February 11 was a night that I will remember for quite some time. The presentation by Tom DeWolf and Sharon Morgan, gave students, faculty, and members of our community an insight into the lives of these two extraordinary individuals whose passion to further explore their past and their roots connected them in ways they would not have imagined. They spoke about their journey, their history, their past, the book they wrote together, Gather at the Table, and, most importantly, the relationship they developed due to their journey together.
Tom DeWolf and Sharon Morgan embarked on a journey that led them to incredible findings. They both discovered more about their ancestors, where they came from, and more about their past. Tom DeWolf found out that his wealth was due to the fact that he is a descendant of one of the largest, most influential slave owners in American history, James DeWolf, who was also a United States senator from Rhode Island. On the other hand, Sharon Morgan discovered that her family members are descendants of slaves. She only has found a few of the names of her relatives, but, as her quest to uncover her genealogy and family history progresses, she hopes to discover the names and information about more relatives. Not only are they doing this to leave records of their findings for future generations to see, but also to demonstrate and to serve as living examples of how interconnected our world is.
As the night progressed, I realized that their presentation was much more than just their findings, their genealogy/family tree, and themselves. Even though they shared deep thoughts about each other, what truly shocked me the most was the fact that their thoughts and first impressions were based on stereotyping, racism, and discrimination.
Their first impression about one another was different, yet surprisingly similar in approach. I’ll explain. Sharon viewed Tom as a white male who was trying to see through her and attempt to intimidate her. Sharon thought that the way Tom was staring was both uncomfortable and disrespectful. On the other hand, Tom thought that Sharon was intimidating. He thought she had, perhaps, too much confidence in herself; moreover, she was someone with whom he did not want to mess with. But these thoughts were, unconsciously, based on stereotyping and the way we have shaped our society.
As they explained (of course I am paraphrasing), we can look back at our history and that of the world and discover that, from the beginning of humanity, we have discriminated against those whom we thought were weak. We have even labeled them as inferior. But how in the world did humanity come up with these ideas? It was all based on what was known later on as survival of the fittest. We as humans instinctively categorize people according to their abilities, similarities/differences, race, gender, color, ethnicity, and many other categories.
In the US, for example, discrimination is more prevalent due to historical events that shaped our nation and altered the mindset of individuals. Our nation, unfortunately, most frequently discriminates against people based on color, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. For example, if we review our history, colonists brought in African men and women by the thousands with the intention of selling them to white landowners to be used as servants and slaves. The English needed people to work in US lands in order to help build our nation’s economy, power, and size. However, the reason they acquired African slaves was because they believed that people of color were inferior and less intellectual simply because their skin was much darker than theirs. This is absurd.
Just because we are different from one another does not mean that someone is superior to someone else. It simply means that we are unique, and even though we are all different from one another, we are all connected and in ways related, as Tom and Sharon later on discovered. During their research, they found out that an ancestor of Tom was married to an ancestor of Sharon two centuries ago or so, making Tom and Sharon 5th cousins three times removed, or something like that. That’s incredible! The fact that two strangers who met at a conference with common interests and could not stand each other at first can be genealogically related is simply outstanding.
Even though this blog may not be a summary of a presentation, it represents one of the many opinions that the student body, faculty members, and community members had about the presentation. With confidence, I can say that this presentation was eye opening, inspiring, emotionally and substantially deep, and incredible. Tom and Sharon opened up and shared their experiences and journeys in order to teach us about the negative impact and effect of discrimination, whether it is based on race, ethnicity, color, or any other category. I did not expect this at all, which made my experience an even greater one. If I had the opportunity to see Tom and Sharon again, I would simply give them my gratitude for sharing their journey with us, for allowing us to gain entrance into their lives for a moment, and for inspiring everyone who attended their presentation.