night at Baker Hall.

Norris, an NPR host and special correspondent, discussed her Race Card Project as part of the Kenner Lecture Series on Cultural Understanding and Tolerance.

Her conversation with audience members was moderated by James Peterson, director of the Africana studies program and associate professor of English.

The evening also included performances by Sonia Sanchez, a poet, playwright and author of children's books, and a cast of four actors.

In the Race Card Project, Norris asks people around the globe to distill their thoughts on race and identity into six word stories. Members of the Lehigh community can participate in the conversation on social media using the hashtag  #LehighDialogue.

“My work is indebted to narrative and to the stories that people tell,” Norris said. “My method is not necessarily the best way of telling these stories, but it’s one way. This form of storytelling has changed the way I look at journalism.

“We all believe [race] is difficult to talk about, but so many people are willing to share,” said Norris.

“Conversation is a two way street; it really requires a generosity of spirit.”

 

Sanchez, a former recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, shared her work as the actors recited a curated selection of stories that Norris has received since starting the Race Card Project.

Audience members received their own cards and were encouraged to share their stories as well.

Norris is the author of The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, a soul-searching book released in 2010 that unearthed long hidden family secrets, raised questions about her own racial legacy and shed new light on America’s complicated racial history.

She implored audience members to “mine their own legacy,” as she had in writing her memoir.

While writing The Grace of Silence, Norris made many surprising discoveries, including the revelation that her father had been shot in the leg by a policeman shortly after he returned from serving in the Navy during World War II. The incident occurred as her father attempted to enter a public building to attend a class on the U.S. Constitution, which he was studying in order to register to vote.

“You learn a lot about America when you mine your own family story,” said Norris, who told students in the audience to use their holiday breaks at home to ask family members to share their life experiences.

While on campus, Norris also met with undergraduate students from all three colleges.

Donald Hall, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, commended Norris for her work and encouraged the audience to explore the ideas presented throughout the evening with their friends and families.

“I hope this lecture sparks a constructive dialogue that continues long after tonight’s event,” said Hall, who also recognized the Kenner family for making the evening possible.

The Kenner Lecture Series in the College of Arts and Sciences was endowed by Jeffrey L. Kenner ’65.

Kenner, who studied in industrial engineering and business at Lehigh, established the lecture series in 1997. After a career as a management consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers (then Price Waterhouse & Co.), he became involved in leveraged buyouts and venture capital. In 1986, Kenner formed his own firm, Kenner & Co. Inc. He served as a university trustee from 1995-2002, and has long been a member of Lehigh’s Asa Packer and Tower Societies.

Story by Karl Brisseaux

Posted on Thursday, January 02, 2014

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