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Angela Y. Davis visits The College at Brockport

by Kiara Alfonseca - EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Davis lends her passion to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Lecture, teaching what she believes can be done in order to tackle the complex issues of today's society.

Wed, Feb 22nd 2017 12:00 am
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 In a time of political division and demonstrations across the nation, Angela Davis is an icon for social justice and change whose messages from the 1960s remain relevant today. Davis' lecture at the The College at Brockport SERC brought hundreds to the building's fieldhouse in hopes of hearing Davis' advice, wisdom and stories from her turbulent past. 

The activist, advocate, educator and community leader holds many different titles, including those coined by the Nixon administration, like "terrorist" and "a danger to the nation". Her speech, as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Annual Lecture comes as a call to action for students looking to change the world, of the future - their future. Her words rang out against the walls and resonated with the students, faculty and community members listening intently below in the bleachers. 

"Students have always been at the forefront of radical movements," Davis said in an interview with The Stylus. "I want young people to use their imaginations to discover new ways of addressing old problems. This is a perfect time for people to think about this, because we are confronted with a situation in our country where there is an attempt to turn the clock back. I don't like to position myself as the person who has the answers, and who tells people what they should do. What I like to do is encourage people to use their own minds and their own imaginations."

Davis reiterated some of her life's longest fights: intersectional feminism, prison reform and the need to break slavery's hold on present day society and structures. 

According to Meredith Roman, PhD, of the Department of History, Davis is huge proponent of the collective fight for justice; no one man or woman, or single group, can change the world, but instead, change relies on the backs of many. She expressed these views again that night, bringing in contemporary issues in comparison with the problems of the past.

She shared her support for the Standing Rock Sioux people fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, her support of the Women's March on Washington in Washington, D.C.,  as well as with DREAMers, children of undocumented immigrants who are legally allowed to reside in the country thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

These modern day cases are just a few of what Davis analyzed during her lecture, and when asked about the state of our society today, she credited disdain toward the new presidential administration and its attempt to oppress minorities and repress recent progress.

Davis is both excited by the resistance from the American people against discrimination and prejudice from the government, but also upset about that government's actions.

"Clearly there is a concerted effort to turn back the clock," Davis said. "The devastating consequences of the current administration in the structure of the Supreme Court and the ways in which certain, very feeble efforts at progress, such as the Affordable Care Act, are being reversed ... We see young people and older people rising up and that's very, very exciting. I don't think we have witnessed this kind of resistance in this country since the 60s ... We have to witness terrible things for people to wake up."

When asked about ways The College at Brockport's administration can help students feel heard or see its diversity initiatives actively helping their environment, Davis offered some foresight from past experiences with institutions. With students feeling the heat following the racist graffiti in Gordon Hall earlier this year and other incidents of the sort, Davis suggests that the problems of today may not be solved for decades. 

There is not just one plan to solve these issues either, according to Davis, and it is up to students to continuously put the pressure on administration time and time again to continue to make strides toward equity.

"Most frequently, in institutions like this, there's the assumption that the answers are easy solutions," Davis said. "You create a diversity task force and you come up with a certain number of strategies, but it's a very complicated problem. It has its root in the history that goes all the way back to colonization of indigenous land and people of African descent."

Praising women of color for their complex role in the history of the United States, and their roles as the backbone to radical movements everywhere played a key role in her speech. Also honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., she recognized the importance of black history as part of U.S. history - not a separate entity. She also honored the late Emmett Till whose death is a symbol for racial injustices in history to this day. Davis can't honor Martin Luther King, Jr. without referring to the rest of the community. 

She ended on a note that reflected the speech in just a few words, that the effects of the past are still present today: "Freedom is a constant struggle."

@kiaraalfonseca

stylus@brockport.edu