‘Deeper Than the Skin’ performance designed to spark dialogue about race

Posted on Feb 23 2018 - 7:57am by Megan Swartzfager

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, or UUCO, will host renowned musicians Reggie Harris and Greg Greenway with its program “Deeper Than the Skin” at 7 p.m. Saturday in Nutt Auditorium.

“Deeper Than the Skin” will feature a collection of songs, both covers and originals, and stories designed to spark a dialogue about racial divisions. The program is described as being part workshop and will include discussions between the musicians and the audience. It began over a year ago as an effort by the musicians and long-time friends Reggie Harris and Greg Greenway.

“We’ve had this friendship for 30 years, and we’ve had 30 years of conversations about the cauldron of race in America,” Harris said. “It’s not an outlier for the work we generally do; it was a very natural thing for us to come together with our different talents and try to talk about race. Music has always been at the base of that, so that was also very natural. When we sing, the air changes.”

The program is an exploration of racial divisions of America and of race’s role in the ways individuals are affected by their environments. It aims to “build bridges with music.”

“I’d say, first and foremost, we understand it’s a difficult topic,” Harris said. “Most people don’t leap at the chance to talk about race. The great thing about the program is it’s inclusive and positive. The stories are hard, but, you know, there’s hope.”

UUCO minister Gail Stratton said though conversations about race can be difficult, she believes “Deeper Than the Skin” allows people of all backgrounds to engage with the major questions and issues of racial division in a constructive way.

“My perceptions are that they model having the hard conversations about race in a really civil and respectful way and with music that helps facilitate that,” Stratton said.

Stratton said Americans are pointed in the right direction when it comes to realizing racial equality. Harris and Greenway said the first step that society should take is to ask questions and start a conversation.

“Largely people are responding very passionately, very emotionally,” Harris said. “You know, we’re not fooling ourselves into thinking we are getting racists to our shows, but there are some places where we’re getting audiences that are uncomfortable and very perplexed and just want to know what the questions are (about race).”

According to UUCO’s website, part of its mission is to help congregants “find a loving, supportive community with the simple goal of becoming our best self through inner reflection and outward action.” One way that they move toward this goal is through their participation with the Living Legacy Project, an organization designed to educate people about the stories and struggles of the civil rights movement. Harris is an active member of the project and has interacted with UUCO during Living Legacy Project pilgrimages.

“(Harris) and Greg performed this summer at the Unitarian Universalist general assembly,” Stratton said. “Several people from the congregation were there, and they said, ‘This is a fabulous program. Let’s bring it to Oxford.’”

The event is sponsored by the University of Mississippi Office of the Chancellor, the University of Mississippi Office of the Provost, the University of Mississippi Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement and the University of Mississippi Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Harris and Greenway will also be leading the service at UUCO at 11 a.m. Sunday, and all are welcome. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford is located at 31 County Road 198.