RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Wednesday night's town hall at St. Augustine's University was planned long in advance but comes amid a string of racially-charged incidents at local schools and neighborhoods. It provided a unique opportunity to move the conversation forward.
Most in this diverse audience had seen or heard about the racist video posted by a group of Wake County middle-schoolers, last week, or about the recent controversy over a racially-charged confrontation in the hallway of Wake Forest High School that ended with a black student suspended and the white student receiving no punishment.
There's also the recent spate of KKK recruitment fliers popping up on local porches.
But from the beginning of the town hall at St. Aug's, organizers made it clear they were aiming at having a more adult conversation.
"This conversation is not about somebody calling you the N-word," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and the town hall moderator. "This conversation is to go deeper, to help us understand what we mean when we say systemic racism."
"Although we still have the old-fashioned racial discourse of the past out there, a new 'killing me softly' version of prejudice has emerged that I call color-blind racism," added Duke University professor Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.
"Anything and everything that exploits, dehumanizes, demoralizes, that makes a human being feel less than, is something we should fight against," said the Rev. Claudia Del Cruz, a professor at John Jay College.
"There are folks from all over the country who are working across racial lines, religious lines, geographic lines to build a better world without racism and poverty," said Dr. Liz Theoharis with the Kairos Center for Religion.
"You're looking at a new political system where a huge mass of the population on both sides is very suspicious of their party establishments and they know the system doesn't work for them," said University of Massachusetts professor Dr. Thomas Ferguson. "This is the moment for the adult conversation about race and class."
Thursday is the first of a two-day training conference at St. Aug's. It's a chance for activists from across the country to sharpen their understanding about race, class, and poverty. And, to train about how to be a better voice for change in their communities.