Recently, our team had the privilege of attending a captivating talk by the renowned activist, scholar, and icon Angela Davis at SUNY Geneseo. Davis's presence radiated with wisdom as she shared insights gleaned from a lifetime dedicated to liberation. The event was not merely a lecture but a transformative experience that left an indelible mark on our understanding of racial and social justice, liberation through education, community building, and the power of collective action.
One of the most salient themes of Davis's discourse was the importance of education. She emphasized that education serves as the foundation of progress, asserting that without it, we won’t have meaningful change. This sentiment resonated deeply with us, reaffirming our belief in the transformative potential of knowledge and critical thinking in dismantling systemic injustices.
Moreover, Davis's reflections on the tie between freedom and education, particularly in the context of incarceration, were profoundly moving. Even in the most oppressive conditions, cultivating the mind becomes an act of resistance and liberation, a reference she made earlier in the discussion quoting Frederick Douglass, “without education, there would be no liberation.” It also brought to mind the quote by Gil Scott-Heron, “The revolution will not be televised,” alluding to revolutionary change starting in the mind.
Davis also addressed the role of technology in contemporary activism, acknowledging both its potential and pitfalls. While there exists a pervasive fear of new technologies, she implored us to harness them as tools for liberation. Social media, in particular, emerged as a compelling medium for amplifying marginalized voices, disseminating information, and mobilizing communities. However, Davis cautioned against the illusion of activism confined to virtual spaces, emphasizing the imperative of turning online organizing into tangible action and building community.
Davis briefly touched on stages in movements and to caution against referring to them as being in the past. She used the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of this—a movement that had its start in 2013 and saw greater mobilization in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many Black folks at the hands of the police. Davis pointed out the many stages of movements with one of the more familiar stages being with protests, calls to political leaders, and other actions taken to raise awareness and pressure our government to move the needle on putting an end to police brutality, defunding the police and reallocating funds to better serve the well-being of folks in the community, demilitarizing law enforcement, and calling for strategic reparations for Black communities. However, there’s often another stage that’s not discussed which is in reflecting, relearning, and rebuilding.
With talks about racial and social justice movements, the conversation moved briefly to talking about the prison industrial complex with a question that was posed to Davis about the specific policy that would move the needle forward towards abolition. Davis emphasized that while there wasn’t one policy that could do this, she reiterated the need for a foundation in which we don’t need the prison system.
In the last third of the discussion, she underscored the value of collective action, urging us to recognize our interconnectedness and foster inclusive communities. Her words served as a stark reminder that true progress necessitates solidarity and mutual support—a sentiment that resonated deeply with our team's commitment to collaborative activism.
She also mentioned the use of the word, “African-American” instead of Black is exclusive citing WEB DuBois and his push for Pan-Africanism – recognizing the need for Black folks across the diaspora to unite and fight for each other’s freedom and to put an end to colonization. Davis stated that use of the word “Black” is all encompassing to not just those of African descent who live in North America, but all over the world.
As we neared the end of the program, Davis reiterated that our struggles are all interconnected in asserting that the struggle for Black liberation transcends racial boundaries, encompassing the liberation of all humanity. She gave the example of Black Americans fighting for public education. In reaching this monumental victory, both Black children and poor white children were able to receive an education.
None of us are free until we’re all free.
Our experience at SUNY Geneseo, listening to Angela Davis's profound insights, was nothing short of life-changing. We were deeply moved by her messages of the importance of education, liberation, and collective action inspiring our commitment to the ongoing struggle for justice. If you missed out on hearing from this living legend, we hope that her words spark a renewed sense of duty in building community and tangible action in fighting for the liberation of all oppressed and marginalized folks.