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50 Years After the Kerner Commission, BYU Discusses Race

Three Universities evaluated how far we have come and where we still need to go in regards to race in the United States


BYU Newsline broadcast

In response to the 1967 race riots happening in Black and Latino neighborhoods, President Johnson established the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of the riots and to provide recommendations for the future. Johnson asked for answers to three basic questions about the riots: “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”

The report’s sharpest criticism was directed towards the mainstream media. “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective.”

The BYU School of Communications entered into the conversation of race alongside two historically black universities, Morgan State and West Virginia University, to discuss how far we have come since the Kerner Commission Report and what changes still need to be made.

BYU Newsline featured some of the positive changes that have been made since the Kerner Commission at BYU and within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Clubs on campus such as the Black Student Union and the Women of Color Club meet to support black students on campus, advertisements for the Church have tried to include more families of different races to be inclusive of a global membership and BYU comms students have worked to understand the conversation about race by inviting people such as social justice activist Bryan Stevenson to campus.

The Church of Jesus Christ has also established a database of early African-American members of the church and has recently released the movie “Jane and Emma”, which focuses on the little-known stories of African-American pioneer Jane Manning James.


From left to right: Cameron McCoy, Tamu Smith, Othello Richards

Despite all the positive changes that have been made, Tamu Smith, producer of ‘Jane and Emma,’ said, “Policies have changed drastically since the , but attitudes and perceptions have not changed.” UVU professor LaShawn Williams added to that statement. “We don’t see the racism all around us, but it is still there. There are invisible power structures that lead to a system of advantage based on race.”

“Part of the issue is that there is shame when we look back. We don’t want to talk about race because we don’t want to remember our difficult past,” BYU professor Cameron McCoy said. “Our nation is rooted and founded in inequality, and there are scars on scars on scars that have been building on each other for generations.”

BYU’s campus is 82% white, so it can be difficult to have a thorough conversation on race. However, Williams says, “We should feel some guilt about white privilege, but not shame. Guilt influences us to act. Don’t be afraid to act. There are small things we can do every day to fight privilege in our communities. Things as simple as asking to volunteer in a classroom with a student who doesn’t get help from a parent at home.”


BYU team of students involved in live stream event

The media is another platform where privilege is often overlooked. “Where is my representation?” Tamu Smith asked. “Every day white women see themselves in the media. Hiring more racial minorities in the media is important so that African Americans can tell their own stories. It is possible, in today’s world, that a white person could never even come in contact with an African American. This is why it is so important that they hear our stories from us.”

Although a more diverse representation in media seems frustratingly slow moving, one of the Morgan State representatives said, “We can tap into events in the world today through so many mediums, including social media. They do not have to rely solely on the news reporters or stations. We have both the power to be journalists and a responsibility to report.”

If you missed the live stream event, watch it here:

Morgan State

West Virginia University



Photos courtesy of Alyssa Lyman