Angela Davis Delivers BSA Conference's Keynote Speech

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Sarah Robbins '17 Assistant Features Editor

In honor of Black History Month, the Black Students’ Alliance invited activist and author Angela Davis to speak at the BSA’s 10th annual conference, titled Young, Gifted & Black.

Davis is known for her radical politics and has spoken out against racism, discusses abolitionist and intersectional feminism and calls for the abolition of the prison system and the death penalty. She was involved in the Black Panther Party during the Civil Rights movement as well as the Communist Party, and has published many books including “Are Prisons Obsolete?” and most recently, “The Meaning of Freedom and Other Different Dialogues.” She taught at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

As the event began, member of the BSA Cameah Wood ’15 stepped onto the stage and gave a speech about the group’s function and purpose at Smith.  She explains how the BSA was created for the “promoting of cultural, social, and political awareness in the Smith community” and for students of color “to find a home away from Smith.”

Next, Lee Miller ’18 introduced a BSA scholarship created for women of color applying for college. Of the 15 applications received for the scholarship, one, Taylor Clinton’s, was chosen.

Clinton spoke of her experience as a woman of color. “I’ve been called racist slurs, including the N-word, but it goes past name-calling,” Clinton said of daily racism. “It means walking down the street and not feeling safe in my own neighborhood. It means…racism is a daily event for me and people of color. Being a person of color means having courage and strength. It means to be independent. I don’t expect anything to be handed to me on a silver platter. It means embracing my cultures and my traditions.”

After announcing this scholarship, Angela Davis herself strolled out onto stage, amidst bounds of applause, cheering, whistling and a standing ovation. She went immediately to sit at one of the red, velvet-backed chairs on the stage, and Gaiana Joseph ’17, BSA Conference Chair, read an introduction of Davis’s accolades and accomplishments. She spoke of Davis as “someone who has fought so generations after her can live peacefully,” who has remained “deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice.”

As Davis took the podium she received a second standing ovation accompanied by foot stamping. Dressed in a plain black shirt, a black leather jacket, and black pants, she waited patiently till the ruckus died down.

Davis’s speech covered a wide range of topics, from the importance of understanding the wide variety of feminisms to racial equality. “Freedom meant much more than the breaking of slavery’s chains,” Davis said. “It meant political freedom, economic freedom, educational freedom, and sexual freedom.” She also spoke out against the prison system and the death penalty and promoted an understanding of America as an imperialist power. The audience was actively engaged, clapping often at different parts of her speech. “I know that I have to constantly question myself,” Davis said of her role as an activist. ”I want to encourage habits of self-criticism.”

Camilla Skalski ’15 said, “It was a really inspired speech. It was especially poignant that she talked about our greater understanding of our [America’s] place within the world and our world diplomacy.” She continued, “We have to always be aware that were an empire and were coming in with that colonialist bent, even if we don’t want to be. I really liked the global connection that she brought into abolitionist feminism.”

Finally, Davis ended her speech by talking about activism as a whole and the intersectionality of feminism with racism, gender issues, and sexuality. “All of this,” Davis said, “is happening against a backdrop of the interconnectedness of issues.”