Angela Davis, renowned civil rights activist, spoke to a large crowd on Friday, April 18 in the Stoller Center after her appearance on February 6 was postponed due to heavy snow.Janae Sargent (16) | Student Writer
“Act as if it were possible to change the world.”
These were the words myself, and hundreds of other passionate people, left the Stoller Center with after the renowned social activist, Angela Davis, gave her much-anticipated lecture April 18.
Davis is one of the most well-known activists from the 1960’s civil rights movement. She was a member of the Communist USA party, had close relations with the Black Panther Party, was mistakenly part of the 1970 FBI’s Most Wanted List, and spent 16 months of incarceration due to her radical approach to social activism.
After having traveled to Forest Grove once before in February and being snowed out, she returned to give a moving lecture on youth bringing about social change and racial terrorism.
As a college student, I will openly admit that, prior to researching her, my knowledge of Davis and the incredible work she had done was limited to her name. Like she poignantly pointed out during her lecture, young people today have been persuaded that we don’t have the power to bring about radical and powerful social change unless we are rallied behind some heroic face of a leader.
As Davis described "Freedom Summer" and came alive with the powerful work students my own age had done to bring about social change only fifty years ago, I was astounded.
Sitting in my chair with a pen and paper in hand, listening to how hundreds of college students traveled to the south and knowingly faced violence and the threat of death to register voters, I had never felt so small.
“Their weapons were their passion, dedication, and their collective courage,” Davis exclaimed.
While she said she both respects and idolizes figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and his pivotal role in the civil rights movement, Davis said she is saddened at how all of the accomplishments of the civil rights movement are put behind his individual face and not the face of the people.
“It is the people that bring about social change, not the individual,” she said.
Davis went on to discuss the fiftieth anniversary of the St. Baptist Church Bombing, where four girls were killed; she said the families were given Congressional medals of Honor on the anniversary in 2013.
What disturbed her about this, she said, was that we were treating this one horrifying act as the exception.
“We can not treat this as an exceptional case of violence. Social terrorism, and it IS social terrorism, happens every day and we need to see it as that,” she said pointedly.
As I sat in the second row, perfect vision fixed on Davis, I couldn’t help but feel her words were directly pointed at me.
Here I was, a young person with the power and interest to bring about social change but my lack of faith in myself and ignorance of my own country’s past inhibited me from doing anything substantial. Davis said that we think racism is behind us because it is wiped from the legislature, but there is so much left to be done; so much that I could be doing.
As I paused to scan the room, I saw that I was not alone in my reaction. Two rows down from me, a young black woman was crying. Three rows behind her, a man was clenching his fists with a look of harsh determination I have never seen before.
This woman, standing twenty feet away from me, was truly a social power. She filled the auditorium and each seat in it with a renewed passion for life and self.
“Changes are made because ordinary people adopt a political issue that needs to be resolved and dedicate themselves to it,” she said.
She said what separates the majority of the young generation from the students of "Freedom Summer" is our concern with guilt and social norms. She said we have a renewed interest in social change but don't talk in the uninhibited way that they did.
“Our activism can only be ethical if we are not afraid to speak out against the authorities, the president, and any other person or group in our way, no matter how much power they have,” she said.
My heart was pounding.
As Davis closed and the audience stood and cheered with veracity, I looked upon the face of someone who was no more than a household name two hours prior and was inspired.
When the audience spilled out of the auditorium and I walked out of the Stoller center, I was walking like I could change the world.