Marshall to host conference on State of African Americans in West Virginia

Updated 5 years ago Special to HNN Provided by Marshall University
Marshall to host conference on State of African Americans in West Virginia

On Monday, Nov. 13, speakers and panelists will gather on Marshall University’s Huntington campus to talk about challenges African Americans in the Mountain State have faced in the past and continue to encounter.


The State of African Americans in West Virginia Summit, which will begin at 8 a.m. in the Memorial Student Center’s Don Morris Room, is sponsored by the Marshall University President’s Commission on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion; the Marshall University Research Corporation; and the Helping Other People Excel (HOPE) Community Development Corporation of Charleston.

The program is free and open to the public.

Two decades ago, summit organizer Matthew J. Watts, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Charleston, established HOPE as a non-profit organization with the mission of empowering the inner city.

He said, “I hope summit attendees will take away that there are major challenges African Americans face across the entire state of West Virginia.”

Watts noted the socio-economic differences that affect African Americans and the legacy of legal segregation and discrimination that continue today. For instance, he said data compiled by the West Virginia Superintendent of Schools office at the request of the NAACP and HOPE revealed that, in the 15 West Virginia counties that comprise 90 percent of the state’s African American students, those students, regardless of family income, are suspended from school at about twice the rate of non-African American students.

“Truancy is one of the major factors that contribute to a child coming into the juvenile justice system,” Watts said.

According to a September report by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, West Virginia’s youth confinement rate for African Americans was 1.5 times higher than the national average.

“Closing the socio-economic gap, the educational achievement gap and the health disparity gap is going to require some specific and targeted remedies,” Watts said. “We will discuss these and other issues at the summit.”

Marshall President Jerome A. Gilbert said he is keenly aware African Americans face challenges in West Virginia and he is looking forward to seeing those challenges discussed and addressed.

“Marshall University functions in many ways like a family, and as such, we take care of one another,” Gilbert said. “The findings from the summit will offer information to our university and our state that will allow us to make progress in closing the gap on may deep-seated issues. It will also help us create a lasting, positive impact to benefit our communities and beyond.”

Watts said he appreciates that Gilbert and the Marshall administration stepped forward to host the summit.

“It’s important to talk about these issues at one of our major universities because we need to bring our best scholarship, our best research, to look at possible solutions,” he added. “We need to make sure those solutions are research- and evidence-based, so we’re implementing things that have not only the benefit of the intellectual intelligence of our universities, but also the proper structure for measuring the effectiveness of those strategies. We also need to identify the best strategies that can be replicated in other communities.”

For more information or to register to attend the summit, visit