Who is Angela Davis?
Coveted by many and unknown to some, Angela Davis is an American activist, educator, scholar and politician known for combating all forms of oppression on a national and international stage. She rose to her public prominence as a result of her counterculture activism in the 1960s which involved her leadership in the Communist Party, her involvement with the Black Panther Party and her advocacy for prison rights that launched after her own trial and imprisonment.
To me, Angela Davis is all these things; however, at core she is a model of ancestral resilience and black excellence. Through studying her trial, her prison food strike and some of her intellectual work, Angela has come to exemplify a rare human strength that has the capacity to see, believe and assert one’s truth no matter the attempts to suppress, confuse or alter it. Consequently, when I woke up on November 9th re-facing the reality that Donald Trump is the next president of the United States, it seemed like a divine ordination that Angela Davis was speaking in Rochester, NY. Donald Trump’s election left me depleted of all notions of comfort and complacency and I desperately wanted an abundant sense of inspiration to refill my hope and reinstate some form of comfort. This program didn’t give me what I wanted, but it gave me exactly enough of what I needed.
“An Evening of Empowerment with Angela Davis” was a three hour event organized by MJS Productions. The night began with two poetry performances that highlighted the historical and present dehumanization of black lives in America. These performances were followed by a succinct award recognition of community leaders of various backgrounds and ages that have had a considerable positive influence. Following the award recognition were two additional acts then on came Dr. Davis.
She started her speech with a disclaimer that though she knew she was speaking post-election, she never imagined Donald Trump was going to win so she didn’t have all the answers and needed our help in processing this new reality. Moreover, of the powerful insights she presented, the following struck clear cords with me:
“Power concedes nothing without demand. There is no progress without struggle. There are no crops without ploughing. They want rain without thunder and lightning.”
“This election was about the revenge of history, it was about race and history (…) Donald Trump was able to draw from a racial reservoir (and) baited on the efficacy of scape goats.”
In discussing the history of black criminalization, she said the following: ” Black people became citizens to legitimize themselves into the criminal justice system…Essentially, they were legalized to be institutionalized…Citizenship based on culpability, culpability as the ground of citizenship.”
In listening to these words, the necessity for an intolerance of passivity or indifference if any delusions of change occurring was reinstated. I became hyper aware of not only the dark reality and manipulative nature of America, but it’s unbudging loyalty to its historical character. However, of all thoughts, the concept of mastery struck the deepest chord. When I attended Howard University- a historically black college & university located in Washington, D.C.- I remember sitting in the class of Dr. Gregory Carr and watching in complete awe as he would teach from a seemingly unlimited pool of knowledge. Holding two professional degrees in law (JD) and Africana Studies (PhD) it was clear Dr. Carr not only mastered his content but any and every related field to it. But more specifically, Dr. Carr didn’t only master his content, he found a way to master the process of learning within himself. Consequently, his learning process not only made him more educated, but wiser, more self aware and kinder. I perceived his self education to have evolved his character to its highest potential and optimized him as a human being. On campus, Dr. Carr is not only known for his mind but the contagious nature of his loving heart. He was the first and only person that has truly inspired me to master that in which I seek and that spirit was passionately reinvigorated that night with Angela Davis.
Moreover, with the influence of the NonViolent Communication class here at Gandhi Institute I first thought I should seek to master listening, it’s a transcendent, crucial and timeless skill. However, when I sat to write this blog I realized that mastering listening shouldn’t be or isn’t my calling. Like Dr. Carr I need to master myself, but possibly through mastering my learning process. Like I said in the beginning, “An Evening of Empowerment with Angela Davis” didn’t give me wanted. I didn’t receive the inspiration and comfort I sought after, though it may seem like it. Instead I received an unbudging agitation, that the truths of this world is too uncomfortable for me to constantly seek comfort and too manipulative for me to not master it’s art.