What happens after you’ve become a freed political prisoner?
The Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations this year culminated in civil rights icon Dr. Angela Davis’ Open VISIONS Forum speech. On Feb. 1, Davis spoke at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on topics ranging from Black History Month, to her activism, to the Time’s Up movement.
The MLK Celebration Committee awarded Davis the 2017 Rev. John LaFarge, S.J. award, which is named in honor of a Catholic civil rights leader. Davis stated that she was honored to join the ranks of other recipients of the LaFarge award, including Shirley Chisholm and her sister, Fania Davis.
Davis, as the Quick Center describes, was a famed 1960s civil rights activist. She was a leader of the Communist Party and the Black Panther Party. Davis also served time on the FBI’s most wanted list in prison for a crime she was acquitted of. After being released, she conducted academic research on race, gender and prison, publishing her research in books including “Women, Culture, and Politics.”
Much of Davis’ time, especially in the question and answer section, focused on the power of activism and why people are called to be activists. This was in reflection of the theme she was assigned by the MLK Committee: “Freedom: Seeking Justice in America.” She spoke primarily on her life and work after she was released from prison, prison abolition and the use of force in America, and the impact of the Trump presidency on civil rights.
“Angela Davis is an exceptional speaker,” Emma Unterkoefler ‘19 said, “Her work and story prove that we should not disregard people who have served time. Additionally, she challenges us to move beyond inclusion and work toward a transformation in order to create a more just system.”
Davis spoke extensively regarding current activist movements, including Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March movements.
When talking about the significance of Time’s Up and #MeToo, Davis stated simply, “Women are on the rise.”
In response to a question on activism in the face of opposition, Davis replied, “Of course we’re tired. Of course. Because this is not the way the world is supposed to be.”
Peter Van Heerden, the Quick Center’s executive director, reported that “An Evening with Dr. Angela Davis” sold out the week of Jan. 24. Fifty people were on the waitlist for the event. According to Van Heerden, the audience had a roughly equal split between faculty, students and non-University patrons.
Dr. Philip Eliasoph, professor of visual and performing arts and founder and director of the Open VISIONS Forum, stated that 29 departments on campus worked as co-sponsors to have Davis visit Fairfield University as part of the Open VISIONS Forum.
Eliasoph commented on the significance of having Davis at Fairfield, “From her unique perspective as a bona fide legend in the struggle for human rights, it was such a privilege to listen to Angela Davis’ eyewitness testimony.”
Senior Marcia Momperousse commented on what it was like to hear someone of her stature speak at the Quick Center. “She really spoke to the audience and preached for activism in a way of doing it with love and passion. I’ve always been awed by her and to finally have heard her words in person was a miracle,” Momperousse said.
Van Heerden commented on Davis’ controversial history as a Civil Rights leader, “It is always a great pleasure and privilege to host speakers of Dr. Davis’ caliber that have lived interesting lives and have a valid and true lived experience to relate to our audience. You may not like or identify with the speaker’s viewpoint but you cannot deny the relevance or scope of the experiences they have lived in their lives.”