Students, faculty and staff gathered together via Zoom on Tuesday for a talk with Margo Okazawa-Rey — an educator, activist and founding member of the Combahee River Collective, a Black feminist and lesbian advocacy group.
The Black History Month keynote address, titled “Black Futures, Feminist Solidarities,” was sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Asian American Cultural Center, the Department of African-American Studies, the Yale Chaplain’s Office and nine other Yale-affiliated groups and organizations. Community members convened on a Zoom webinar, where participants were able to ask questions through the question-and-answer function. Student moderators from the AACC and the Af-Am House also asked specific questions and introduced Okazawa-Rey to the audience.
Fifteen minutes before the event began, Okazawa-Rey acted as a DJ with the name “DJ MOR Joy and Joy.” There was also an American Sign Language interpreter present throughout the event and closed captions to promote greater accessibility.
“What’s the future you want to create, what’s the world you want to create?” Okazawa-Rey asked listeners. “What’s the world we’re working to create? And the second related question is, who do we have to become to live in it, to thrive in it, to help that world [and] those communities within it thrive, and not mess it up?”
Okazawa-Rey talked on themes of love, joy and different hierarchies within the world. She also spoke about identity and the self, prompting audience members to reflect on what made them joyful and “really love life.”
On the Combahee River Collective — founded in 1974 by Black feminists and lesbians in Boston — Okazawa-Rey said they “were not out to make history.” Okazawa-Rey, who co-authored “A Black Feminist Statement” in 1978 with the collective, said that the group was attempting to “discover who we were at the time” and advocate that “women like us exist, because … we were not visible anywhere.” She added that it was a “huge deal” for members of the collective to be out publicly, not just sexually but also politically as “socialists and anti-imperialists.”
Okazawa-Rey also prompted the audience to think about the differences between “radical” and “revolutionary,” and what it meant to be “a person committed to radical imagination.”
“I was touched by Dr. Okazawa-Rey’s passion and deep love for the work she does and the community,” Associate University Chaplain Maytal Saltiel wrote in an email to the News. “She spoke beautifully from the heart and left us with deep questions about finding the things that sustain us, and surrounding ourselves with people that both hold us accountable and love us.”
The Chaplain’s Office listed this event as part of its “Wisdom from our Elders” series. Saltiel said that with the onset of the pandemic, it felt “even more important” to learn and gain wisdom from experienced members of the community. She called the event inspiring, and hoped that some of Okazawa-Rey’s “energy and inspiration and love” rubbed off on the student, faculty and community member attendees.
Saltiel said she was also thrilled to see an ASL interpreter and closed captions at the event, so that it was more accessible and could also “motivate us as a community to think harder about the ways that we are not as accessible as we would aspire to be.”
Crystal Feimster, associate professor of African-American Studies, American Studies and History, echoed Saltiel’s sentiments.
“I was inspired by Prof. Margo Okazawa-Rey’s brilliance and generosity and moved by the game changing questions that our students raised,” Feimster wrote in an email to the News. “I especially loved Prof. Okazawa-Rey’s call to create not just safe spaces but ‘courageous spaces.’”
The Combahee River Collective disbanded in 1980.
Zaporah Price | firstname.lastname@example.org