Angela Davis Encourages Activism Among Colgate Community


Long before sitting down remotely with the Colgate community on Feb. 4, activist, educator and author Angela Davis dedicated her life to combating the myriad manifestations of oppression at the national and international levels, and to showering unrelenting harmony, hope and justice along the path she continues to forge toward a more peaceful and just world for all. Davis insists she never made the conscious decision to become an activist, but rather it was borne out of her awareness that people like her were needed to keep freedom rolling as well as her mother’s inspiring example as a member of the Southern Negro Youth Congress and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Davis’ passionate efforts during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s are still felt today as she continues to enkindle those radical fires through her current projects focused on the social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of the communities most affected by poverty and racial discrimination — what she refers to as “the prison-industrial complex.”

Though they rarely get the credit they deserve, queer black feminists like Angela Davis have historically helped us to imagine new and better worlds based on the principles of social justice. We have seen this recently in the leadership of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the student leaders of the Colgate 2014 Sit-In. Particularly now, in this historical inflection point, we must decide who we want to be, and strive towards freedom. Angela Davis continues to be the type of visionary we need to light the way forward for all of us,” Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies Meika Loe said.

In Angela Davis’ keynote address organized and funded by the Africana, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center as a part of Colgate’s two-week celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., Davis revealed three key tenets of activism which she invites others to embrace with her: activism can happen anywhere, it involves a collective effort and it’s all about educating the imagination.

It is not uncommon for bystanders of an unjust system to assume that activist work must be done elsewhere and must, therefore, be tackled later. Davis reminded her virtual audience that activism does not spew forth from one privileged space over the horizon and out of our grasp.

“Oftentimes people assume that they have to leave the space that they currently inhabit to go somewhere else in order to be an activist, but my sense is that we transform the terrains of our lives, wherever we are, into terrains of activism, terrains for the evolution of struggles for justice, equality and freedom,” Davis said.

Additionally, one riff which echoed throughout the keynote was the necessity of collective action. Several times, Davis humbly stated that the individual is only made by virtue of their connection to the community. She speculated that she never would have made it to this point without the people fighting alongside her and the collective courage that she acquired in their company.

Davis also suggested that performative activism plaguing social media platforms is not as dangerous as it is made out to be. This contemporary phenomenon which we deem an issue is actually a signal that the truly passionate advocates successfully formed an irresistible movement, so that even people without a deep desire for justice and equality want to be associated with it. Davis posited that we turn our energy towards consolidating a powerful sense of community among the committed and perhaps eventually some pseudo activists will realize the gravity of social injustice and begin to put in a more serious effort.

In addition to being ubiquitous and collaborative, Davis shared that her activism relies on the need to educate the imagination, or develop an “aesthetic education.” In pioneering the 21st-century abolitionist movement aimed at dismantling the prison-industrial complex, Davis said it was partly aspirational and though she and her comrades could not have imagined the moment that change would arrive, they prepared for it in order to take advantage of the progressive wave to the fullest extent.

“Davis spoke about the need to be aware of the effects of the past and present while also thinking about the future and being aspirational about what could be accomplished or acquired. This was an important point because if we do not allow ourselves to imagine how things need to and can change then we are limiting our activism,” senior Social Justice Peer Educator at ALANA Jaritza Nunez said.

Considering Davis has her hand in so many movements from BLM to disability rights and most everything in between, it can be overwhelming to find a start in following in her footsteps to change the world. 

“One moment that truly stuck out to me was when Davis mentioned how she was learning from younger activists. It was really nice to hear that Davis was still open and willing to listen to those who might be new to activism or may not have decades of experience despite her many years of being an activist herself. I learned that our generation has more power than ever with tools like social media at our disposal,” junior Sophie Johnson said.

Davis reminds us that although it might be intimidating to find a way to begin and we might not immediately see the fruit of our labor, we can start by honing in on an issue we are passionate about and defining our own way of being an activist.