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Josh Chittum, a student at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., won the C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest with a speech titled "Peacefully Confronting the Wall of Racism. Bethel College

Josh Chittum, a student at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., won the C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest with a speech titled "Peacefully Confronting the Wall of Racism. Bethel College

Winning speech emphasizes becoming anti-racist

Cathryn Clinton
November 20, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – In a speech that took first place in the C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest, Bethel College student Josh Chittum asserts that resisting racism requires more than not being racist; it means being anti-racist.

Chittum, of Wichita, Kan., uses a vivid description of being pulled over by a police officer to support his argument. He asserts that the preferential treatment he received as a white person illustrates the racial disparities in society.

Chittum speaks about systemic and institutional racism as a wall that excludes people who are not white. He challenges Christians to dismantle this wall by learning about racism, building relationships across social boundaries and confronting our own racial identities.

"The issues of racism and injustice are emotionally charged for me and frequently emotionally charged for others," Chittum says. "I think this leads us to two options — run away from the emotions, or have the humility to address them."

The annual oratorical contest, open to students in Mennonite and Brethren in Christ universities and colleges in Canada and the United States, is administered by Peace and Justice Ministries of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. The top three speakers receive scholarships to attend a peace-related conference or seminar as well as cash prizes, with $300 awarded for first place.

This year's second place prize went to Bluffton University's Anna Yoder, of Eureka, Ill., for a speech titled "Extending the Table: Blessing the Alien in our Midst."

Conrad Grebel University College's Leah Reesor, of Markham, Ontario, took third place for a speech titled "Giving and Receiving: Exploring the Spirituality of Service."

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen College and Bluffton College (now University). Participating colleges host a contest with student speeches on the general theme of applying the Christian peace position to contemporary concerns. The winning speech from each college is judged by a panel chosen by staff of Peace and Justice Ministries of MCC U.S.

Judges for this year's contest were Rick Janzen, MCC co-director for Europe and Middle East programs; Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, Washington Office director for MCC U.S.; and Valentina Satvedi, anti-racism program director for MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries.

The text of the winning speech may be found online at http://mcc.org/us/peaceeducation/