The CEAD Conference: An Interview with Dr. Jeremiah J. Sims

The Celebrate, Educate, & Appreciate Diversity (CEAD) Conference offers diversity training and education for students and serves Eastern Oregon University’s mission to provide programming that develops them to lead responsible and reflective action in a diverse and interconnected world. Students who participated in the CEAD Conference gained a greater awareness and understanding of power, privilege, biases and stereotypes, as well as a broader understanding of differences in groups, backgrounds, cultures, practices and worldviews through meaningful dialogue. This gives students knowledge of equity and social justice, along with skills that assist them in becoming accountable, reflective campus leaders and advocates for building a more welcoming campus community.

This conference also went over what the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging (DEIB) department means to each student. They are a diverse group that invites speakers from different backgrounds and expertise to come on campus and share their experiences and knowledge. This year’s CEAD conference guest speaker was Dr. Jeremiah J. Sims. Dr. Sims is the co-founder and principal consultant of Rooted In Love LLC, as well as the inaugural director of equity for the College of San Mateo. He is a successful advocate, teacher, author and father. His presentation was titled “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for: Radically Reimagining Race, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice.” The Equity Rooted in Love practice frames our conversations on the need for equity work and how it is equitable for one of us to engage in the reflective heart work necessary to contribute to a more equitable and just society, where we can all thrive together. To bring light to the speaker, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Jeremiah J. Sims after the conference and dive deep into who he is and what he stands for.  

Q1. The activity you had us do was the cultural introduction activity, where we went around and introduced ourselves without saying what we do career-wise. We want to know: what is your cultural introduction? 

“That’s interesting, so I am the oldest of my mother’s children. The youngest of my father’s children. I identify as Black, not African American. Because Black Culture is specific to the United States, it’s a mixture of many different cultures. I believe Jesus to be my lord and savior. His presence in my life is not ancillary, it’s instrumental. I believe that my relationship with my heavenly father and savior should guide the way I am with my wife, with my family and with the kids who are under our care. That’s not always the case, right, but that is my goal, to experience and be a conduit for the radical love of Christ. I’m using REIJ as a vehicle for that. That’s why people don’t know what to do with this approach. Like I don’t understand exactly what’s happening. Especially people who are against it and so there’s that. I am a father of six sons. My wife and I have been married for almost 18 years now. We’ve been together longer than that. I have a dog now; he is a smart dog but dogs are kind of like dumb humans. Like the stuff that they do. I like him but he’s only two still but he is like 94 pounds, so he is a big boy. I have to account for him and he is super clingy. I have a brand new baby and I think he is even more clingy now because of the baby. I want to hold the baby but he’s trying to be on my lap and that’s it. That’s my cultural introduction. Happy that I am here in the United States but that doesn’t mean that I cannot also critique it. I think there are a lot of things that are problematic about our culture, our national culture, that need to be addressed. So, that’s one of the reasons why I study language, literacy and culture.”

Q2. What would be your definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

“For me, the way that DEI, the way that it is typically understood, is just transactional. You can’t transform anything with a transactional approach. All you can do is adjust the transactions, so DEI in higher education, specifically, and in HR outside of our education is a series of checklists. Have you done this thing? Have you interviewed this person? But it doesn’t actually get to the hearts, the minds and the culture of the place. So, if you want to do transformative work, transformation has to be what’s valued, what’s appreciated and there has to be some monetary incentive for that. As long as it’s just transactional, it’s always gonna remain forever transactional. So for me, it’s just a lot of performative allyship. I know that good things have been done. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater but it’s just been a lot of performativity. And I’m not, for one minute, I don’t want folks, if they read this letter, to misconstrue what I’m saying. I’m not saying that we don’t need that type of work, we do, but we need it to be real. We need race, equity, inclusion and justice work. Until we talk about justice, I don’t think we are actually transforming anything.”

Q3. You mentioned some great books throughout your presentation, so I wonder… Do you have a deep love for books?

“That’s interesting because I didn’t, growing up. I used to read a lot of magazines; I read a lot of boxing magazines, which is what my interest was at the time. That was going to be my contingency plan, if I couldn’t figure out a career to be a boxer. So, I didn’t; I think I read like one book but when I went to undergraduate school I had to read a lot. Some of the classes that I took were interesting to me, so I was doing some additional reading out of what was required. So, I think my love of reading didn’t happen until I was in my 30s in school but I also have something called eidetic memory, what some people would call photographic memory. The reason I could recall all of these different things, so I get a lot from the books that I read. I read really slowly because I am in dialogue, so I might write as much as the author did because I’m trying to make sense of it as I am reading it. So, I have actually turned to audiobooks a little bit. My wife, for example, who’s brilliant, said I can’t do audiobooks because I don’t retain any of that. But for me, audiobooks, I get it and I can repeat it, so it becomes a part of my knowledge base. So, I read a lot of books but I also listen to a lot of books.” 

Q4. You talked about some internal conflict with your identity within your Indigenous side. In what part of your life did you feel the need to figure out this part of you?

 “This has been something that’s been ongoing. So, my master’s thesis was looking at pidgin languages, Creole languages. I was looking at the way that Indigenous, specifically API languages, were dismissed, like Hawaiian Creole and pidgin was dismissed. And how Indigenous languages were wiped out, away from schools. That’s not happenstance, that’s intentional because if you can wipe away a language, you can wipe away a culture. Language carries culture. I am pro-Black but I am not just pro-Black, I am anti-oppression. If white people were being oppressed the same way that Black people and Indigenous people, I’d be fighting for them the same way. For me, the level of oppression that has been sutured to the Indigenous people was enough to pique my interest. Then, a little later on in life, it’s been a while now, twenty some odd years where I knew of my Choctaw heritage. That time I’ve been trying to figure out what that means for me and what that means for my family. Like my youngest son Justice, his middle name is Tolako, which in Choctaw means eagle, like our school does the acting eagles. I’m still trying to sort it out but it’s an ongoing process for sure.”

Q5. From your presentation today, what is the message that you want people to take away?

“I think that there’s two for the folks who are not students. We need to figure out what it means to create a safe space for students to be whole so that they can find their beautiful path. That requires us to focus on becoming whole ourselves. For students, I want them to know that even though things seem tough, they have the power to cause real change because we know it. It has happened. Over and over again, young people have been the people to turn the age. That’s the message I want young people to take away from this. That they deserve to be fully dignity and full humanity. And it’s okay to insist on that.” 

Special thanks to Dr. Jeremiah J. Sims for coming to Eastern Oregon University and sharing your wonderful story with us. Your presentation guided us in learning what being true to yourself and others in the community means, by showing what diversity and equity are to the students and staff of EOU. 

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