Learning to “(Re)Live” Hope During Otelia Cromwell Day
Jackie Richardson ’21 | Associate Editor
The opening ceremony of Otelia Cromwell Day began a little after 1 p.m. Nov. 1 in John M. Green hall. It was almost fully occupied.
This year’s theme was “Healing and Resistance through Community.” Marianne Yoshioka, Dean of the School of Social Work, started the ceremony by reflecting on the similarities and differences between the racism of Otelia Cromwell’s time and the racism of today.
Blackapella then lead the crowd to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Cai Swerley ’19 and Oumou Kanoute ’21 then read Nikky Finney’s poem “Maven,” which Finney wrote for Smith. Each section began with a quote from Otelia Cromwell. After this, Professor Andrea Hairston talked about Otelia Cromwell’s life and legacy, both at Smith and in the wider world as a teacher, writer and scholar.
President McCartney reflected on the need for transformative change at Smith. She spoke with the Inclusion Council — a group of faculty, staff and students that works with the vice president to promote social justice at Smith — and shared a bit of what they had talked about so far. To achieve transformative change, she and the council agreed that we needed two things: a sense of urgency, which they believed was present, and support from the entire community, which they sought. Some ideas that students raised to the council included offering a class on thinking through race and giving students more opportunities to share their personal stories. McCartney then said that there should be a day in the spring where class and work are suspended so that students, staff and faculty can work together to create a plan to begin necessary, transformative change at Smith.
Keynote speaker Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart began his speech called “(Re)Living Hope.” He reflected on the idea of critical hope and how, in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, cissexism and the intense stress that accompanies them, we can use critical hope to keep believing that a better world is possible.
Blackapella ended the ceremony by singing “Feeling Good.” A recording of the ceremony is available on Smith’s Facebook page.
Otelia Cromwell Day was started in 1989 by then-president Mary Maples Dunn as a way to reflect on race at Smith. Born in 1874 in Washington, D.C., Otelia Cromwell was the first Black graduate of Smith, transferring to the school in 1898 and graduating in 1900. She went on to earn her Master of Arts from Columbia and her doctorate from Yale, becoming the first Black woman to do so. Both during her career as an English professor at Miners Teachers College and after her retirement, Cromwell published significant scholarly work, including “The Life of Lucretia Mott,” which continues to be cited today.