The New Face of Activism
Black Girl Magic is currently in full effect as we take the end of Women’s History Month to not only celebrate the relaunch of A Tough Mind & Tender Heart with highlighting young activist, Hülya Miclisse-Polat but to also use it as an opportunity to highlight a woman who identified herself not just as an activist but as an artist as well. Friday, March 24th marked the sixteenth annual Toni Cade Bambara Scholar-Activism Conference at Spelman College. The room was filled with legacy and if you didn’t leave dripping with inspiration and hope for the future there’s no way you were in the same room as I was. Spelman alumni, family, and friends of Toni Cade Bambara lined the walls to pay homage to her life and work. The theme, “Black Feminisms Arise: Thinking Deep, Talking Loud, & Acting Up” was certainly a call to action to everyone in attendance.
Across generations, artists have been at the forefront of social justice, challenging our intellect and giving us the tools to question the existing social constructs we deem normal or relevant. Toni Cade Bambara was one of these activists. Using her writing and talents as a documentary filmmaker, her and other close friends such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and Nikki Giovanni introduced to the world what is widely known today, as black women’s literature.
“Our art, protest, dialogue, no longer spring from the impulse to entertain, or to indulge or enlighten the conscience of the enemy; white people, whiteness, or racism; men, maleness, or chauvinism: America or imperialism… depending on your viewpoint and your terror. Our energies now seem to be invested in and are in turn derived from a determination to touch and to unify.” – Toni Cade Bambara
At a time when the acceptance of the African American experience wasn’t widely recognized in American art, the work created by Toni Cade Bambara and other artists of her time, were pivotal in bringing awareness to the everyday injustices of African Americans. In the world of Activism “The Black Intellect” has taken a forefront in the movement of social justice. But have these constructs minimized the legitimacy of who we identify as social changemakers? I was able to sit down at the opening reception with some girls in the Toni Cade Bambara Scholars Writers Activist Program about their experiences within the program. What they had to say about the growing trend of “Stayin’ Woke” and what it means to be an activist today was insightful.
Briana (Guest Writer): How do you feel academia correlates to social justice?
Naomi: A lot of times in these types of settings, what degree you have or what type of academic expertise you have will determine whether people legitimize your activism. Kind of like I said about Respectability Politics if you have a PhD people are going to care more about what you have to say than if you don’t.
Briana (Guest Writer): So, do you feel that the experience of injustices alone, isn’t enough to qualify you as an activist?
Naomi: No, it absolutely would. That’s the issue. Going to school, getting a degree, and getting a couple letters behind your name doesn’t make you any more or less legitimate as an activist.
Kiersten: And that’s so ironic because most social movements that do occur, if not all, are started by people who did not have the privilege to be educated.
Briana (Guest Writer): Do you feel activism is still prevalent to younger generations?
Kiersten: I think it’s cool. It’s the fad right now to be “Woke”. To be liberated. A lot of times the “wokeness” comes out and being a hotep, you know being half woke, is enough and then they stop. But I think you have to liberate yourself from all your oppressions, and not just look at one side of the issue. I hope that it’s becoming more prevalent. But I don’t know if it’s becoming more prevalent because it’s popular or because people actually care.
Naomi: I think young people are involved with activism. Especially for me, I come across this struggle where it’s like I have this knowledge and I have this desire but I just don’t know what to do. I just don’t know how to start. And seeing other people who are really involved with activism is inspiring but at the same time it’s almost like jumping in at double dutch, you’re just not really sure when to hop in. I just don’t know who to go to that will cultivate those desires.
A Tough Mind & Tender Heart began by Sandra Barnhill to highlight the work of various activists across the nation. As we continue the journey of challenging what it means to be an activist and exploring the work of others, we ask that you will join us. If you or someone you know is an activist and would like to have their work featured on our site please use the contact form at the bottom of the page to send us a message.
“Everyday, against incredible odds, women, and men fight the good fight for justice. Yet, beyond the lives they touch, most people will never hear about their work. We need to hear about their work and not just so we can celebrate them and their victories, though we definitely should. We need to hear about their work so that their strategies and approaches to dealing with complex issues can be shared with others who are working on the same, similar, or totally different issues. Their approach to the work can be a catalyst for someone else working on the frontline or someone who has been thinking about doing justice work but needed a “rallying call”.” – Sandra Barnhill