American Race Crisis: The Crisis Continues


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

Leave a comment


  1. Korbin Miles

     /  March 6, 2014

    If I had known about this even prior to it taking place I would have been there. Not only did Phillip Agnew attend my undergraduate institution of Florida A&M University, but I was there to see many of the progressive moves that the Dream Defenders took to demand equality in the state of Florida. I agree with Harry Belafonte our fight for civil rights has come a ways but there is still so much to be done. I think that the real justice we will see in America will have to take place in a movement that is radical, a revolution. I often question how can we ever fight for full freedom or civil rights if the system and constitution our country was built on was through the oppression, enslavement and genocide of African and indigenous people of North America. There is so much injustice taking place, through the prison system, education system, governmental system, food system and most importantly of the environment. Society is enslaved through consumerism and capitalism and as Agnew said, “its time to take back our culture that capitalism has eroded.”


  2. I wish I could have made that exhibit! Wow, The Dream Defenders have big shoes to fill, if they follow in the footsteps of SNCC. That’s some praise. I like the commentary on how art can inspire change. James Baldwin wrote an essay, “On the Creative Process,” where he discusses how artists are in a unique position to affect change. I try to impart his lessons to the college students I teach, so that they can all see themselves as artists. Baldwin mentions the solitude of artistry as well, and I think that people fear being alone. But sometimes when you opt to challenge norms (which is what art can do), being alone is necessary. It is my hope that we can build a large community of engaged artists–citizens dedicated to examination and critical thinking



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