Let’s get busy!
Don’t miss the Juneteenth keynote with activist, historian, writer, and former Kalamazoo College Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership & Professor of History, Dr. Lisa Brock. Dr. Brock is also one of the founders of this Juneteenth Celebration.
Day: Wednesday, June 16th
Time: 12:00 p.m. EST
Location: Zoom – Register for the Keynote
Participant Restriction: None
Registration for this event is no longer available. A transcript of Dr. Brock’s keynote can be read below.
Lisa Brock Keynote Address Transcript
Bearing Witness and Black Joy Juneteenth 2021
It is a pleasure to have been invited to be Kalamazoo College’s inaugural speaker at its first Juneteenth celebration. I want to congratulate BAFSA for holding it down over this last year of COVID madness and taking this on as your major annual event. Nothing could be more honorable. I want to particularly acknowledge Dr. Regina Stephens-Truss and DeAngelo Bailey for their leadership and I wish K’ College many more annual joyous Juneteenth events to come. I also want to thank you for the wonderful plaque. I really appreciate it.
It is hard to know where to begin as we celebrate Juneteenth in the year 2021. So much has happened over the last few years, and in the last year, that speaks to both where we are as Black people in this country and where we need to go. First, there is no doubt that Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are the Scottsboro Boys, Recy Taylor’s and Emmett Till’s of our time. The only difference is that videos have replaced paper, banners, and photographs, and the internet has allowed us to spread our news more quickly. Back in the 1920s and 30s, people in New York would hang banners outside their upper windows that said a black person was lynched today in Mississippi, and in the 1950s, Emmett Till, the 14 year old boy viciously murdered by racist terrorists had a mother who said I want an open casket so the world can see what they did to my baby.
We have always resisted by bearing witness, hoping that we ourselves, the rest of the country and the rest of world, would rise up and reckon with the ongoing violence and oppression deeply woven into our hundred’s year-old condition.
Darnella Frazier, the 17 year old, who filmed George Floyd’s murder lives within this tradition, of bearing witness, whether she realized it or not, at the moment in which she turned on her phone video. Her motive was to capture what could easily have been a Shakespearean tragedy of a public murder unfolding before her eyes Why? because someone had to do it. She was there and she stepped up. She made an immediate decision and emotional sacrifice to bear witness. It broke my heart to hear her at the Chauvin trial say that she will never get over that fateful day because she wished she had done more to save George Floyd’s life. Bearing Witness is not easy.
I remember when one of our students, Trevor Lodeum-Jackson decided to protest the Proud Boys who marched into Kalamazoo as if they owned it. Not from here, not of here – but rather than the police arresting them for marching without a permit and racially provoking, harassing, and attacking people, Trevor was arrested for protesting them. I was out of town but knew someone had to bear witness so that he would not be alone. He is Black! I was out of town so I called Tony Nelson at CIP and others who said they would go to the police station, ask questions and bear witness.
And so should you. Ask yourself will I join, will I bear witness when needed? There is a relatively new book out entitled Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, and the New Protest #Journalism by Allissa V. Richardson. Interestingly, it was published one month before the George Floyd murder last summer.
Bearing witness is an act of resistance. But so is Black Joy. I love the fact that young activists of today are focusing on self-care and joy as part of social movements in the face of ongoing horrendous human rights violations of our communities in the United States. But again, Black people have always done this, even if it was never claimed in such a bold and brash way. Our cultural production of jazz, the blues, gospel, rock; of dance from the Charleston of the 1920s to the twist of the 1960s to twerking of last decade to whatever folks are doing today, we did that! We do that! To bringing the dunk into basketball and the bunt into baseball and black girls into tennis and gymnastics….. We did that! We do that! To taking the ribs of a pig with little or no meat on it that was thrown out by the plantation owners and making it taste as if it came from the gods. We did that! We do that? To HBCUs marching bands, and New Orleans second line, we did that! We do that! To naming our kids all kinds of new names so that white folks have trouble pronouncing them. I must say watching that brings me joy. Joy comes from small moments in which we own our space, we own our bodies, we claim our humanity and it is affirmed in the face of unspeakable odds.
I am joyous today because the United States government decided to acknowledge the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre (although there were dozens more) and just yesterday June 19th as Juneteenth National Independence Day was passed by the Senate. This should make BAFSA very proud because you have been a small part of a national movement that led to this ultimately happening.
However, we should not let up. There will be more George Floyds and Breonna Taylors until our system of policing of BIPOC communities which are rooted in slavery and colonialism are upended. (Did you know that Indigenous Americans are killed by police at a higher per capita rate that African-Americans?) Defunding the police calls on us to rethink the way our communities spend exorbitant amounts of city budgets on police when we are told there is not enough money to have art and music in schools. I personally would rather have art and music in schools than police. This is similar to our national Defense and War Budget which spends over 700 billion annually to keep unpopular wars alive and fund nations like Israel and Saudi Arabia who do horrendous things to Palestinian and Yemeni peoples in their own historic lands.
I want to leave you with a couple of stories. I just came back from Curaçao where I went for a conference and stayed longer for a little R and R. I learned that the government of Curaçao builds houses for its people, who pay rent for twenty years and then get ownership of those houses. Imagine that. The taxes they pay to government, comes back to them in an important way. I also had a brother who passed away in 2015. He lived in Sweden for 30 years because he married a Swedish woman in the US and after having two kids, she told him that it was easier to raise children in Sweden. My niece and nephew are now grown with kids of their own. With each child they got 18 months paid family leave, which is the law. When my brother got sick with pancreatic cancer and spent initially 24 days in the hospital, he paid 10.00/day out of pocket. $240 dollars for ICU and cancer care. And then when he passed away, the family paid nothing for his burial because that is also taken care of with taxes.
If I leave you with anything today it is this. The ultimate Black Joy will come when our money, tax money goes to take care of our people (and by our people, I mean all people), our schools, our wages, our college tuition, our housing, our food sources, our environment, and not war and the police. We need to change the narrative and the budget. Tell Mitch McConnell, and is ilk that taking care of people is not “a hand out”, it is the people’s money, it is our money, and it should be used to take care of us, all us. There are models out there, from which we could learn. I paraphrase Fred Hampton, of Black Panthers when said: Power to the People not the monied Politicians. Happy Juneteenth!
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