From a distance, she looked like any other 71-year-old woman, albeit better-dressed than most. She smiled wide for pictures and laughed loudly at jokes. When she spoke, she often stretched the last syllable of her words.
However, Angela Davis is like no other 71-year-old woman. The controversial civil rights activist and feminist scholar has seen parts of the world others only dream of.
On Sept. 24, she brought those experiences to this university.
For more than an hour, Davis spoke to a sold-out audience of about 1,000 in the Stamp Grand Ballroom about her experiences as a radical advocate and revolutionary.
The majority of her talk focused on her fight for social justice and how it has changed from her generation to ours.
“We used to talk about freedom and justice…and then somebody came up with diversity,” Davis said.
The crowd was so engrossed that she often could not finish her sentence before the applause drowned out her words.
Though she focused heavily on the topic of institutionalized racism, Davis discussed a wide variety of issues, even touching on animal rights and how we need to be “more aware of the other beings with whom we share this planet.”
After the main lecture was a question-and-answer session. It was during this segment that Davis showed more of her scholarly side, flipping one student’s question about the role black athletes in the sports community back on him and challenging him to rethink his stance on the issue.
“We still need to figure out how to reinvent entire worlds,” Davis said in response to a question about ending the prison cycle.
For Alison Jerabek, a senior English major, the talk was a chance to see a legend in the flesh. During Davis’s talk, Jerabek found herself “visibly shaking.”
“I’m still shaking right now,” Jerabek said. “I think it’s one of those things I’m not going to really fully understand how I feel about this until later when the shock has kind of worn off.”
Mere minutes before the talk, a senior approached Davis in the bathroom and told her how her grandmother had exactly three photos on her wall: JFK, Jesus and Davis herself. Davis later mentioned this encounter in her opening statements.
For other students, Davis’ talk expanded what they already knew.
“I think that we’re so whitewashed and, like, carved in our ways that we don’t even realize what’s happening around us,” Al’Asia Watson, a junior sociology major, said. “Figures like her, she opens our eyes, she lets us know the truth.”
Davis is most famous for her work with the Black Panther Party during the civil rights movement in the 1970s. For a period of time, the FBI listed Davis on its Top Ten Most Wanted List. She spent several months in jail on charges including murder and conspiracy, for which she was later acquitted.
Since then, Davis has published numerous works on social change, taught at various universities and advocated for the abolition of the prison-industrial complex, immigrant rights, black feminism and many more progressive ideals.
Davis came to the campus as part of the Voices of Social Change series, a program run by the Leadership & Community Service-Learning Office that brings active leaders of various communities to the campus to share their stories. She first came to speak at this university in 2012.
Dr. Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, the director of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, emphasized the importance of the Voices of Social Change series.
“Storytelling [is] powerful because what happens is, you see yourself in other people’s stories or some element of people’s story,” Guenzler-Stevens said. “I think one of the things to be clearly mindful of is Angela Davis has this amazing story that will provoke and inspire and maybe you will see yourself [in it].”
Upcoming speakers in the Voices of Social Change series include Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer and advocate for indigenous rights, and Emmy-nominated transgender activist Laverne Cox.
Featured Photo Credit: Flickr user Jonathan Ah Kit.
Rosie Brown is a sophomore prospective journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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