Students from as far as Texas and Georgia gathered at Yale this weekend to discuss apathy and social reform in the black community at the 12th annual Black Solidarity Conference.
Sponsored by the Black Student Alliance at Yale, the three-day conference entitled “Call to Arms: Battling Complacency, Igniting the Revolution” drew nearly 200 students from 20 universities. The conference featured a keynote speech by political activist and Black Entertainment Television regular Jeff Johnson and workshops focusing on issues of incarceration and public health in the black community. While some organizers and attendees said they think the conference will inspire students to become more involved in their communities, others said they think the discussions may not lead to substantive action.
Conference publicity chair Adedana Ashebir ’09 said BSAY hopes to boost social and political activism among students of color.
“We see too much apathy in college students of all colors,” she said. “We wanted to battle complacency within college students — something all Yale students could benefit from.”
Afro-American Cultural Center Director Pamela George, who attended the conference, said cross-college dialogue was an important part of the weekend. A national perspective on challenges facing the black community can only be gained by interaction on this level, she said.
On Saturday, Johnson spoke on understanding black identity and not getting “too comfortable” in the midst of ongoing inequality. He condemned high crime rates in black communities and institutional hurdles that breed poverty among black Americans.
“We need an army,” Johnson said. “We forget the fact that we are actually black people in America and the battle we’re waging is not in our community anymore.”
Johnson also criticized college students for their apathy and lack of investment in the fight for socioeconomic equality.
Event co-moderator Norie Pride ’08 said BSAY selected Johnson to speak because the organizers thought he could energize the audience and present cogent arguments on why a “revolution” is needed.
“The vigor and forcefulness of his speech were in line with the seriousness of the issues being discussed, as well as the severe consequences if these issues continue to go unaddressed by young black leadership,” she said.
Adler Prioly ’09 said while Johnson may have seemed radical to some, such fervor is necessary to inspire action.
“If radicalism is not imparted, how can we truly be revolutionary when our collective community is in shambles?” Prioly said.
Students also participated in workshops aimed at resolving problems of incarceration and public health in the black community. The discussions were led by political science and African-American studies professor Khalilah Brown-Dean and infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood.
Brittaney Williams, a freshman at Howard University, said she thought the events were not only educational but helped connect black students through the discussion of shared challenges.
“This is a great way to unify black students,” she said. “It’s really important to keep an open mind through all the events.”
While some students said the conference was not intended to be controversial, others said many aspects were deliberately divisive in order to spark debate.
“Revolution is always seen as controversial,” event finance co-chair Jaison Oliver ’09 said. “America was built on the back of the enslaved, and, as a result, there are certain issues that need to be addressed.”
But some students said they thought the conference was more likely to raise awareness among students than to inspire immediate action.
Brian Cox ’08, who attended the conference last year, said it probably will not spark any notable change because it is a conference focused on discussion rather than a rally to action.
“It’s obvious from the name that it’s an event where people are meant to talk,” he said. “If it were called the ‘black student rally,’ maybe then we could expect to see action.”
Pride said Black Solidarity Conference was founded in 1994 as an off-shoot of Black Solidarity Day — the Monday before Election Day — to provide a forum for African-American students to exchange ideas and build a network of student leaders.