"The Role of Culture in Social Change" an inter-generational conversation” was held at the Brooklyn Museum on Sunday March 20th. Presented were Kathleen Cleaver, law professor and former Communications Secretary for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Monica Dennis, NY organizer for Black Lives Matter; Professor Jamal Joseph, filmmaker, author and professor at Columbia University, and the youngest member of the Panther 21; Carmen Perez, Executive Director of the Justice League; and Laura Whitehorn, an organizer for the Release Aging People in Prison Project (RAPP) and former member of the Weather Underground. Moderator: Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Correctional Association.
At the conclusion questions were taken. As AAAC director I took the opportunity to ask a question given the Peter Liang/Akai Gurley issue. To paraphrase what I said or should have said if time allowed:
My question is on culture, cultural activism.
I was with IWK, I Wor Kuen*, sister organization to The Young Lords in 1969. To the former Black Panthers here, and White Allies in support, I express my gratitude for your devotion to your community, and the courage of your actions. To many in the Asian American Movement it is recognized the debt we owe you for inspiring us, and demonstrating how we could help our community. It is conceivable the Asian American Movement would not be what it is today were it not for your actions. I thank you.
I was also with Basement Workshop, the seminal arts organization at the beginnings of the Asian American Movement. For decades now my wife and I continue with community cultural work. So many friends have developed their activism in social services, education, health, electorial politics. The Movement has evolved. Yet few grasp why I work with artists.
I’ve heard Black Lives Matter, when asked where is their policy stance, or a draft of the bills they might propose, in response they have said such proposals and laws wont change hearts, where real change matters.
One of the exhibitions we did was called Ancestors**: a collaboration with Kenkeleba House in 1995. Its theme was the historical ties between African and Asian Americans. Acknowledging the rites and beliefs of diverse people permeate society, we wrote “…we recognize the wealth of our heritage as Americans and encourage the act of paying homage to all the Ancestors of this Land” Twenty four artists were presented, many of them biracial. Howardena Pindell, Simone Leigh, Lily Yeh and Faith Ringgold were among them. One goal was to collect and document those historical ties, stories of the relationships between Asian and African Americans, stories like that of Lotus Do and Aukram Burton in Boston with artist Allan Crite. We did this and are still open to gather more. Prof. Burton in Louisville was ready to help gather these materials. However funding was not forthcoming to continue the project.
Given the current issue of Peter Liang and Akai Gurley, my question has to do with culture and the relations between African and Asian Americans – can you please speak to this.
In reply several past approaches and projects were mentioned including the leadership of Yuri Kochiyama.
Note: One of the artists exhibited maternal grandfather was Howard Thurman, a theologian who founded the Fellowship Church of All Nations in the 1940s, a predecessor to Glide Memorial Church where poet Janice Mirikitani with her husband, Reverend Cecil Williams enabled, I understand, the congregation – composed of Blacks and Japanese Americans, to save their property and belongings after Pearl Harbor before leaving to the Internment Camps by transferring these to fellow parishioners. Dr. Thurman himself went to India where he met Mahatma Gandhi. He taught the young Martin Luther King, Jr. at Moorehouse University and influenced him with his introduction to the teachings of Non-Violence.
* Righteous Harmonious Fist