“Angela Davis, painted portrait IMG_6925003” by Abode of Chaos is licensed under CC BY 2.0 under CC BY-NC 2.0
“[United States] Libertad Para Angela Davis (1971)” by Penn State Special Collections Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
In the late afternoon of Sept. 30, the second annual West Chester University Ruby Jones Conference had begun. The three-day event, hosted by The Dowdy Multicultural Center in partnership with The Center for Women’s and Gender Equity and the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, was made to revolve completely around civic engagement, race and social justice.
The second evening, Oct. 1, gave way to the focal point of this year’s conference, the keynote address, which was given by Dr. Angela Davis, the iconic speaker, activist, author and professor.
From speaking on activist mental health to addressing the bridges between capitalism and racism, Davis was able to answer the list of questions produced by the members of the West Chester community in a streamed Zoom call that took place from 4 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.
Davis, who has been active in the realm of politics and justice since the 1960s, has seen the growth and evolution of numerous movements, a subject she was able to detail to her audience made up of countless WCU faculty, staff and students.
“The Black Lives Matter movement was enabled by the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” she stated while explaining how we can’t pretend that the more recent could exist without its predecessor. “There are some similarities. The Black Panthers patrolled the police, and now we want to defund and abolish the police. Black Lives Matter has reimagined leadership. Leadership no longer has to be male, it doesn’t have to be individual, it doesn’t have to be charismatic. But Ella Baker in the ‘60s made the same argument.”
While teaching the viewers of her speech who to credit with the growth of the movement that is now known across the United States, Davis also explained the ways everyone fits into the system that requires such movements to continue.
“We are all implicated in this history,” she explained. “And it is not operated primarily by individuals. You can have the most well meaning individuals operating a racist system.”
After shedding light on the way this is not an exclusively individual issue, but rather a problem whose roots are deeply entangled within our society, Davis gave the West Chester students an understanding of how they could do the work to dismantle these institutions.
Davis was explicit about the importance of the “intellectual dimension of the movement,” simultaneously noting the misconception that education imparted through community involvement is somehow lesser than that exchanged through the academic pathway.
“Activism requires intellectual engagement with the issues we are trying to grapple with and the world we are trying to transform,” Davis said. “But it does not have to be a professionalized education. Education happens within many different venues…and students must be humble enough to know that learning isn’t simply contained within the venue of the college/university.”
While the 2020 Ruby Jones Conference was held a bit differently than what was originally planned, as it’s typically held in person, students were still able to take a great deal away from their experience with Davis via video.
“I feel honored to be alive at the same time as her,” said Lydia Villalba, a fourth-year English BSED student. “…I’m just gonna sit here and stare at the wall after that. My mind is still processing.”
Walking away from the event, or, more accurately, closing the laptop screen, the students and staff of West Chester University were ending the evening filled with the knowledge and ideas that had just been imparted on them by one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights activists.
Ali Kochik is a third-year English Writing major with minors in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies. AK908461@wcupa.edu
Justin Bifolco is a sixth-year English major with a Journalism minor. JB933932@wcupa.edu