Communications and Society Program

Aspen Institute Symposium on The State of Race in America

The Aspen Institute Symposium on the State of Race in America explores new attitudes, opportunities, and challenges for and about people of color in 21st century America. The annual event is presented by the Communications and Society Program in association with Comcast Corporation.

2014 Symposium

Watch video from the 2014 State of Race in America Symposium:

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Welcome and Introduction by Charles M. Firestone, Executive Director, Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program

Remarks by David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation

Opening Presentation: Attitudes Towards Race
Presenter: Cornell Belcher, President and Chief Executive Officer, brilliant corners Research and Strategies and Political Contributor, CNN


The recession and housing bust hit minority communities the hardest, as Hispanic households on average lost nearly half of their home equity and Black households lost 28% between 2007 and 2010, according to the Urban Institute. Due to the loss of homes by people of color, the wealth gap is likely to increase as minorities are finding it more difficult to enter back into the housing market. What will these disparities and demographic shifts mean for race and class in the United States? How will the lack of affordable housing for minorities affect their ability to take financial risks?

Tanner Colby, Author, Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America
Lisa Hasegawa, Executive Director, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development
Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Hispanic Research, Pew Research Center
Richard Lui, News Anchor, MSNBC and NBC News (moderator)

Violence in Minority Communities

With the recent tragic events at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C. and in Newtown, Connecticut, the subject of violence in communities is at the forefront of the minds of many Americans. Last year, 333 people were murdered in Philadelphia and 75% of the victims and perpetrators were African American males. In communities where people of color are without jobs, healthcare and homes, many are resorting to a life of crime. And while poverty is not an excuse for criminal behavior, it is an explanation for it. What are some long-term solutions for decreasing violence in minority communities? While there are policy efforts in place to combat international terrorism, are there equal policies in place to combat domestic terrorism? How can local, state and federal agencies collaborate to combat crime effectively in U.S. communities of color?

Courtney Gaskins, Director of Program Services, Youth for Tomorrow
Daniel Isom, Former Chief, Metropolitan Police Department of St. Louis and Professor, Policing and the Community, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Cathy Lanier, Chief, Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia
Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, Survivor, Leader and Advocate
Ray Suarez, Host, "Inside Story," Al Jazeera (moderator)

Race, Media and Politics

Interviews of Mayors Michael Nutter and Mitch Landrieu provide a perspective on the role of race in local politics, looking at how Philadelphia and New Orleans have addressed racial issues and divides. Additionally, the way the media cover issues such as housing, education, and violence is especially important in the formation of racial and cultural attitudes. The panel provides two mayors' perspective on the representation of race and racially charged political issues in the media.

Michael Nutter, Mayor, Philadelphia
Mitch Landrieu, Mayor, New Orleans

Watch highlights from the 2013 event:

For more information, please contact Kiahna Williams, Senior Project Manager, Communications and Society Program at 202-736-5818 or

2013 Symposium

Watch video from the 2013 State of Race in America Symposium:

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Welcome and Introduction by Charles M. Firestone, Executive Director, Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program.
Remarks by David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation

Presentation on the Demographics of Race

Presenter:Paul Taylor, Executive Vice-President and Director of Social and Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center

The Impact of Faith - based Communities on Race Relations Panel.

Churches have played an insurmountable role in race issues since the 1960's. Religious leaders are now taking platforms on issues like immigration and inequality in the criminal justice system, among others. How citizens view their faith and are practicing it continues to serve as a catalyst for the major changes that are happening in society.

Panelists:Abed Awad, Attorney, Specialist in Islamic Law; Ralph Reed, Founder and Chairman, Faith and Freedom Coalition; Jasjit Singh, Executive Director, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Juan Williams, Political Analyst, Fox News (moderator).

Panel on Youth

Present day race relations in the United States have had a large impact on the youth and next generation of Americans. How has the national dialogue on race shaped the perspective of America's youth? Are young men and women of the United States prepared for a society here minorities (people of color) are the majority?

Panelists:Christina Downs, Editor-in-Chief,The Hilltop, Howard University; Kristal High, Editor-in-Chief, Politic365; Victor Rios, Author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys; Lisa Wong, Mayor of Fitchburg, Massachusetts and Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent,PBS NewsHour (moderator).

Media and Popular Culture Panel

Racial and cultural attitudes are often formed more from entertainment media than the news. Hip-Hop music, movies, YouTube videos and television sitcoms and dramas bring current attitudes to the public consciousness nearly instantaneously. Sports and entertainment icons become role models for all youth whether intentional or not.

Panelists: Anna Deavere Smith, Actress and Playwright; Thomas Chatterton Williams, Author,Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop; Brian Yang, Actor, "Hawaii Five-0" and José Díaz-Balart, News Anchor, Telemundo (moderator)

Concluding Remarks by Historian and Author: Taylor Branch

Presenter: Taylor Branch, Historian and Author, 'The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement.'


Download the agenda.

Download the opening presentation on the demographics of race by Paul Taylor of Pew Research Center.


2012 Symposium

April 9, 2012 - The Newseum

The Second Symposium examined individual, cultural, institutional and structural causes of racial problems, looking towards new and viable solutions. It featured five substantive panel sessions: Political Factors, the Latino Vote, the New American Identity, Education, and News Media. The discussions were moderated by Juan Williams and Jose Diaz-Balart.


Aspen Institute Symposium on the State of Race

Aspen Institute Symposium on the State of Race2011 Symposium
April 11, 2011 - The Newseum

The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, in association with Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change and Comcast Corporation, hosted the inaugural Aspen Institute Symposium on the State of Race in America on April 11th, 2011. The Symposium examined individual, cultural, institutional, and structural implications of race, and explored the impact of change in the context of the home, workplace, school, and the public sphere. The discussions were moderated by Juan Williams and Richard Liu.


Presentation by Prof. Dianne Pinderhughes

Introduction and Panel 1: Family and Identity Factors

Panel 2: Race and Politics

Panel 3: Institutional Factors

Panel 4: Media and Popular Culture


The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program serves as a non-partisan venue for global leaders and experts to exchange insights on the societal impact of advances in digital technology and network communications. It also creates a multidisciplinary space in the communications policy-making world where veteran and emerging decision-makers can explore new concepts and develop new policy networks. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners.