Opinion: Diversity of Protests Offers Renewed Commitment to Social Justice Advocacy
Note: The following essay was crafted by Amoaba Gooden, Ph.D., Kent State University’s interim vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, and chair and associate professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies. Created in 2009, the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leads the university’s efforts to increase diverse representation, create and sustain equity of opportunity and intentionally foster an inclusive environment. The Department of Pan-African Studies focuses on the study of communities of people of African descent both on the continent of Africa and in various countries throughout the world.
“Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again….
Give birth again To the dream. Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most Private need.”
Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of the Morning”
Not only am I angry, but I am hopeful, even as I am experiencing profound sadness and grief for the family of George Floyd and for all families that have lost loved ones to police brutality. Our community and the nation are enraged. Across the world we are bearing witness to a multiethnic and international uprising, such as we have never seen before.
For many, it is the killing, or modern-day lynching, of Floyd that has brought them to the streets. The knee of the police officer on Floyd’s neck is emblematic of the proverbial rope used in the hanging or lynching of African Americans. Lynching is a form of racial control that harkens back to a period that most Americans prefer to forget. But for African Americans and other people of color, this current uprising is grounded in a collective grief that remembers more than 400 years of dehumanization, anti-black racism and militarized violence that has caused the deaths of far too many black and brown bodies. This rage remembers Henry Lewis (1900), Allen Brooks (1910), Grant Smith (1920), Caleb Hill Jr. (1949), Bonita Carter (1979), Trayvon Martin (2013), Eric Garner (2014), Sandra Bland (2015), Tony McDade (2020), Breonna Taylor (2020), Ahmaud Arbery (2020), as well as Floyd (2020), and the thousands of lives lost over decades of state sanctioned violence.
A few weeks ago, my father called to talk, and although his call was in the middle of the workday, something gave me pause, and I took the time to listen. He reminisced about his life and recalled an incident where he had a gun pointed at him because he is a person of African descent. My father reflected on navigating racism and how he thought things had changed, to some degree. I marveled at his resilience and wondered how he and so many others before him found the strength to continue in the face of anti-black racism.
My father’s optimism along with the diversity of individuals protesting tells me that perhaps there is a different mindset now. So, while weary, I am hopeful. I find strength and resolve when I think about various black iconic figures such as Harriet Tubman, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Malcom X and Marcus Garvey, to name a few. In my hopefulness, I have found a renewed commitment to equity and social justice advocacy. And while I know my resolve may fade at times, and I will feel tired and hopeless, the warriors and fighters who have gone before me, and those who are still protesting, provide me resiliency and a commitment to help shape a better future.
My own personal history as an activist also gives me strength. It is a story foregrounded in both my father’s and mother’s racialized experienced, my level of consciousness raised because my parents did not have the opportunity to protest. My resolve for continued advocacy is also built on what I learned as a student activist in the anti-apartheid movement and in various anti-oppression and human rights organizations.
So, as we face this current apex, which way forward? What can we do individually and collectively to shape a society that is equitable, just and inclusive? Our current crisis and the racialized disparities in health and policing tells us that something must be done. And while I don’t have the answers, there are a few things I know we must work toward as a nation – institutional reform to policing, to the judicial system and to educational institutions. We must all commit to learn as much as we can about anti-black racism and the history of inequity in the United States. We must hold each other accountable at the dinner table, at the table of friendship and at the boardroom table. Our young people in various national social movements such as Black Lives Matter and Kent State organizations such as Black United Students are counting on us, and they are helping us by carving out a way to hold us accountable.
These are extraordinary times. I encourage you to find ways to participate in shaping a better future – we must be in this together.