Kerner@50 in your words: What happens now?

Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission set out to understand race relations in America. The group of 11 senators, mayors and business leaders came to the conclusion that white society had systematically denied opportunity to Black Americans living in poor urban neighborhoods.

A group of leaders, academic thinkers and activists gathered at UC Berkeley this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the report’s release, and examine why the Kerner Commission’s vision for ending structural racism in America failed to become real – and what the future holds for the effort.

Berkeley News writer Will Kane and photographer Brittany Hosea-Small asked a variety of UC Berkeley faculty, panelists and student attendees: What do you hope we’re talking about when a group like this meets again in 50 years, 100 years after the Kerner Commission report was first published?

“I hope we don’t need to have conferences that are based on the premise of proving that a history of racism is worth talking about. And the second thing I would say is that I hope we’re having a conversation that doesn’t start with gaping inequality and opportunity along racial lines.” – Shaun Donovan, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama

“People need to be more honest and open to talk about everything in America. We shouldn’t hide behind code for talking about racism. We should talk about things the way we want them to be.” – Anael Kengne, 21, a fourth-year public health major (left)

“I hope that we’re not talking about another white migration to the suburbs.” – Caluda Antillon, 22, a fourth-year public health major

“I don’t believe in hope. I am not a pessimist. I am a possibilist. What race means will be different 50 years from now, than it is now. It could be better, it could be worse. We have no idea what will happen, but we what do know what will happen if we don’t show up. So let’s show up.” – john powell, a UC Berkeley professor of law, African American studies and ethnic studies

“I hope that we are a more inclusive society, that all the changes lead to more and more equality.” – Noah Rofagha, 18, a freshman political science major

“My realistic hope is that we’ll have another conference like this, that we do something like the Kerner Commission again. My optimistic hope is that inequality is gone.” – Alexandra Bear, 27, a fourth-year student with no major

“I’m afraid we’re going to have the same conversation again, we’re just going to be aged, hopefully aged well. We as a country did reports like this after Ferguson, but what have we changed on a national level since then?” – Lulu Matute, a fourth-year American studies major

Contact Will Kane at