As a part of programming honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., the School of Social Work hosted adrienne maree brown Wednesday afternoon to discuss her work and recent publication, “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.” Brown, who refers to herself as “a writer, social justice facilitator, pleasure activist, healer and doula,” is also the co-editor of “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements”.
Brown began her dialogue by reading a letter she wrote to her mentor, Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away Tuesday. Le Guin was a fantasy fiction writer with a passion for social justice and activism. Brown praised Le Guin’s guidance and empathy, and encouraged all of those in attendance to find an inspiring mentor and teacher. Brown was particularly close with Le Guin, as she both encouraged Brown intellectually and accepted Brown’s personal identities as a “black, tattooed, queer woman, who dates multiple people at once.”
Danyelle Reynolds, assistant director for student learning at the Ginsberg Center, came to Brown’s lecture hoping to learn about her personal goals.
“Her work is a lot around how do we have this imagination to create change, and how can we position ourselves in ways to co-create that with others,” Reynolds said.
Brown’s book “Emergent Strategy” was heavily influenced by Octavia Butler, a science fiction writer in the social justice field. Brown said she incorporated metaphors and ideas outside the realm of reality in her book to encourage others to think creatively about change.
“All successful life is adaptable, opportunistic, tenacious, interconnected, and fecund,” Brown wrote.
These ideas are the “cheat sheet” of her book, she joked, and focused her lecture on describing what each attribute means.
Brown continued by defining “fractal” as the connection between very small actions and very large actions, and asked the audience how they could expect a large scale change without first changing on a smaller scale. In terms of transformative justice, she urged those in attendance to first practice it in their own home, and then extend outward, providing transformative justice to more and more people. She asked how people can expect national change from our government when many of us aren’t willing to change on an individual level.
“We need to build a society that is built on blocks of care, not based on fear,” Brown said.
Desiraé Simmons, a program coordinator in the Office of Community Engaged Academic Learning, is currently doing her own community organizing work in Ypsilanti as the city undergoes gentrification. Simmons hopes to make an impact in her own community, and eventually work together with others to expand her scope.
“Her words are giving me the language I need to take this and to help convince people that don’t believe this is happening, that we need to do something different,” Simmons said.
In “Emergent Strategy,” Brown also emphasized the importance of being adaptive to change in ways that evoke our humanity, and explained what it means to be nonlinear and iterative. In reference to transformative justice, she said we must start at an individual basis, and then influence more people for communities and the nation to start catching on.
Brown argued restorative justice will not simply restore the environment in which the harm was committed. Rather, she said “we need to pull the problem up from the root so it doesn’t happen again.”
Finally, Brown stressed the importance of decentralizing oneself and becoming interdependent with others. She joked about how people once thought the entire universe orbited around the Earth, and compared this to how many people view the world today. To be successful, she argued, it is important to stay independent in one’s strengths and strategies while cooperating with others’ individual strengths.
LSA senior Jamie Thompson, a Central Student Governnent representative and a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion student coordinator of the Community Action and Social Change office, came to Brown’s lecture to hear new ideas for creating change through DEI student initiatives.
“It was amazing being able to bring in outside organizers from Detroit to Ann Arbor,” Thompson said.
Correction appended: a previous version of this article misquoted Reynolds.