"…these are young people who are organizing and responding because they also know the history."


William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies

It’s fed my creativity, it’s fed my activism. It’s touched me in ways that I did not expect to be touched. Essence did a first-ever special issue on Black Lives Matter. There was no model on the cover. It was a black on black cover with Black Lives Matter, just the graphics. They asked me to write a piece, along with many other people. I had to write about this generation. Those that I teach are very privileged, but even those who weren’t privileged, those who had been written off and put in the worst schools, abandoned in their schools and their communities—talked about, because their pants sag, that this is what they’re up against. Just recently, in McKinney, Texas, we see how that officer treated those children. This is what they’re up against. But look at how they respond. I worry about them, I’m concerned with them. Those children in Ferguson were confronted by tanks. But they did that, and the rest of the country said, “Oh, maybe that’s not such a good idea.” Maybe we shouldn’t have that militarized police force. Or maybe there is a problem with mass incarceration. Or, at our own university, maybe we shouldn’t be investing in companies that invest in private prisons. It’s the students who are leading us. I’ve always believed that. As a young activist, I believed it too. It’s one thing to believe something in the abstract, theoretically, and it’s another thing to see it in action.

Q: Right. So not only talking about recovery, but regeneration.

Yes, right. And knowing the importance of history to that regeneration. So many of these young people are young people who are organizing and responding because they also know the history. They’ve studied it. They know how their world is different from the one they’ve read about, but they also have learned from what’s come before. It’s the best—it’s the way it’s supposed to work.