Celebrating Empathy and Resilience, Empowering Voices for Social Justice with Jewell Parker Rhodes


Dr. Rhodes Zoom Screen Shot

Eve Elias Stowell

The Montgomery College community had the honor of hosting Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes for the first virtual event of the Spring 2021 Frank Islam Athenaeum Symposia Speakers Series. Dr. Rhodes is a best-selling author and educator whose work centers around social justice, equality, and environmental stewardship. Dr. Rhodes delivered a presentation via Zoom in February, titled, “Celebrating Empathy and Resilience, Empowering Voices for Social Justice,” to an audience of dozens of Montgomery College students, staff, and faculty.

Dr. Rhodes’ talk centered around reshaping narratives that are dominated by white privilege. She spoke about her upbringing in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where she was raised by her grandmother and single father, her knowledge from a young age concerning her race, and how this shaped her. Dr. Rhodes stated that as a child, she relied on teachers and librarians for books, using them as a means of escape, admitting that from the time she was a small child up until she was a college student, she was never assigned a book that was written by a black author.

Recognizing the lack of diversity in written works she experienced in her own life, Dr. Rhodes’ works aim to deliver stories that center around people of color. She also uses her writing to inform and educate on real-life issues that people of color face, including racism, bias, inequality, and discrimination. Her New York Times best-selling novel, Ghost Boys, which has garnered over 30 awards and honors, including the Jane Addams Peace Award, centers around the murder of young black boys, crafting a story that shows the awful and true reality of the dangers that black children face.

A key point in Dr. Rhodes’s presentation was the concept of resilience and how we can use resilience to affect change. “Tragedy has happened, now what will you do about it?” she questioned the MC audience. Dr. Rhodes pressed that empathy is a key element for ending racial bias and moving towards greater racial inclusivity, detailing that we must come together to create change, rather than cause a further divide. “We are all family. We are all kin.” She included the work of Brazilian artist, Angelica Dass, who is famous for her photography work that illustrates over 4,000 known skin tones, in her presentation, reinforcing the idea of race being a social construct, not a biological one.

Dr. Rhodes also spoke about the importance of having characters of color and stories available to children of color and how this can help positively shape a child or adolescent’s self-image, which is often influenced by racist stereotyping and mistreatment. Recognizing that inequality and racial bias extend to other ethnicities as well, Dr. Rhodes makes a point to include multiethnic characters in her novels, utilizing the narrative of the story to break stereotypes that are commonly associated with specific ethnicities. By providing stories that both reflect the realities of racial bias, while also painting children of color in a positive and uplifting manner, Dr. Rhodes hopes her stories will educate and edify globally.

Watch Dr. Jewel Parker Rhode’s Presentation to Montgomery College yourself! Link provided below:

Visit the Montgomery College Library to view works by Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes available for loan:

To keep updated on the Spring 2021 Frank Islam Athenaeum Symposia Speakers Series and its upcoming events, please visit the website below: