CEDAR FALLS — NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem or black lives matter activists holding up traffic on a highway have been seen by some as controversial ways of drawing attention to the number of unarmed black people killed by law enforcement. But Jason Sole is a firm believer in the power of the protest.

“I see more conversations. People are talking all over, and I definitely credit a lot of the disruptive tactics for that, because before people were disrupting things and shutting things down, you weren’t having these conversations,” said Sole, who is president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP.

Sole, who also once called Waterloo home, will be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Cedar Valley conference on diversity & inclusion dubbed “Engage, Empower, Act” that will be held Friday at the University of Northern Iowa campus and YWCA.

The event will be held from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday at the UNI Commons and then from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Friday at the YWCA in downtown Waterloo. Both are free and open to the public.

To register for the event, or for additional information, go to diversity.uni.edu.

UNI President Mark Nook said in a statement the conference arose from student demands for increased attention to diversity issues, and he hopes it will become an annual event.

“The conference is one of the many, many ways our campus and community will see the institution demonstrating its commitment to achieving that goal” of diversity and inclusion, Nook said.

Sole made clear it’s important to do more than talk about diversity and inclusion.

“I’m grateful that conversations are happening, but unfortunately I’m not seeing the action that’s needed to actually change systems,” Sole said.

Sole’s keynote, as well as his participation in other sessions, will focus on three areas — education, advocacy and policing.

Sole knows well the power of advocacy, both in terms of the disruptive techniques and meeting with police to see systematic change. He’s not only studied it — he is finishing a doctorate in public safety with a specialization in criminal justice and teaches at Hamline University — but he practices it.

He said the Minneapolis community is still reeling from a not guilty verdict this summer for the law enforcement officer who ended the life of Philando Castile, but the NAACP is working to make changes there.

Though it is easy to focus on how slowly those changes are coming, Sole made clear his message at the conference will be one of hope. His background as a former gang member and convicted felon who now is working on his doctorate is offered as proof of the power to change.

“I want people to be motivated from the presentation,” Sole said. “My message is really inclusivity, trying to bring people together and have more love and support, especially when we’re dealing with so much division and so much trauma in this world.”

Prior to the conference, UNI will host a series of events on campus between Monday and Wednesday. Included in the events is a diversity colloquium on how to teach about diversity and privilege that will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday in the ScholarSpace of the Rod Library at UNI. That event also is free and open to the public.

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Staff Writer

Political reporter at the Courier

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