Throughout February, a monumental lecture series was revived at The New School. The University celebrated the 50th anniversary of the American Race Crisis lecture series, a turn of event in 1964 when civil rights activists were invited to the campus to share progressive ideas for civil rights movement. The Voices of Crisis series included several lectures and forums, as well as an exhibition with archival documentation of the original lectures. Archives included original transcripts, audio clips, photographs, and programs with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ossie Davis and John Killens to name a few of the original attendees.
As we approach the conclusion of the Voices Of Crisis series, we had the opportunity to attend The American Race Crisis: The Crisis Continues. The panel was moderated by Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the NYC Public Library. Panelist included the legendary activist and artist Harry Belafonte, journalist Raquel Cepeda and Philip Agnew, Director of the Dream Defenders movement.
The talk may have been a repetition of the capitalist American society that oppresses Black and Latinos for some. However, the talk truly moved me and demonstrated how significant it was to hear about how the crisis continues from these specific panelists. The discussion ranged from the lack of education and ethnic studies in schools, the difficulties of coping with racial consciousness, to the problems in representation of government, to mass incarceration and killings of our brothers and sisters – all factors that won’t change unless we break from the vicious cycle that has existed since our “forefathers”. Proving that indeed, race still matters in America: “We cannot ignore race and its implications on the human experience in this country”. (Belafonte)
Though Belafonte may never know what freedom really looks like, he admires how civil rights have made a full circle. Though Trayvon Martin may be the Emmitt Till of the 21st Century, the Dream Defenders are the SNCC of our time, taking all possible strides to create much more equal environments in their communities free of discrimination and oppression. The Revolution that began in Florida will quickly spread from sea to shining sea.
As stated by Agnew, “It’s time to take back our culture that capitalism has eroded”. The biggest way to do so is more radical thinking. A strong mechanism to cope with the stark reality is art. Powerfully stated by Belafonte as he quotes Paul Robeson, “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. Art is the radical voice of civilization”. Art and creativity can serve as a sacred, inspirational, and collaborative environment that can produce revolutions, and help us think outside the box and break barriers. Freedom is abstract, and we may never see it in this lifetime, but it’s groups like the Dream Defenders that begin to pave the way to change just like SNCC did during the American Race Crisis 50 years ago. They are definitely a group I plan to follow closely in the future.
Check out the American Race Crisis exhibition on display until March 6th, 2014 at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries at Parsons The New School for Design (66 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10011).
By Claudie Mabry
M.S. Candidate in Urban Policy Analysis and Management, 2014