As the lights dimmed in Michigan State University's WKAR Studio A Thursday night, audience members were challenged to consider their individual impact as they watched the film "The Cost of Inheritance."
The film was presented by WKAR, an MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences public broadcasting service, in partnership with the Justice League of Greater Lansing Michigan. The organizations came together to create a conversational space where the topic of reparations could be accessibly discussed.
Following the presentation, a panel of community members took to the stage to strike up a conversation regarding a core idea posed in the film: how to approach reparations in the modern day at an individual level.
Panelist Reverend Dr. Kit Carlson encouraged viewers to research their family's history to not be complicit in the systems they could be a part of.
"We might not necessarily be descended from enslavers, but every white person in this country has benefited from the legacy of slavery and all of us have research we can do into that," Carlson said. "There are systems out there that sweep us up, and we are part of it, and we participate in it, and we are complicit in it— we have a responsibility to do something."
Justice League of Greater Lansing Michigan President and panelist Prince-Jerold Solace said he wanted to make the distinction that reparations should be approached with love.
"Bring it to the table like you would talk to someone that you love," Solace said. "I'm talking about the kind of love that is willing to engage in tough conversations."
Solace said asking questions that give insight into the perspective of who one is speaking with is crucial to engaging in a healthy conversation with the mindset of love.
"I think asking for clarity is one of the greatest things we can do in life," Solace said. "Often when something is said, whether it be by our parents, our friends or our grandparents, we might let it slide because we don't want conflict— we don't want confrontation. Checking you on what you just said, that allows for a deeper understanding of you reflecting on what you just said, maybe how it impacted me."
Clarifying these questions prevents tense conversations from becoming stuck, Solace said.
"I think so many people, you know, may fall into this state of being paralyzed when it comes to talking about sensitive subjects like slavery," Solace said. "So, let's ask clarifying questions."
Assistant Director for Undergraduate Programs in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Stratton Lee was a viewer of the film and following panel. Lee believes it was important for MSU to provide spaces for screenings like this one because it provides an educational opportunity for understanding within the Spartan community.
"Oftentimes, for any sense of change to occur, it is important for people to understand themselves and then understand themselves in relation to others," Lee said. "So, a screening like today's, you know, shows us in a very real way a person's starting point in understanding their family’s lineage and their impact on history."
Justice League of Greater Lansing Michigan Founder and panelist Willye Bryan said these spaces at MSU are an "on-ramp" for activism, so one doesn't have to do individual investigating to be made aware of an issue.
Bryan added that her organization is always in need of skilled and dedicated individuals who are willing to give their time to help them achieve important goals.
"The more the merrier and the more we can get done," Bryan said.