Lessons in Resistance: Celebrating MLK a bit differently in 2021

Bel Carden, Staff Writer

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day struck a chord with those on campus and beyond due to the rise in justice movements across the United States during the summer of 2020. To commemorate MLK day, the Griot Institute for the Study of Black Lives & Cultures has extended their annual speaker series (though this year is virtual) to the end of February in honor of Black History Month. This year, the series is entitled “Lessons in Resistance,” which will reflect on the summer’s mass racial reckoning and protest movements.

This annual series focuses on how we, as a community, can work towards further educating ourselves against racism and learn from resistance movements of the past. Michelle Lauver, program manager of the Griot Institute, views the program as a “time to reflect on lessons we can gain from resistance movements. There is a great deal we must be attentive to as we work to undo racist systems and create more just communities.”

The Griot Institute informs and embraces the culture and history of Africana communities through community events and research. Their mission statement explains that the institution is a “collaborative enterprise devoted primarily to the interdisciplinary exploration of the aesthetic, artistic, and scholarly cultural products and intellectual currents of historical and contemporary Africana communities.” Each of their series works to promote these goals.

The speaker series began on Feb. 2 with a viewing of Nationtime: Gary, in partnership with the Department of Film & Media Studies’ Tuesday film series. Nationtime: Gary is a documentary directed by William Greaves about the National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Ind. in 1972. Many pivotal Black community members were present, such as Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Richard Hatcher, Amiri Baraka, Charles Diggs, Isaac Hayes, Richard Roundtree and H. Carl McCall.

This film viewing was followed by a webinar with Judy Richardson on Feb. 4. Richardson is a filmmaker, civil rights activist and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activist, known for her work on the 14-hour PBS series “Eyes on the Prize.” She has now begun to focus on education on the Civil Rights Movements and how she can help to further interpret this information.

Richardson reflected on the ways her upbringing with her single mother and sister shaped her college experience. Richardson attended Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa. where she was first introduced to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that ultimately led to her involvement in SNCC. When asked what drew her into the first club meeting, Richardson laughed and said, “I only went probably because my mother wasn’t there to tell me not to.”
Those first meetings focused on the completion of three different goals: creating better conditions for the all female, all Black cafeteria staff, working to desegregate Chester, PA and Cambridge, MA. But the ultimate agenda of SDS was to work toward voter rights for African Americans or “how do you get people black registered to vote without getting them killed,” Richardson remembers.

As Richardson became more involved in SDS, a fellow classmate suggested she take her first semester of sophomore year off to continue their work. Richardson accepted the offer as she was immediately drawn in by the atmosphere of the group: “I come in and I just see this hub of energy. Everyone’s working.”

Richardson attributes the wealth of information that she brought to her documentary career to her time at SNCC. “I had to learn to change my tone. When I would call the FBI office I would get what can only be described as undeniable hostility. So I had to learn to change my tone and say no, you will listen to me,” Richardson said. She also emphasized the important lesson that no job in an organization is menial because “Brilliance comes from everywhere, you never know.”

Richardson is still involved in SNCC and continues to research education on civil liberties at Duke University.

The series continued with a MLK multi-faith virtual celebration on Feb. 7, which commemorated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event featured readings for Dr. King, as well as students’ reflections on his work.

The week continued with a talk “Talisman Textuality: Afro-Islamic Epistemology in Medieval West Africa” from Professor Rudolph Ware of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Ware is author of “The Walking Qur’an,” and is a historian on African and Islamic culture. Ware describes his academic studies as, “straddling a crossroads where two broad interdisciplinary fields meet. My work seeks to engage with, intervene in, and push the edges of, African and Islamic studies.”

Ware shared the questions he aspired to answer, as well as his research findings. His interest in Islam and Western Africa is rooted in the notion of divinity. He defines traditional Islamic knowledge as, “divine word transmitted from generation to generation, beyond just a study.”

Both Ware’s lecture and Richardson’s talk can be viewed on the University’s media space. Following this was a STONO/Step Afrika virtual event on Feb. 8, which will be presented again on Feb. 21 with unlimited access via mediaspace. Professor Amra Rose Davis of Penn State University will lecture on “Race, Sports and Protest” on Mar. 15.

Through bringing speakers and events such as “Lessons in Resistance,” we can work as a community to better educate ourselves on the current social climate of our country. Without these types of programs, we cannot work towards finding a solution to the injustices against people of color in our society. Speakers and events such as these are ultimately the first step in working towards a better future.

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