On June 13, HWS faculty, staff and students were joined by members of the Geneva community for the first in a series of virtual teach-ins on racial justice titled “Voices of Protest and Love: Liberatory Knowledge in the Hour of George Floyd.”
Co-sponsored by Africana Studies, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Intercultural Affairs and the Office of the President, the event was co-hosted by Brandi Taylor ’19, MAT ’20 and Geneva, N.Y. residents Akim Hudson and Mycl Gramling. Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Khuram Hussain served as a facilitator.
In her opening remarks, Taylor welcomed more than 180 registrants to the Zoom session to listen and bear witness to people’s lived experiences. “These are conversations that we cannot afford to delay. We must honor our past, educate one another about our present and create a roadmap for our way moving forward,” Taylor said. Hudson also welcomed attendees to the session with a moment of silence for victims of police brutality.
The event began with a reading by Fatim Cisse ’23, who shared her poem “Geneva Birds” written on the shore of Seneca Lake. She also shared her work at the NAACP Black Lives Matter protest held in Bicentennial Park in Geneva, N.Y.
In the first session, titled The Truth of Our Moment, Theresa Johnson, minister at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee and member of the Geneva chapter of the NAACP, joined the discussion to consider the power of voting in local, state and national elections.
Victor Nelson, who has lived in Geneva, N.Y. for 20 years, spoke as a member of the African American Men’s Association. He discussed the youth empowerment and leadership training at the core of the AAMA’s programming, and how Geneva youth are emerging as leaders in the pursuit of social justice reforms.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Ricky Price, whose research focuses on the history of HIV and AIDS policy and activism, discussed the relationship between race and COVID-19. His remarks shed light on how Covid-19 has exposed the politics, policies and health care systems “that un-matter Black lives.”
The second session, titled Voices of Protest and Love: Geneva Activists Speak Up and Speak Out, included remarks from Hudson and Gramling, the lead organizers for the Black Lives Matter protests in Geneva. The pair discussed the community’s reception to the marches, the ongoing work to collect resources and a petition for city-wide reforms that has been authored and circulated by the Geneva Black Lives Matter movement.
Assistant Professor of History Janette Gayle kicked off the third session, “Anti-Black Violence and the Making of America.” Her research focuses on African American history and topics including slavery, race, labor and civil rights, with a particular focus on women. Gayle discussed love and protest, and the spark that ignited protests around the country and world – violence against Black bodies. Her remarks included an overview of the development of state sanctioned violence against Black people during slavery, in the post emancipation period, and the civil rights and Black Power eras.
Instructor of History, Virgil Slade, addressed the topic of “Our Beautiful Black Triumph – Decolonizing the Mind.” An African history scholar, Slade’s research area is centered on post-colonial history and critical race theory. Slade shared an overview of the history of the apartheid regime and invited attendees to reflect on how resistance to apartheid can speak to and transform American life.
Stephen D’Alterio ’21 joined the conversation to discuss the importance of listening to multiple narratives. He also posed discussion questions for the group about governance, the role of authority and decolonization.
Assistant Professor of Dance Kelly Johnson, who teaches dances of the African diaspora, led a session titled “Sensing My Body’s Knowledge.” After recognizing that “bodies are great collectors” of experiences such as joy and trauma, Johnson led a movement activity in which she invited everyone to experience a “homecoming.”
The final session “Where Do We Go From Here?” was facilitated by Director of Alumni and Alumnae Relations Chevanne DeVaney ’95, P’21, P’23. Together, attendees produced a list of resources for anti-racist teaching and learning available on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website
“Voices of Protest and Love” was organized by a coalition of scholars, activists and teachers from the Colleges and the Geneva community, in collaboration with the Africana Studies Department, Intercultural Affairs, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Office of the President.