Illinois Association for Cultural Diversity

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Keynote Presenter: Dr. Shakti Butler

Shakti ButlerDr. Shakti Butler, the Executive Director of World Trust, will open the 18th Dealing with Difference Institute on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, at 1:00 p.m. with a presentation on "Fear: The Internal Engine of Oppression." Dr. Butler, as the Executive Director of World Trust, has facilitated many workshops and delivered many keynote addresses on multiple facets of cultural diversity and systemic oppression. Frequently her presentations incorporate concepts and perspectives that she has explored in her films since she has successfully used the medium to enter into in-depth dialogues with the women and men who appear in her films as well as those who participate in her programs. In her films, workshops, and keynotes, Dr. Butler invites audiences to look for the causes and consequences of the ongoing racial/ethnic inequity that defines the USA.

In her latest film, a work in progress titled Cracking the Codes: Race & Relationships in the 21st Century, Dr. Butler uses personal stories and reflection to explore the institutional structures that hold people back when they try to move toward racial equity and increased respect among diverse cultures. She will integrate scenes from Cracking the Codes into "Fear: The Internal Engine of Oppression," but she will begin her session by offering participants a context for the ideas and action she identifies as critical to understanding and promoting genuine culturally diverse communities. In doing so, she will address the personal and social complications that make such communities difficult to build and maintain. One of those complications is fear.

Fear can be turned inward toward shame and guilt or outward toward anger and oppression. In whatever way we view it, fear undermines a person's comfort level. It also undermines a person's effectiveness as a change agent and community member. Dr. Butler will help DWDI participants understand fear, its connections to personal and collective suffering, to racial divisiveness, and societal dysfunction. She will also help participants move toward positive transformations that are based on a commitment to social justice.

Prior to Cracking the Codes, Dr. Butler made The Way Home, a distillation of eight months of discussions among 64 women who came together to examine their own and others' perceptions and attitudes about their identities and their place/s in society. Defined by their racial/ethnic cultures, the women formed eight groups--African, Arab, Asian, European, Jewish, Indigenous, Latina, and multiracial Americans—to work through identity issues in a society that often uses race/ethnicity as a measure of value. While The Way Home focuses on the women as they work within the group with which they identify ethnically/racially, Dr. Butler's subsequent film, Light in the Shadows, brought together representatives from those groups for dialogue across cultures.

When making Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, the filmmaker took a different but related approach. As in her previous films she draws from a rich store of documentary techniques including interview clips, archival photos, reenactments, and dramatic dance sequences, but in this film she interweaves the stories and analyses of European American multicultural educators, including Gary Howard, Francie Kendall, Peggy McIntosh, and Tim Wise. Viewers learn about the journeys they have taken to reach an awareness of white privilege, the benefits and opportunities it has provided them, and the commitment to social justice they recognize as essential to their lives.

Dr. Shakti Butler's identity and experiences as a multiracial American with roots in African American, Arawak Indian, and Russian Jewish cultures may contribute to her interest in social justice and equity, but that interest goes far beyond her own background. She earned a BS in special education from the City College of New York, an MA in guidance and counseling from Bank Street College of Education in New York, and a doctoral degree from the School of Transformative Learning and Integrative Studies from the California Institute on Integral Studies. She has been working with educational, governmental, religious, and corporate institutions for over a decade, moving easily from faculty workshops at universities to public dialogues at hospitals to keynote presentations at national conferences. Her films have found a place in hundreds of libraries. She is the heart of World Trust, an organization that reflects her vision of a world in which deep personal compassion and peace are ordinary and where unity and cooperation are lived values.