Prominent political activist and acclaimed author Angela Davis addressed racism and Black history as she spoke to the UA community Tuesday during the Distinguished Lectures Committee’s first event of 2021.
Davis is a professor, author and civil rights activist who has advocated for feminist, racial equity and prison reform causes, among others. During Tuesday’s discussion, moderated by Yvette Murphy-Erby, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, Davis covered topics including racism, women’s rights and the role young people play in today’s social justice movements.
Davis discussed the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the changing characteristics of freedom struggles, such as the younger generation’s emphasis on collective rather than individualistic leadership.
“I promised myself then that I did not want to become one of those old people who only talked about what we did 50 years ago and who was not willing to learn from new ideas and new strategies and new approaches, especially now that we see in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement,” Davis said in the live Youtube lecture.
Davis said older people have to be willing to listen to the younger generation who are “at the forefront of change right now.”
February is Black History Month, an annual U.S. celebration of African American heritage and culture. Davis emphasized how understanding Black history is central to understanding various other social challenges, such as feminist struggles and the fight for women’s suffrage.
“It was once the case that it was primarily Black people who observed Black history because we were the only ones who believed in ourselves,” Davis said, “But as history unfolded, others within the country and outside began to recognize that their fate was indeed linked to the fate of those who were the planet’s most determined soldiers for freedom and democracy.”
Tuesday’s virtual event was the DLC’s first Distinguished Lecture of 2021, coming on the heels of motivational speaker Bob Goff’s lecture in October 2020. The timing of Black History Month is one of many reasons the DLC chose to invite Angela Davis as their speaker, said DLC Chair Sally Gairhan, a senior.
“It is really important to have this conversation in February, but I think that someone like Angela Davis shows us how to have it every day,” Gairhan said. “I think that is what our students on campus need.”
The DLC’s goal is to highlight empowering voices to inspire students, Gairhan said. Past speakers have included CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and soccer star Abby Wambach.
Evan Buckner, a senior majoring in crop sciences, said he was pleasantly surprised when he saw the DLC had booked Angela Davis to speak. Buckner liked that Davis discussed the modern Black Lives Matter movement and connected it with her time with the Black Panthers, he said.
“She lived in a time where people had the same mentality that they do today saying, ‘It’s not as bad as it was a few years ago,’” Buckner said.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DLC has shifted lectures online. However, it has not hampered the members’ determination to create lectures students can learn from, Gairhan said.
“Obviously, we have had to pivot a lot and figure out how to do virtual lectures, but we also knew that this was a voice that we did need to bring to campus and one that students wanted to hear from,” Gairhan said.
More than 700 people attended the lecture, which Gairhan said did not surprise her.
“We have had a lot of excitement from the community,” Gairhan said. “But that speaks more to who she is rather than whether the lecture was in person or virtual.”
The DLC is planning another lecture for April, with a goal of transitioning to a hybrid event that would allow participants the choice of attending remotely or in person. Buckner said DLC lectures provide learning experiences that he can not get anywhere else.
“As students, we have a unique opportunity to reach out and see a lot of people that we might not be able to see after we graduate,” Buckner said. “Taking advantage of this really opens up who you are and helps show you a different viewpoint than what you were raised in.”