“I have a fundamental belief in our people. I have a fundamental belief in our ability to change, to win.”
Political commentator, activist, professor and writer Marc Lamont Hill met with a group of students for an intimate discussion on various issues ahead of his keynote lecture celebrating VCU’s “MLK Week”.
The charged dialogue in the student commons ranged from topics addressing the Donald Trump presidency, political and social activism, racism and mass incarceration.
The 38-year old has stood out as one of the leaders in this new era of freedom fighters and social activists. In addition to being an African-American Studies professor at Morehouse College and political analyst on CNN, Hill also does work in Palestine and places of turmoil and crisis.
In the aftermath of the murder of Mike Brown, Hill joined thousands and protested in Ferguson Missouri. His long time activism and recent work culminated in his 2016- New York Times Bestseller, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. The book tackles systemic issues of race and class that has left people disenfranchised and oppressed in the country.
When asked advice about these issues, Hill offered various strategies to help turn things around.
“You have to be able to talk to those who don’t agree with you, who challenge your worldview. It’s necessary,” Hill said.
Hill said he also believes that while dialogue is valuable, one must first check the counter’s motivation first.
“Everyone says they want a seat at the table but what are you bringing to the table?”
In recent months, black celebrities, most notably rapper Kanye West and entertainer Steve Harvey, have had publicized meetings with Trump that has led to much controversy and backlash. Hill, who criticized both on social media, said he questioned their reasoning behind the meetings to begin with.
“When you get there, bring people that will challenge Trump otherwise you just become a photo-op, who comes into Trump Towers, takes pictures so somebody can say, ‘Hey look, I’m with the blacks.’”
A key point Hill examines in the book and also the discussion are the ramifications of such issues like racism and capitalism, mass incarceration. When a student in the room asked about ways to reverse the trend, Hill quickly refocuses her question.
“I resist the term mass incarceration. It’s the mass incarceration of black people,” Hill said. “I’m committed to thinking of ways to think beyond the bars. We have to stop creating laws that lock people up. Stop doing things that use prison as the resolution.”
Instead of thinking about who did the crime and how should we punish, Hill argued the system should prioritize who was hurt and how to heal these people. He emphasized the unfortunate reality that the over-policing of black neighborhoods leads to over criminalization of black neighborhoods.
On the topic of white supremacy, Hill offered strategies to help alleviate these issues, starting with our ability to think and believe differently.
“The information we read, the films we watch, all these things are forms of pedagogy. We have to constantly resist those and reimagine a new world of post colonial and post-racism reality.”
Despite the country’s transgressions and struggles, Hill said he hopes for a better tomorrow has never wavered and encouraged everyone in the room to do the same.
“I think there’s always a silver lining. I’ve never not believed… I think we’re in a moment of crisis, but in a moment of crisis people organize and respond differently.”
In recent years, there’s been a change in the attitudes of many, resulting in efforts and movements of change across the country.
“Maybe people are learning and paying attention now. Maybe they realize what’s at stake, their political education will increase, their involvement will enhance and maybe we’ll do better work.”
When it comes to the work, Hill said he believes it has started with the people. Many in the room consisted of activists and protesters, and Hill reiterated their actions should be supported with their ongoing learning.
“Be kind to yourself,” Hill said. “Take a moment to appreciate how your work matters. Think long term. For me it was Mumia in the 90’s, for some it was South Africa, for others it was Rodney King, for you all it was Ferguson (…) think about this as a long distance run.”
Hill took pictures, signed autographs and talked to each student who waited to speak to him, culminating a powerful exchange of ideas and thought after the dialogue concluded.
One of the students front and center at the event was VCU senior De’Von Henderson.
“I believe that the part he discussed about education stuck out to me,” Henderson said. “I feel like when you get into these areas where predominantly black students attend there’s a blatant lack of materials and resources that many don’t have, opposed to white schools.”
Henderson added there should be a way to get more funding in those schools to improve education all around.”
“Moving forward, I think that it’s important to continue to have these type of discussions and figure out what’s really bothering us, continue to exercise my rights, continue to protest and continue to educate myself more on all issues not just things that I may feel are only important,” Henderson said.
Muktaru is a graduate student working on a Master’s of Teaching after earning an undergraduate degree in English and Political Science. In addition to writing for the CT, he also co-founds his own music and arts site, STROKES N RHYMES. Topic areas Muktaru enjoys covering include music, sports and pop culture.
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