Within the past year, John Carroll University has focused on increasing diversity and overall awareness of the issue. Martin Luther King, Jr. is often considered both a role model and inspiration for ending racism and promoting equality in America. Each year, the JCU community recognizes the ideals set forth by MLK in a community celebration.
The annual John Carroll University celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was held on Wednesday, Jan. 14 in the Donahue Auditorium. Each year, this event aims to educate students about racism and the efforts they can make to end racial prejudice.
This year, JCU hosted well-known comedian W. Kamau Bell. Bell shared his thoughts on racism in a fun way that sparked conversation. Bell is most commonly known for his short-lived, but critically-acclaimed, FX comedy series, “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.” As a comedian, Bell is always searching for laughs. However, he conveys a greater message through his act.
Bell uses his show to make the topic of racism more approachable. Along with his national tours, he travels to college campuses and educates students about the realities of racism.
Earlier at a meet and greet event, Bell discussed his journey to becoming a comedian, as well as his decision to advocate against racism. When asked how he felt about the current progress being made against racism, Bell said it depends on the day and where you are.
“It’s better to be more realistic and harsh rather than to get caught up thinking everything is okay,” Bell said.
He believes that it is important to show other perspectives on racism, as well as allowing people to have the awkward conversations.
The evening began with an introduction from JCU’s President, the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., and a brief prayer from pastor-in-residence Valentino Lassiter.
Bell’s comedic and educational performance, “Ending Racism in About an Hour,” followed. Bell did not dance around any topics, but rather used modern examples and blunt language. He said, “Race isn’t real. You wouldn’t know what race you were unless someone sat you down and told you.”
Bell then explained that we don’t know what races are. The 2010 U.S. census grouped the European, Arabic and Latino populations together as “white.” He ended his act by encouraging everyone to embrace their own race and make sure we don’t dismiss acts of racism.
“Racism is over. Just kidding. That’s your job,” concluded Bell.
Each joke of the night was incredibly well-received with lots of laughter and applause. Junior Tyra Sadler said that Bell “was very entertaining. He managed to touch on race and make it understandable for people by exploring peoples’ comfort zones.”
There was a wide variety of students, faculty, staff and community members who attended the event, including a group of students, led by a professor from the Department of Philosophy, Christina Rawls. The group is creating a documentary on race and racism, which will premiere on May 1. According to Rawls, “His performance was multi-faceted, gratifying in all the right ways, incorporated an educational experience with high tech and not only a comedic performance, hilarious, and did I say hilarious?”
Students and others appreciated Bell’s comedic and relaxed approach to a difficult topic. Junior Tim Maxwell, one of the students creating the documentary with Rawls, said, “I really enjoyed his open approach about the issue and I feel that comedy provides and effective way for people to address difficult issues like racism.”
Rawls said of Bell, “He did not only ‘do’ comedy, but connected with us all on many levels, emphasizing that we need to have the awkward but critically and continuously important conversation about race and racism.”
Bell said each comedian has an individual goal, and his goal is to start engaging conversations that will bring people together.