WMU's Walker Institute hosts series of community conversations regarding race and society

Contact: Erin Flynn
The logo for 30 years of the Lewis Walker Institute.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations at Western Michigan University is hosting a series of community conversations to discuss issues of race and ethnicity in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

"Discussing issues around race and ethnicity, and especially the intersection of race and racism, are at the core of what the Lewis Walker Institute was designed to do," says Dr. Luchara Wallace, the institute's director. "We facilitate the tough conversations and work on developing action steps to address those issues in our communities, local and nationally. We cannot remain silent during this time."

Comprised of three live panel sessions, the series draws on the expertise of nationally recognized scholars and thought leaders as well as local community leaders. The discussions will be broadcast live on the institute's Facebook page and offer the opportunity for the public to submit questions for panelists. The conversations will then be archived on the page.

"The Lewis Walker Institute is a vital resource as we work to move forward and address systemic racism because our core mission is to develop an understanding of race and ethnic relations; promote an appreciation of diverse peoples and cultures of the U.S. and other nations; and work to create more equitable and inclusive communities and institutions," Wallace says. "We value being able to promote not only intellectual understanding, but also developing capacity so that true change can come."

Conversations will be held on three consecutive Wednesdays at 3 p.m. and cover the following topics:

  • Community Conversation on June 3

    June 3: How did we get here? Why now?
    The death of George Floyd in police custody is exposing a divide in the country. The discussion will examine the root causes of distrust in law enforcement and consider tangible policy reforms that effect change in law enforcement agencies as well as offer suggestions for how citizens can get involved.
  • June 10: Civic engagement vs. civic unrest—who decides?
    Demonstrations in cities across the nation are reminiscent of the 1960s. Why now? Why this method? The discussion will focus on where the line is drawn between civic engagement and civil unrest, how law enforcement can balance personal and professional experiences and how to separate protestors from opportunists.
  • June 17: An analysis
    The brain trust of the Walker Institute, including Drs. Donald Cooney, Douglas Davidson and Lewis Walker, will analyze what has been discussed in previous weeks and give the conversations historical perspective.

"I hope participants learn a bit more about the complexities of the issues and walk away with concrete action steps that each person can take," says Wallace.

Guests over the course of the three weeks are expected to include Daryl Johnson, author of "Right Wing Resurgence" and former director of the Office for Domestic Terrorism under the Obama administration; Kalamazoo County representatives of Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust; Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting; Kalamazoo community advocate Sabrina Pritchett-Evans; Gwen Moffit, Michigan Office of Civil Rights; Stacey Ledbetter, member of the Truth, Racial Health & Transformation Kalamazoo leadership team; Victor Ledbetter, director of the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Law Enforcement Training Center; Dr. Donald Cooney, associate director of the Walker Institute and former city commissioner; and Dr. Lewis Walker, WMU's first African American faculty member with a doctoral degree for whom the institute is named.


Founded in 1989 as the Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations, the institute was renamed in 2000 in honor of Dr. Lewis Walker, Western Michigan University’s first African American Ph.D. faculty member. Dr. Walker devoted his career to teaching and research about race and ethnic relations and worked for social justice through many applied research and community service projects. The Walker Institute continues this work in service to the University and community.