Students talk activism, organizing at Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium event

Monday, January 20, 2020 - 4:52pm

Student volunteers speak on the "Costs of Activism" event, part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, at the Newnan Advising Center Monday.

Student volunteers speak on the "Costs of Activism" event, part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, at the Newnan Advising Center Monday. Buy this photo
Ryan Little/Daily

Newnan LSA Academic Advising Center hosted a talk about the “Costs of Activism” as part of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. symposium. The speakers included Abdul El-Sayed, politician and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial election candidate, along with student activists and community members fighting for social justice issues. About 30 people attended the event.

The activists discussed personal experiences that inspired them to take up activism, the challenges they face and the importance of giving a voice to oppressed groups.

LSA freshman Mrinalini Iyer attended the talk and said she found it interesting to listen to the experiences of those from different identities.

“Seeing their experiences on campus and how the University of Michigan deals with instances of prejudice and oppression made me feel good about being here,” Iyer said. “There is obviously a lot of work to be done.”

Amer Ghali, LSA senior and presenter, shared his experience as a Syrian-American on campus. Ghali worked with the LSA Language Resource Center and Michigan Medicine on campus to support Syrian refugees. He stressed the commitment the University has towards diversity and inclusion.

“As I watched the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to worsen from my home in Ann Arbor, I was certainly anxious to help those fleeing the war in any way that I could,” Ghali said. “These two institutions put in a great deal of effort to translate medical histories for incoming refugees from Arabic into English for the physician providers to work with.”

David Brawn, pre-health academic advisor, commented on how activists interpreted the theme of the event in an interview with The Daily.

“While (the speakers) referenced what the cost (of activism) was personally, they saw it as something deeper and broader than just that, which wasn’t something we had imagined when we put together the symposium,” Brawn said.

Basil Alsubee, LSA junior and documentary filmmaker, directed “Blurred Canvases,” a film that follows Syrian refugees’ experience on the University campus. Alsubee said activists must look at more than just the legal status of oppressed groups and focus on listening to their stories.

“My ability to humble myself, to come to a position of consciousness, to recognize my own position of power in relation to others is in itself a form of activism,” Alsubee said.

LSA junior Elizabeth Larky-Savin told the audience she knew activism was her calling from a young age and stressed the importance of fighting for the voiceless.

“Winning something that you’ve been fighting for when dealing with basic human rights is absolutely incredible, but the losses are devastating,” Larky-Savin said. “You take a day to mourn, but there’s always another day to fight.”

El-Sayed talked about the importance of activism to secure opportunities and resources for future generations.

“I think about whether I will run again, but I also think about what I owe my daughter, ethnically half-Egyptian and half-Indian but 100% American,” El-Sayed said. “I know the barriers she will face. If we aren’t willing to engage the world as it is and dream about the world that could be, then life for kids like her will be a little bit less just, sustainable and equitable.”

Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu