Congratulations to Melany Silas and MJS Productions on last night’s amazing Evening of Empowerment with Angela Davis. In the aftermath of this year’s elections, it was a healing experience that many in the sold-out audience needed and appreciated.
From the moment the brilliant and naturally-humorous Ms. Tokeya C. Graham took the stage to MC the event, it was clear that attendees were in for an uplifting evening.
Ms. Silas called upon the Arts…from poetry, spoken word, and dance performed by FuturPointe Dance, to a recitation by Shaun Nelms of James Baldwin’s An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis, accompanied by violin…to bookend MJS Productions’ Community Empowerment Awards. Congratulations to well-deserving recipients Adam McFadden, Zaire Downs, Camille McIntyre, Gaynelle Wethers and Hanif Abdul-Wahid.
When Dr. Davis appeared, she acknowledged she could not have imagined the surreal post-election circumstances of her appearance.
Dr. Davis, a lecturer, educator and author of ten books, was once on the FBI’s most wanted list and spent 18 months in prison. Based on that experience in the early ’70’s, she has conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender and imprisonment and has become an activist in the reform and dismantling of the prison industry. She is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to that exact mission.
In addressing the election, rather than cite shortcomings in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign strategies, her criticism fell on a “bankrupt” two-party system. She pointed out that neither party acknowledged the need for collective empowerment in communities that have suffered, and continue to experience the “historical trauma” and racism rooted in slavery. As she pointed out, a mere 32 words were used in the 13th Amendment to abolish that complex social and economic institution.* She further noted that 14 of those words provide the exception to slavery, if it is “a punishment of crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Those words provided the loophole that allowed for the growth of a system of punishment and incarceration in which black men are the majority of its victims.
The evening provided a rich tapestry for thought, as Dr. Davis wove together familiar and contemporary concerns into innovative concepts for consideration. She spoke of how the Black Lives Matter movement calls for the demilitarization of police; how the concept of demilitarization and the policing of police harkens back to the Black Panther movement; how the movement envisions a future where security is not based on violence. She spoke of the fact that the institution of colonization gave rise to country borders, and that prior to colonization, Africa’s societal foundations were based on communities that were exempt from borders. She spoke of how Native Nations elect not to assimilate, and pointed to their practices as an alternative to elitist democratic ideals formed to maintain the status quo for the white, affluent male. And she called for the transformation of democracy and the two-party system which does not reflect the values of the communities it purports to serve. This list barely touches upon, and certainly does not do justice to Dr. Davis’ depth of thought and wisdom.
As I left East High School following the presentation, the dialogue between attendees confirmed that the event had inspired and empowered a community, most of which felt disenfranchised and disillusioned by the outcome of the 2016 election.
For additional insights on the evening, see also:
*”Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”