Last night in the Michigan League, author Rebecca Walker encouraged students and community members to exchange the traditional forms of activism, such as boycotts and marches, for a search for inner happiness and peace.
“We can change laws and make new policies, but we will never be happy,” Walker said.
Her speech was part of a series of events taking place this month at the University in honor of Black History Month, with the theme ‘Loud Words, Louder Actions.’
“I think the loudest action we can take is to become a better human being, more loving, more compassionate and less aggressive,” Walker said.
Walker’s first book, “Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self,” reflected on her experiences growing up in a biracial family, with a black mother and a Jewish father. Her parents were both active in the civil rights movement, and her mother won the Pulitzer Prize for her book “The Color Purple.”
Growing up in an activist family, Walker said she was once a very militant activist. Over the course of time, she said she realized the true path of activism is an inner journey.
“We are not spending enough time cultivating ourselves, cultivating our highest expectations for who we can be as human beings,” Walker said.
The evolution of activism — particularly in the civil rights movement — was a theme in her speech. Walker noted that while the boycotts and marches were effective in the past, they are not appropriate now.
“Once we do all that, what is going to be left of us?” Walker asked.
Many who attended agreed with Walker on the need for a union between introspection and activism.
“It was very refreshing to hear someone articulate the things that I often feel,” University alum Avani Bhatt said.
Bhatt also said she enjoyed the way Walker incorporated spiritual ideas into politics.
RC junior Carla Thomas said the part of the speech that she found most compelling was when Walker stated that it is not enough to focus on the problems imposed by other people, such as being denied civil rights.
“We can no longer exclusively look outward,” Thomas said.
Others, however, wished Walker would have gone into detail on how exactly to act on the ideas presented.
“She provided a wonderful plan on how to change the world, but no real way to implement it,” LSA sophomore Nick Israel said.
Robbie Townsel-Dye, coordinator for the Minority Peer Advisor Program and also a member of the Black History Month planning committee, said the committee chose Walker to speak because of her feminist and activist viewpoints.
“How she looked at activism from a different perspective kind of makes you think,” Townsel-Dye said.
“She was very intellectual, very thoughtful, one of the best speakers that I’ve heard on campus,” said Frederic MacDonald-Dennis, planning committee member and director of the Office of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Affairs.
Walker was named one of the 50 future leaders of America by Time magazine, and also co-founded the Third Wave Foundation, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to developing young female activists and leaders.
— Amit Weitzer contributed to this report