Barry McNamara  |  Published March 18, 2022

Johnson Staffs National Conference

Four students accompanied her to Charlotte, North Carolina, event presented by The Privilege Institute.

IN CHARLOTTE: Pictured from left are Monmouth Director of Student Equity, Inclusion and Community... IN CHARLOTTE: Pictured from left are Monmouth Director of Student Equity, Inclusion and Community Regina Johnson and students Gabriela Madu, Reggie Willis, Nyasaina Kwamboka and Justin Douglas.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College Director of Student Equity, Inclusion and Community Regina Johnson said she was “humbled” – and a bit nervous – when given the opportunity to play a key role at her first national conference.

REGINA JOHNSON: Monmouth staff member helped facilitate Black Women's Think Tank at White Pri... REGINA JOHNSON: Monmouth staff member helped facilitate Black Women's Think Tank at White Privilege Conference.During the College’s spring break, Johnson traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to be part of the 23rd annual White Privilege Conference presented by The Privilege Institute. Its theme this year was “Wade in the Water: White Supremacy, Religion & Reciprocity.”

“I was part of a team of women also in the equity and inclusion field that led a full-day workshop at the conference,” said Johnson, who helped to facilitate the Black Women’s Think Tank, a space to unpack generational-racialized trauma and healing pathways. “Humbled does not fully describe my feelings for this tremendous opportunity. Additionally, I was able to take students to the conference, and it was such an incredible experience for them.”

Students who attended were Justin Douglas ’22 of Carol City, Florida; Nyasaina Kwamboka ’23 of Nairobi, Kenya; Gabriela Madu ’23 of Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Reggie Willis ’22 of Chicago. Monmouth professor Dan Ott, who helped create the College’s peace, ethics and social justice minor, attended part of the event.

“At the end of the first full day as we debriefed, the knowledge they were sharing, coupled with the empowerment that they were radiating, honestly made my cup runneth over,” said Johnson. “The last two years has had such an impact on these young women and men, robbing them of experiences such as this. While I wish that I could have taken these four leaders to a conference before now, I have no doubt that this trip, the connections made and the education they received will stay with them for a very long time.”

Lessons for herself, her community

Kwamboka said that would be the case, referencing a statement from the conference: “Politeness keeps oppression alive and in the blues.”

“Many minorities and others can attest to this quote,” she said. “It highlights the importance of taking up space and speaking your truth. I learned to unapologetically be myself, especially in settings where I am the only one.”

“I learned that in order to talk about race, we need to be comfortable addressing it personally.” Nyasaina Kwamboka

That was a personal lesson, and Kwamboka also gained important takeaways for her community.

“I learned that in order to talk about race, we need to be comfortable addressing it personally,” she said. “With the guidance of Rev. (Greg) Drumwright, my three student colleagues and I were inspired to openly bring these conversations to our peers on campus. We desperately need to have this unity by understanding how we got here and how we can get to a better place collectively. Our goal is to leave this place better than we found it.”

THE FOUR STUDENTS: Pictured around the founder of The Privilege Institute, Eddie Moore, Jr. (cent... THE FOUR STUDENTS: Pictured around the founder of The Privilege Institute, Eddie Moore, Jr. (center) are, from left, Monmouth students Gabriela Madu, Reggie Willis, Justin Douglas and Nyasaina Kwamboka. Eddie Moore Jr., a featured speaker during the College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in 2021, created The Privilege Institute as a nonprofit organization in 2014.

Kwamboka said Moore “manufactured an intergenerational, intersectional interracial space where we talked about white supremacy, while maintaining the values of respect, connection and understanding. It was the perfect comfortable space to have normally unspoken conversations with people who wanted to be there.”

Kwamboka’s interest in attending was partially driven by her desire “to support my mentor, adviser and friend in her presentation at the Black Women’s Think Tank,” she said. “I was also curious to experience what a room of intellectuals had to share about white privilege. My prior knowledge came from social media and my experiences in rural Illinois.”

Willis comes from an urban background, but he, too, took away several lessons from the conference.

“The conference was one of the best things I have attended, and it was truly life changing.” Reggie Willis

“Something I took away is that I still have ways to go before I really find out my true self and who I am,” he said. “It was also eye-opening how deeply rooted white supremacy is into human history and culture, even in something I practice, which is Christianity. Lastly, I was even able to recognize my own implicit biases, and how I can break down those bad things within me.”

Willis said the lessons learned will stay with him.

“The conference was one of the best things I have attended, and it was truly life changing,” said Willis.

‘Tackling self-work’

Of the think tank workshop, Johnson said: “This is an area that, since losing my grandmother four years ago, I personally have poured myself into. In the last decade the research that has been done on generational trauma, particularly racialized trauma, has shed tremendous light on how we process difficulties in our lives, as well as the capacity of resiliency. A huge part of doing non-superficial diversity, equity and inclusion work is tackling self-work.”

It’s not an easy process, said Johnson.

“It requires personal vulnerability, genuine personal introspect and facing the traumas that have shaped us,” she said. “We all have trauma, triggers and bias – every last one of us. The more I worked with our students, staff and faculty the last six years, the more I have come to realize just how much intersectionality, alongside generational trauma, can derail a human being.”

And life, unfortunately, can have that derailment lurking just around the corner.

“I was once told by an individual who had lost a child that every one of us is one tragedy away from complete brokenness,” said Johnson. “This is a real scenario for many of us. When I read My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resemaa Menakem – who was one of the keynote speakers at the conference – it touched me. It also made me think about what students on campus needed from me in my role.”

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