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Community Conversation: history of Angela Davis

by Alyssa Daley - Executive Editor
Tue, Feb 21st 2017 05:00 pm
Emma Misiaszek/PHOTO EDITOR

Meredith Roman, associate professor in the Department of History, led a Community Conversation focused on the history of Angela Davis, a radical activist.
Emma Misiaszek/PHOTO EDITOR Meredith Roman, associate professor in the Department of History, led a Community Conversation focused on the history of Angela Davis, a radical activist.

Over the past week there have been numerous opportunities for both faculty and students to not only engage with one another but engage with one another on topics that matter: human rights. The first community conversation was just one of these opportunities but for those who had a free hour Thursday, Feb. 16, it was time well spent. 

After a brief introduction from Interim Chief Diversity Officer Milo Obourn the conversation began with Meredith Roman enlightening all people present on not only who activist scholar Angela Davis is, but what she has done and is doing to change the hierarchy present in society.

"This is a tremendous honor to be speaking tonight about a scholar activist who's had such an amazing impact on my career and my world view," Roman said in introduction to the history she was presenting at the conversation. Roman is a associate professor in the Department of History.

The decision to begin the open dialogue with a brief overview of Davis' many accomplishments and a brief history lesson proceeded Tuesday's Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Lecture where Davis came and talked with students about the state of society now compared to when she first began fighting for equality in the early 1970s.

The brief history brought forth the truth about many black power activists which spanned both the Civil Rights Movement and today's Black Lives Matter Movement. According to Roman, Davis finds Martin Luther King Jr. Day to criticize our society's habit of idolizing activists to make it seem as though there is no reason to continue struggling because the issue has already been solved.

"Davis, whether you listen to her speeches or you read a lot of her works, she often times uses the King holiday to criticize our society and criticize our society's over-emphasis on the individual, individual accomplishment," Roman said after telling those present that she was invited to campus to speak as a part of the annual lecture. "While this is not to take away from Dr. King and his greatness as a leader our obsession with the individual accomplishment helps to obscure and erase from history the collective action that made King and the Civil Rights Movement possible."

Roman went on to expand upon that statement and lead into what initiated Davis' activist mindset and what some of the key milestones in her activist scholar career have been. This small lecture on Davis spurred dialogue about the problems the student and faculty present still find in society today. 

One of the students present, education major Allie Makowski, was one of the more vocal contributors to the dialogue. As a future teacher, she brought up the point that much of the injustice still present in our society begins with the current education system. She made a point to mention the inconsistencies found in textbooks versus actual history and how simply teaching the actual events as they actually happened will help to eliminate the ignorance which clouds much of the public's vision when it comes to racial inequality.

"Racism is instituted in systems in our society and I think, as an education major, that since there are biases, we need to be teaching to not have that racist thought," Makowski said. "There's a knowledge gap out there of people not even knowing each other or each other's histories so we need to be teaching to [eliminate] that ignorance."

One of the most productive aspects of the community conversations is that whoever happens to be leading it, which in this case was Obourn, directs the conversation toward solutions as time begins to draw to a close. This allows for everyone taking part in what can at times be heavy and emotional dialogue to find a positive outlet before going their separate ways.

Brockport Student Government's Director of Advocacy and President of the student organization The Movement, Jordin Pickett was also present to share her thoughts that came up in the discussion. One of the defining moments of the solutions' part of the open dialogue was when one of the student facilitators acknwledged that as students we have the ability to help organizations like The Movement, Association of Latino American Students (ALAS), Caribbean Student Association (CSA), Brockport Muslim Student Association (BMSA) and others who are working to represent minority groups on campus. 

Pickett spoke up during the conversation and defined what she thinks it means to be an ally. One of the phrases that struck a chord with everyone present was what Pickett said the most important thing we can do as a supporter "of an organization or even just another individual is to ask the people we are trying to help, "what can we do for you?" instead of believing we know what they need.

Community, employment and justice were just three of the main talking points of the open dialogue happening between both faculty and students present at this semester's first community conversation. At the end all who attended were given an evaluation to fill out in order to provide Obourn and the other coordinators of the conversations valid feedback to continue improving the environment of the dialogue. 

This mindset that we, as a college, need to be having open, engaging, cross-sectional conversations but that we can always improve on how we facilitate them is something many atendees responded to positvely. The effort can grow and expand as the college continues to strive toward proper representation of all groups present on campus.


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