Growing up in segregated Missouri, Cedric the Entertainer is familiar with what it is like being part of a marginalized community.
The 54-year-old comedian remembers when a popular steak restaurant in his hometown began allowing black people to eat there during desegregation. He told a room full of people Thursday evening at Sacramento State’s Race and Its Social Impacts forum that his mother made him and his sister prepare for their first visit by teaching them etiquette and having them practice how they would order before heading to the restaurant.
“She wanted her kids to look a certain way and that we had to behave a certain way when we go around the white folks,” Cedric said. “That’s when you recognize for the first time that it’s something different about you that you have to be better, you have to do more, you have to be prepared.”
Cedric was joined at Sacramento State by acclaimed actor Danny Glover, Sacramento ACT executive director Gabby Trejo, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Director of Public Affairs Matt Ball, and CEO of Sacramento Packing, Inc. Jaswant Bains.
District 2 councilman Allen Warren and the Sacramento State Task Force for the Center on Race, Immigration, and Social Justice hosted the forum. Warren said he wanted people “to take a step in a way that brings us closer together” by having discussions like this to challenge people to think.
Trejo told the room about a moment she saw people come together in her experience at Sacramento ACT, a multifaith advocacy organization. To bridge the divide in a closed-door meeting between black and Latino workers, everyone was instructed to say all the things that they say about each other’s communities behind closed doors. To everyone’s surprise, they held the exact same stereotypes and hurled similar insults at each other.
Trejo was afraid the people participating would get “so nasty” with one another that they would no longer want to talk, but this exercise made them realize there are preconceptions about race and cultures that overlap.
“It was this moment of bridge and belonging and recognizing that systems are created intentionally to divide us and separate us and take us away from the human that we share, the human aspect,” Trejo said. “What is it going to take for all of us to really be counted as true human beings that are treated with respect and dignity no matter what?”
Sac State students also spoke about their experiences as minority students in the community and perspectives about race issues.
“It’s ultimately, at the end of the day, the physical presence of showing up for each other for whatever needs to be done. I think that speaks powers and speaks volumes,” Noel Mora said during the student panel. “It’s kind of taking the time to recognize, again, overlapping experiences of oppression.”
Warren said conversations about race have occurred for a long time but often without full honesty.
“I think it’s time we just talk about why,” Warren said “Why do we have communities that are stagnant for 30 or 40 years? And then we have other communities that thrive, new communities that are developed that thrive and the communities that are underperforming tend to be those that are heavily minority communities and primarily African American.”
But a few audience members said they felt the panel missed the mark.
Virshawn Hammonds, a Sacramento resident, said he didn’t think people were being honest or pushing one another to have those complicated conversations in day-to-day life.
“I think that they could have been a bit more genuine,” Hammonds said, saying that race is the number one problem in America. He thought the conversation was toned down to prevent people from getting out of control while talking about race.
Marianna Rivera, another Sacramento resident, said she was happy she came to the panel and is hoping for similar events to take place in the future. But she also thought the conversation didn’t go deep enough.
“This is just the beginning effort and they said they would do more,” she said. “This is where you see the hookup between the activists and intellectuals. I believe we’re going to have these intellectuals serve our community. That’s exciting. That’s an exciting thought. That’s why I’m glad I was here tonight.”