Amy Goodman, Issa Rae highlight social justice, contemporary political standing in MLK Day symposium keynote speech

Monday, January 16, 2017 - 12:19pm

Over 3,000 people gathered Monday morning in Hill Auditorium to listen to the University of Michigan Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium keynote memorial lecture given by renowned investigative journalist Amy Goodman and filmmaker Issa Rae.

Amy Goodman — also the host of Democracy Now!, a news organization that focuses on various aspects of world news and investigative journalism — has covered a wide range of topics from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests to the Santa Cruz massacre. Issa Rae, a writer, producer and star of the HBO series “Insecure,” who was recently nominated for a Golden Globe, participated in a sit-down interview-style discussion following Goodman’s remarks.

University President Mark Schlissel introduced the event, talking about the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan proposed last fall. He mentioned diversity as a key to excellence, noting its importance in light of the University’s upcoming bicentennial and in relation to the goals of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I hope the University of Michigan will always be known for social change,” Schlissel said, referring to the recent measures being taken on campus.

During his tenure, Schlissel has worked to foster diversity and campus climate through initiatives such as 49 individual unit plans across all colleges and academic departments which aim to increase and retain student body diversity. Additionally, Schlissel is currently overseeing plans for the construction of the new Trotter Multicultural Center and the expansion of the Inclusive Teaching Professional Development programs, which include workshops to improve faculty awareness about the new initiative that allows students to update their designated pronouns.  These programs also are aimed at administering classroom evaluation surveys to gauge the success of more inclusive teaching methods.

Musicology Associate Prof. Mark Clague then introduced a reinterpretation of the national anthem to reflect the Symposium’s theme, “Sounds of Change.” Following the performance, LSA senior Alyssa Brandon introduced both of the speakers. Brandon has also been an editor for the Daily.

Goodman began by talking about the news program she hosts and highlighted the importance of featuring different perspectives and people, saying it’s an important step in fostering mutual understanding.

“When you hear someone speaking from their own experience, it challenges stereotypes,” Goodman said. “That understanding is the beginning of peace … which is why we have to take the media back.”

Goodman, who is known for her role in civic activism, then spoke about President-elect Donald Trump’s recent feud with U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D–Ga.), a civil rights leader, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s and member of the “Big Six” — a coalition of civil rights leaders that also included Martin Luther King Jr. She told the audience how she found it appalling that the president-elect could refer to an icon of the civil rights movement as “all talk, all talk, all talk, no action” despite his more than 50-year fight for civil rights causes.

 

“No matter what your political persuasion, it is hard to describe John Lewis as a man who does not take action,” Goodman said.

Goodman, after offering her thoughts on contemporary political climate, then reflected on other figures in the civil rights movement, like Rosa Parks.  She stated that the modern image of Parks was that of an unwitting activist who ignited the modern civil rights movement; however, Goodman refuted this claim.

“Every network talked about her, no question, but they got it wrong.” Goodman said. “They said Rosa Parks was a tired seamstress; that was true. They said she was no troublemaker; that was wrong. Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker. She knew exactly what she was doing. She was an activist, and the media denigrates activists.”

Goodman highlighted the importance of an independent press and reporters that are engaged with grassroots social movements despite possible obstacles, like governmental institutions. To stress this point, she shared her experiences in North Dakota last year when officials issued an arrest warrant for misdemeanor criminal trespassing when covering the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

“We need a media that gives a voice to all of these movements today: the Black Lives Matter movement, the environmental justice movement, the gay-lesbian-trans-queer movement, the war and peace movement.” she said. “That philosophy, that motto, should be the Hippocratic oath of media today — we will not be silent.”

Afterward, Rae was introduced by Brandon, who emphasized that though both keynote speakers came from different backgrounds, they share many experiences.  

When asked about her personal history, Rae explained moving homes, attending predominantly white schools and going to Stanford University was much of what inspired her current work.

“A lot of those experiences I mined for my work now,” Rae said. “And a lot of my work now focuses on just those feelings of being out of place and feeling uncomfortable and feeling, you know, awkward and insecure.”

In addition, Rae spoke about her support for Planned Parenthood and how though she knows entertainers are reduced to just the role of entertaining, she believes there’s too much at stake for her to not respond.

“The attack on Planned Parenthood is so bewildering.” Rae said. “When I felt like I couldn’t talk to my mother about something, that’s where I went.”

When asked about what her message to the audience would be, Rae emphasized that she focuses on remaining authentic and herself.

“For me, I just want to continue being authentic,” she said. “I want to come from a place of truth always, I’m going to make a difference in a way that is long-lasting.”

LSA freshman Griffin Gonzales said he found the keynote engaging, and felt Issa Rae was particularly inspiring.

“I just think it was a very first-hand account of her experience that she was sharing with us, and all the power to her to be able to talk about issues like that that are so personal in front of an audience, and I think a lot of people could relate with her,” he said. “I think it was a very important dialogue to have, and that there’s no better place to do it than here at U of M.”

LSA freshman Jaspreet Singh echoed this sentiment, stating that the lecture exceeded expectations.

“It was really inspiring.” Singh said. “Amy Goodman and Issa Rae, they were both so much more than I expected. What they said was really valuable, and it was really interesting to hear.”