by Carmen Brewton Denison
I’d like to make it clear from the outset that I address you candidly as a Black woman, and a Black community member. I speak to you as a descendent of the enslaved Africans, Indigenous people of the Americas, and Black civil rights activists who lived and marched in Alabama during Dr. King’s time.
The title of this year’s programming is From Resilience to Black Liberation; I’d like to unpack how we arrived at our theme.
While today we honor the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, we also honor the legacy of millions more who have been made invisible in the history of the civil rights movement but whose work has brought us where we are today; elders and youth who have sustained a generations-old struggle with wisdom, fortitude, and resistance. This programming is a proposition. A proposition to imagine and seek to make manifest a world in which we are not, as Black people, always called upon to be the backbone of our nation. Resilience is part of the Black narrative, yes, and we honor that narrative today, but with this, we demand a world in which resilience isn’t a requirement for Black people’s survival.
While we dream of better, but we see the present. We see that our community grieving those lost to Covid-19, which has killed more Black people than any other demographic. We see that police continue to terrorize and murder our community members in their homes and neighborhoods with impunity. We see that over 74 million Americans voted for a president whose only platform was white supremacy. We see protests for racial justice met with state violence instead of accountability. We see global displacement and criminalization of Black peoples, weaponized borders, the demonization of immigrants and refugees. We see environmental degradation and extractive practices facilitated by white supremacist capitalism, only now considered a pressing issue, and ongoing devastating impacts of climate change on Black and Indigenous people. We see the poison of everyday anti-Blackness and microaggression, and it impacts on, Black folks’, health, wellbeing, and ability to thrive. Finally, we see a string of old and recognizable stereotypes and false narratives that serve to invisibilize, gaslight, and subordinate Black people as they navigate the rough terrain of everyday racism.
It goes without saying that Black people are resilient, brilliant, creative, powerful, and inventive, this is stating the obvious, but continued demand that Black folks stand up while white institutions push us down is unrealistic, unsustainable, and oppressive.
Blackness, in its great diversity of embodiments, as a political and affective identity, has always sought liberation, collaboration, and critical inquiry. The Black activist is an artist and a social critic. Despite non-acknowledgment of its historical roots, Black liberation has a legacy traceable to resistance against white domination on plantations and is present in all liberatory movements that continue to this day. In must be said, though, the struggle is hundreds of years old, and as the Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer so aptly and succinctly put it fifty years ago, “ I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” while the push for social transformation and Black liberation moves forward always, I think it’s fair to say that Black folks are still, and rightfully so, sick and tired of being sick and tired.
This year’s programming celebrates those that sustain the work of liberatory space making. Words can not express how proud and grateful we are, as a collaborative to be in a community with these incredible presenters. It is their collective voices, expertise, and wisdom that provide the blueprint for a new city, society, and world. Presenters, your work is bold, courageous, and of the utmost importance. Finally, I’d like to that the collaborative for modeling collaboration, accountability, and critical care as a working methodology. Thank you to all you amazing, hardworking, and generous community engagement practitioners.
Carmen Brewton Denison
Executive Director of Campus Compact of Oregon