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Angela Davis: Frameworks for Social Justice

Underwriting support from:

/George Wietor

She speaks with the same passion and power that she had when I heard her in the late 60’s.  Today, Angela Davis displays the wisdom and eloquence of speech that she’s achieved through a lifetime of fighting oppression.

Appearing Wednesday evening at the Fountain Street Church as part of the Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Lecture Series, Davis captivated her audience, who, in spite of record snowfall, nearly filled up the house.

It was evident Davis felt a connection to the crowd immediately. State Representative Robert Dean, sitting in the front row, had just shared a story with her. Angela Davis’ mother had spoken at South High School in the early 70’s as an advocate for the “Free Angela” campaign. Taken slightly off guard and possibly not aware of this bit of local history, Davis smiled warmly during the retelling as those who remembered nodded in assent.

Working from notes on her laptop at the dais, Davis would lead her audience through a history lesson on oppression by the end of the evening.

She acknowledged the indigenous peoples of our city, “traditional holders of the land,” the Ottawa.

She spoke of Black History Month and the celebration of resistance in the struggle for freedom, paying tribute to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

She supported the writings of W.E.B. DuBois in his book “Black Reconstruction,” echoing a message that slavery never really has been abolished. “Full citizenship does not in and of itself guarantee equal rights,” she reminded us.

Sometimes drifting off course, but never at a loss for words, Davis delivered the goods with notable quote after notable quote.

On gay marriage: “If some people have the right to marry, everyone should have the right to marry.”

On prisons: “The punishment industry recapitulates slavery.”

On equal rights: “Freedom runs far deeper than citizenship.”

On struggle: “Every time we win a victory we reconfigure the definition of struggle.”

A momentary lapse could lead to a missed reflection; the audience sat in rapt attention for Davis’ hour long-talk and would have stayed through the night had they been invited.

The Q & A immediately following the lecture witnessed more than 20 people lined up for a chance at the microphone and a question for the speaker. Grand Rapids simply did not want to let her go. Obligingly, Davis addressed all queries and with humility accepted salutation.

Perhaps saving the best for last Ms. Davis reflected on advocacy.

“Dwelling within the contradiction can be more productive than choosing one side or the other," she said.

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