Pan African Conference: The fight’s not over, social justice continues

S. Lee Merritt, a leading civil rights activist, spoke about continuing the fight for social justice 

at Minnesota State University, Mankato’s 45th Annual Dr. Michael T. Fagin Pan African Conference Tuesday.

Merritt shared his experience as a person of color and his thoughts about racial injustices. 

One question asked during the discussion was how to mitigate burdens the COVID-19 pandemic had put on Black owned businesses. 

“I think the answer is always going to rely on unity,” he said. “If we are supporting Black businesses, make it intentional to support startup businesses and circulate the Black dollar within the Black community as often as possible, then we can show up for our communities in that way,” Merritt said.

In regards to social injustices, the Derek Chauvin trial currently taking place was heavily discussed in the conversation. This is a case involving the death of George Floyd during his arrest in May of 2020. When asked how this situation might affect future law enforcement officers this is what was shared. 

“The Chauvin trial going on right now will demonstrate some consequences that will serve as a deterrent for bad acts among law enforcement. I’m hopeful that a new diversity of applicants will join the law enforcement profession,” Attorney Merritt shared.

As an attorney who has handled high profile cases Merritt talked about his experience when trying to create change from within the justice system itself. 

“If you don’t have someone opposing you then you probably aren’t making any real progress. In fact, without struggle there is no progress, and I think that this is evidence that we are making progress and moving toward our goal,” Merritt said.

Working toward change locally and nationally is something many students and faculty at MNSU highly prioritize. Merritt shared how people within the community can help on a local scale. 

“I think local organizations are absolutely critical for this movement for Black people. If they can continue to attract youthful energy into their organizations and grow while also responding to the crisis in their communities, that is ideal,” Merritt stated.

Merritt has accomplished many notable things during his time as an attorney which include advocating for the first murder indictments of officers in the state of Texas in over 40 years. His office has led the way in reform in which the state is notorious for its failure to prosecute police officers. 

Kenneth Reid, co-chair of the conference, said, “The murders of black and brown people around the United States by police officers is disproportionate and unacceptable, we must do more about it.”

Other topics of discussion during his time included how to overcome barriers due to COVID-19 as a person of color, the current state of social justice, his personal experience with creating change within the justice system and what communities can do to grow in the direction of equality. 

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