WATERLOO, Iowa --- "Coming to Waterloo is like coming home," said Robert A. Franklin, in town to serve as the keynote speaker at the 13th annual Cedar Valley Conference on Human Rights.

The conference, hosted Friday by Allen College, carried the theme "Practicing Hospitality in a World of Difference" and used film to stimulate dialogue about housing discrimination, immigration and poverty.

The Rev. Abraham Funchess Jr., director of the Waterloo Commission on Human Rights, introduced Franklin and explained that "hospitality" in this context means "looking at your neighbor and seeing the human being in them ... and treating them not only with kindness, but with respect and justice."

Franklin, is director of media operations, KVNO-FM, UNO-TV, and an assistant professor in the School of Communication, Fine Arts and Media at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. His syndicated radio show, "Like It Is," is broadcast locally on KBBG.

Franklin spoke briefly before showing his documentary "Riots of Red Summer: The Lynching of Will Brown."

"I see 'hospitality' as caring for one another in times of hardship," Franklin said. This is not what Will Brown received, he said.

In 1919 in Omaha, Neb., Will Brown, a 40-year-old black meatpacker, was charged with raping a white woman. A race riot, sparked in part by sensational media coverage of the allegation and corrupt leadership, led to his lynching.

Following the film, Franklin took questions and was joined onstage by Dianne Thompson, a freelance filmmaker from Philadelphia, and Waterloo's own Chaveevah Banks Ferguson, author, artist and publisher. Both contributed to the documentary.

Thompson said although laws have changed, the availability of opportunities haven't always changed.

We do "not demand hospitality from our own community, from our own selves," she said. "We have to value ourselves, then we can love others."

Ferguson said she sees disturbing parallels to the Omaha incident now, specifically with the media and leadership.

"It is not so very different today," she said. "We need to be vigilant and call these things out. The lessons of history we absolutely can't forget."

General assignment reporter and columnist at The Courier

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