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microphone on a stand with blurred lights out of focus in the background

No More Hate - Bethel AME Service

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for the invitation to be part of this special worship event today. It is such an honor to speak with you today in this space with over 150 years of history of leadership and collaboration in the community. I have enjoyed and learned so much from the many MLK Day services I have attended and have so enjoyed the Charism singers over the years. And I should warn you, that as a professor, I'm used to talking in 50-minute increments.

We are here because hate feels more pervasive right now in society. And although hate has a history much older than 150 years, I believe we must remain optimistic and believe that we all have a special role to play as we reflect individually and reach out to our Better Angelsto hopefully influence others.

As Director of the University of Iowa Public Policy Center (PPC), I'd like to focus briefly on two of our Center's missions: research and community engagement - and the particular role that we might play in helping reduce hate in society through a better understanding of the issues.

At the PPC, we conduct policy-relevant social science research on topics such as health, environment and criminal justice policy. Much of our research focuses on areas where there are disparities, because that's where we need evidence-based data to inform better policymaking. For example, I've spent much of my research career studying different aspects of health disparities, and developing options for improving things like health insurance coverage and public health. Our criminal justice investigators evaluate issues around racial justice and policing. We have a group looking at environmental justice issues. Through all of our research, we try not to be seen as advocates ourselves so that our science is believed and is not viewed as biased. But we pick these topics to study because disparities are where better policy is needed and can make a difference in society. We want our research to not only be published in the best academic journals but be shared in less formal ways, such as reports and policy briefs, so they can be used by policymakers and advocates to push for evidence-based change in society. And what I enjoy so much about being at the Public Policy Center are the people who are attracted to the Center - people who want to make a difference in society through research and education.

The second step in this process is through our community engagement mission through which we create opportunities for civil discourse by putting together speakers with perspectives that might differ from each other and our own. For example, this fall we are planning a symposium on Immigration Policy (easy topic!), which requires a multifaceted approach- much more than a left vs. right, or in this case, build a wall vs. don't build a wall. Like many issues, this one is extremely complicated and requires hearing from a variety of perspectives. If we can go into these discussions with a little humility, we can learn so much by listening to those with differing opinions.

By creating new knowledge about the disparities in our society (our research), sharing these results with our communities and our leaders, and bringing together experts with varying perspectives to create opportunities for civil discourse (our community engagement mission), we believe the Public Policy Center can play a role in increasing understanding and reducing hate in society. We also work with many students, to try and get them involved in community-engaged research and educational experiences, and we have a strong DEI purpose that runs through all of our missions, but I will reserve that for our next 50-minute lecture.

I'd like to end on a personal note. As some of you may know, we have a band called HomeBrewed and we play primarily benefit concerts for non-profits in the community. For example, next Sunday, we will be playing a benefit concert at Big Grove for the Food Bank. Several years ago, after visiting the MLK Memorial in Washington, I wrote a song that in hindsight seems to be made for our discussion today - or, at least I would like to think so. At that time, it felt like there was an increase in rhetoric from some leadership positions that was attempting to sow divisions in ways we hadn't really seen in decades, and played to our Lesser Angels. The song we now play is called Spirit of Hope and the lyrics speak to how, "we can sing to our good, or pander to our bad," how we can, "focus on the joy, or give in to our fear," and how, "Dr. King taught us all how to relate." It ends with Dr. King's quote, "Only Light Can Drive out Darkness, Only Love Can Drive out Hate."

Thank you very much.

Damiano, P. No More Hate - Bethel AME Service.