Speaker looks to past African American activists as model for present


Visiting professor Dr. Sundiata Cha-Jua delivered the lecture "Resurrecting Ghosts of the Past: Building Black Studies in its Radical Intellectual Tradition" on Wednesday afternoon in Watson Forum.
The lecture concentrated on the lessons that society can learn from historical black activists about the importance of present day Black Studies and black social activism.
Religious Studies Professor Leslie James introduced Cha-Jua to the nearly full auditorium by praising Cha-Jua for his expertise in both historical and present day Black Studies not only in America, but around the world.
DePauw welcomed Cha-Jua to campus this week as a Nancy Schaenen Endowed Visiting Scholar at the Prindle Institute for Ethics. He is an associate professor of history and associate professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Cha-Jua set the historical tone of his nearly 90-minute-long lecture and discussion with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. about the necessity of radicalization and "social fundamental change" during the Civil Rights Movement. He emphasized the relevance of past racial issues in today's society.
"The transformation of financial, global, and racial capitalism has plunged African Americans into a state akin to their situation more than a century ago," Cha-Jua said.
Cha-Jua continued his lecture by giving examples of how African American unemployment has remained undeniably low throughout the past century and how some members of the society still express strong racial discrimination. He referenced the efforts of past black activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, C.L.R. James and Claudia Jones throughout the rest of the lecture and connected their work to the value of addressing Black Studies and racial issues in today's school curriculums.
James appreciates that Cha-Jua's message links the past to the present and "bridges the divide between what's going on in the economy and in the schools."
Senior Vanessa Bernal recognized Cha-Jua's ability to incorporate different cultures in his lecture, as well, and how those of various races can learn how the current outlook on black social activism affects everyone.
"I like how it [the lecture] didn't just focus on Black Studies, but also weaves in...different cultural perspectives," Bernal said.
In referencing present day issues, a concept that many students responded to was Cha-Jua's point about today's rap music. He pointed out that popular rap music may be full of explicit content, but "you need listen to it so you can reject it."
Senior Luis Paez attended the lecture for his course Caribbean Religion and Culture class and found the lecture to coincide with his interest in Bob Marley's music. When Cha-Jua referenced that such explicit music is unfavorable for black social activism, Paez began to consider how today's rap's content compares to what Marley advocated.
"I was beginning to question...how did Bob Marley transform this idea of a black radical outside of a classroom aspect and more in his music?" Paez said. "And more specifically the idea of violence [during this time] and how he tried to channel his music for unity and tranquility."
Cha-Jua is the current President of the National Council of Black Studies--the leading academic organization for the study of Black/Africana Studies in the U.S. He has received Advanced Certificates in Black Studies from Northeastern University and from the National Council for Black Studies, Director's Institute.