Chad Williams: Welcome, welcome. My name is Chad Williams. I'm chair of the Department of African and African-American Studies. Welcome to the second day of our 50th anniversary commemoration of the AAAS department.
Yesterday, for those of us who were here, was truly memorable. No doubt. And today promises to be equally memorable.
I, again, want to thank all the supporters of this event, they are listed on your conference program, as well as numerous individuals, faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends who have made these two days possible.
Yesterday, we gave proper respect and praise to those who laid the foundation for this department. Today, we recognize the vast contributions that AAAS has made to Brandeis, to the nation, and to the world. We are honored that you have joined us, especially those of you who have traveled great distances, who have braved the February blustery winter weather. It's really not that bad. This is okay. I'll take it. I'll take it. And we certainly look forward to a very special day.
The outpouring of love and affection that many of us experienced yesterday is something that I will personally never forget. It reminds us, more than anything, that the history of AAAS is about people. Beautiful, brilliant, courageous people who, from 1969 to 2019, have committed to this department through their work, teaching, scholarship, and leadership. The ancestors are watching.
And I would be remiss not to acknowledge some of the individuals who have been at the heart and soul of AAAS over the years. First, our academic administrators. They have truly been the oftentimes unsung heroes of the department, keeping us functional, keeping us alive, keeping us sane, while also doing the critical work of building community. They're not with us today, but I want to give thanks to Barbara Fredricks, Molly Krakower, and [Delon Justinville 00:02:20] for their contributions to AAAS. As well as our current academic administrator, Betsy Plum, a AAAS alum, for continuing to carry the torch.
In the fall semester of 1970, the newly created AAAS department offered its first classes. Introduction to Black Studies, the Black Historical Tradition, Racism in America, the Black Family, Black Lifestyles through Music, Imperialism and Protest, Black Literature, Black Revolution. Indeed, through these courses, the black revolution had come to Brandeis in the form of a department and curriculum, new, innovative, experimental, cutting-edge, ahead of its time, that sought to challenge Brandeis to its core while also demonstrating the remarkable potential of Black Studies as a discipline.
Since that first year, we have been blessed with faculty, instructors, and visiting professors committed to Black Studies and committed to AAAS. [inaudible 00:03:46] Vargas. Ray Shepherd. Joseph Warren. Recognize some of these names? Okay. And feel free to give them praise. Carlos Brossard. Arlene Clift. Yeah. Mary [Smaw 00:04:04]. Clarence Hunter. Hortense Spillers. Tony Martin. Shirley Hall. Helen Stewart. Ernest Wamba. [Lamel 00:04:17] Carroll. Dwayne Taylor. Ronald Ferguson. Excuse me. I wanna get this name right. Ashenafi Kebede. Shelia Bland. [Aaron Greeson 00:04:32]. And Gwendolyn Lewis. Hillary [Ponci 00:04:36]. Gloria Weit. James Duffy. Michael West. And Joan Bryant. Mingus Mapps. Peniel Joseph. Jasmine Johnson. And Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman. These men and women, along with other important contributes to AAAS, are the heritage of the department.
I would like to acknowledge a few particular individuals who, in addition to being remarkable professors in the department, have also taken on the leadership of serving as department chair. Ronald Walters. One of the most internationally renowned scholars of African-American leadership and politics, served as the first chair of AAAS. He was, at the time, 30 years old, an assistant professor at Syracuse University. Upon his arrival to Brandeis, he stated, and I quote, "What is important is that Afro-American Studies has the same opportunity to develop intellectually as other academic departments." He decided to come to Brandeis because he believed, in his words, "The black students here wanted to engage in serious intellectual enterprise." Those are his words. He recognized the weaknesses in American education and saw African-American Studies as a much-needed experimental intervention. He also noted, and I, again, quote, "Without very strong ties to the black community, Black Studies would be irrelevant." His time at Brandeis was short. He would move onto the political science department at Howard University, and eventually the University of Maryland, but he laid the foundation for this department.
Hussein Adam. Born in Tanzania, educated at Princeton, Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and Harvard University. He steered the department following Ron Walters' departure. He specialized in African politics and literature, the politics of international humanitarian assistance, and black political and social thought. These were crucial years, and the department could very well have failed. But, through his leadership and brilliance, the department continued to establish itself and attract a dedicated cohort of students.
Adam was aided and eventually succeeded by Robert Jones, a 1971 graduate of Brandeis. I don't know if Bob is with us in the audience today. No? He was here yesterday. All right. A 1971 graduate of Brandeis who participated in the occupation of Ford Hall and the selection of the department's first chairperson, Ron Walters. He would also earn an M.A. in history from Brandeis. Along with teaching in the department, he served as acting chairperson from 1975 to 1977, and it's duly recognized that, in order for the department to have a viable long-term future, it needed full-time faculty in the department and a permanent department chair.
Ibrahim Sundiata, an esteemed historian of African- and Latin-American history, served as department chair in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After a brief departure from Brandeis between 1998 and 2002, where he served as chair of the department of history at Howard University, he returned to Brandeis and retired in 2013. He cannot be here with us today, but he did send this message. So, imagine this is Ibrahim talking to us right now, all right? "Greetings from Salvador de Bahia, the largest slave port in the Americas." He's soaking up the warm sun in Brazil right now. "Congratulations to Brandeis's African and African-American Studies Department. Congratulations to all of our students and faculty, present and past. I came to Brandeis almost 30 years ago and have seen the department grow and now flourish. This half-century has been filled with struggles and successes. Our task has widened with time, and we now fully embrace the intersections of race, class, gender, and language. We are more inclusive and more deeply involved in analysis. We ask the question and get various answers from our varied positions. What are the factors that define us as a people, and that bind us to the rest of humanity? We continue to explore. The work continues. Congratulations."
Faith Smith, professor of AAAS, English, women's gender and sexuality studies, has also put in her time as department chair. An expert in Caribbean literature, Faith, during her time at Brandeis, has brought brilliance, grace, and constant warmth to AAAS. Her commitment to this department, to her students, to all of us is a constant source of inspiration. So, Faith, please stand up. Let us ...
I must also mention Professor Carina Ray, who took a stint as interim department chair just last year. Carina is one of the most brilliant historians of African today, is a natural leader with a truly remarkable ability to build community. I've been fortunate ... We have been fortunate to have her as a colleague and as a comrade.
You may have noticed there was a gap in my timeline, and that's intentional. Because, last, and certainly not least, Professor Wellington Nyangoni. When I asked Bob Jones over dinner last night, "So, why did you hire this guy?", he said, "Wellington was the right person for the job." Indeed. A specialist in African political and foreign relations, he arrived to Brandeis in September of 1976 with a B.A. from the University of Ghana and a Ph.D. from Howard University. He has been here ever since. He was the first black professor at Brandeis to receive tenure. I think we have a ... As department chair, he kept AAAS moving forward. It was not always easy, but Wellington fought the necessary battles. He kept the department alive and in the position to where we could be here today. He's an acclaimed scholar, having published 16 books. I may have missed a few here and there. He's a legendary teacher who has inspired generations of students. He is, to put it succinctly, AAAS at Brandeis. Thank you, Wellington, Professor Nyangoni, for your dedication and commitment to this department. We are truly grateful, Professor Nyangoni.
All of these individuals, and more, have shaped the lives of AAAS students, in particular, Brandeis students, more broadly, in innumerable ways. Our alumni are reflective of the impact that AAAS faculty have had. Our first panel this afternoon, which I have the honor of moderating, will speak to the multi-generational legacies of AAAS and what the department has meant to our graduates professionally as well as personally.
So, our panelists, if you wouldn't mind, please come into the stage.
So, brief introductions. First, to my left, Aja Antoine, class of 2017, senior program manager at The OpEd Project, a social venture that amplifies the voices and ideas of underrepresented thought leaders across the globe. Excuse me. Next, Janice Johnson Dias, class of 1994, an associate professor of sociology and a graduate faculty in the department of criminal justice at John Jay College and also founder and president of the GrassROOTS Community Foundation. Next, we have Lucretia Jones, class of 1977, works at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as a researcher, scientist, and director of general surveillance in communicable disease. Next, we have Napoleon Lherisson, class of 2011, educator and a diversity coordinator at Cary Academy in Cary, North Carolina. Prior to Cary Academy, he served as an administrator and diversity coordinator at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Massachusetts. And, last, we have Mr. Curtis Tearte, class of 1973, chairman and CEO of the Tearte Family Foundation, following a 30-year career of executive leadership, responsibility with the IBM corporation. He's also a member of the Brandeis University Board of Trustees.
Another round of applause for our panelists.
So, I'd like to start by asking each of you a question, and we can simply go down the line, here. Tell us about your first AAAS experience. That moment when you first encountered AAAS, and what type of impression that left on you. Aja, if you wanna start.
Aja Antoine: Yes.
First, hi. Hi, everyone. So, the question is, my first experience in AAAS and what impact it's had on me?
Chad Williams: Yeah.
Aja Antoine: Okay. Easy.
So, I graduated 20 months ago, and the value of my education has been in its content. Duh. But then, also, deeply personal. I meditated on this question and the simplest way I can describe it is, while doing course work in AAAS, I gained a sense of self-sovereignty. I was able to understand myself as a nation, as a black woman, young nation. And what that means is that I get to decide what my fundamental principles are. I get to make decisions about my vitality, my body, whom I share it with, why, how I feel about others' body, their access, their rights.
I had to come to those conclusions very rapidly because of the kind of curricula we were exposed to. It was hard not to have strong opinions about Frantz Fanon, or Du Bois, or Ida B. Wells, or, to make things more contemporary, Janet Mock, these incredible folks that we're reading, but also reading the work of our professors. "Torchbearers for Democracy," "Crossing the Color Line." We're able to have interlocutors on our journey, and I didn't actually write my constitution, but I have a real sense of purpose, and that's a well-rounded education, in my opinion. I don't know if business, or economics, or other majors can have their students come out feeling like they have a real, true sense of, like, "I know what I'm doing for the next 35 years, until I can get my retirement," that I'm already contributing to, but how I'm gonna spend my time, my one wild and precious life.
So, that is my answer to that question.
Chad Williams: All right. Thank you, Aja.
Janice J. D.: That's a "wow" answer. Mine is far more trivial and low. So, my first experience of AAAS was, I was a high-schooler. I went to Boston Latin Academy, and we visited Brandeis. And, on that visit, there was the TYP program, and the TYP program was a program, a transitional year program, for those of you who don't know, for students, and a significant number of those students were black. And we went down to see those students in Nyangoni's class. And it was a motley crew of black folks who were all, like, they wanted to be AAAS majors. And I came to Brandeis to major in mathematics, and I was interested in mathematics.
And, so, AAAS, for me, it was the place where the black folks were. And mathematics, certainly, we also visited the math department. We visited other departments, and it's not where the black folks were. So, for me, I didn't have a constitution. I was looking for playmates of all sorts. So, AAAS has always provided me with a bounty of options. So, that's kinda how I became familiar with AAAS.
Chad Williams: Thank you, Janice. That's [crosstalk 00:20:21] ...
Lucretia Jones: Good afternoon. It's hard for me to remember ... I mean, it's been over 40 years, but, I came and I was a pre-med student, but I was a AAAS, also, major. And I guess, for me, the thing was, it felt like home. So, coming from the South Bronx, coming from where I was ... Bronx in the house. And then coming up here, and I had never seen or visited Brandeis. I was just thrown in here. So, it was like home. It was black people, it was professors, and you felt comfortable and nurturing and supportive, and that's my first memory.
Napoleon L.: Hey, everyone. My name's Napoleon. My first experience with the AAAS department ... When I first came to Brandeis, I thought I was gonna study economics. I'm thinking, and I want a job that'll pay me a lot of money. But also thinking about the impact that other educators I had in my own life, my teachers, my mentors. And I didn't find that in any other courses here. In my first few years here, I was a TYP student, as well. I felt at home during the TYP year, but, after that first year, experiencing in other classes, I kinda felt lost. And I took my first course with Peniel Joseph. Professor Joseph was a scholar in civil rights.
But, to me, I saw myself within Professor Joseph. And I think that what led me onto the path of thinking of me becoming an educator, from my experiences with the department. And I think that's very important for everyone, I think, in terms of this department serving as sort of the backbone of the institution, even if you're not in the department, but just seeing black professors, and some of the smartest professors that we have are in the AAAS department.
Curtis Tearte: Good afternoon, everyone. To put this in perspective, it was 50 years ago that I made my first airplane trip, and it was here to Boston. It was Memorial Day weekend, to visit Brandeis. I entered in the class of '73 in September of 1969. That was several months after Ford Hall '69. And, if you read "Black Studies Matters," the article that Professor ... wrote, you'll see that I mention, I'm gonna quote it, that, "I stand on the shoulders of giants."
Dr. Walters was the first chairperson of the department. I had the opportunity to meet him through interactions that I initially had with Joseph Warren, who ran the Upward Bound program, which I was a member of and participated in here at Brandeis. But I'll divert a second, as Roy DeBarry did yesterday, from your question. Because yesterday's panel was outstanding. And I'll put this in perspective, as my wife and I shared with two of our scholars this morning. You can never underestimate the connections that you make and how powerful those connections may be in the future.
Roy DeBarry, in 1968, his summer job was to go around to Upward Bound programs that were having college fairs. I was an Upward Bound student at Lincoln University in Philadelphia, outside of Philadelphia. That was the first time I met anyone from Brandeis. That was the first time I learned about Brandeis. There was no social media. There was no Facetime. There was nothing in terms of the technology that we have and we're blessed with today. So, through correspondence with Roy, that's what drove my interest to apply to Brandeis.
Now, what makes this six degrees of separation, Roy, yesterday, talked about a program that he was in that was funded by the Carnegie Mellon Foundation that did a prototype of Upward Bound here at Brandeis in the mid '60s. One of his tutors was a gentleman by the name, and an alum of Brandeis, Michael Kalafatas. Michael Kalafatas became director of admissions. That's who Roy worked for that summer. That's who interviewed me in February of 1969 in Philadelphia, and he was part of the admissions committee that admitted me to Brandeis.
I applied to three schools. Brandeis was my stretch school. I love mathematics. I was gonna pursue the pre-med profession. I had never been in Boston before my first trip here that Memorial Day weekend. I got accepted to Brandeis with a full financial aid package. My parents and my family were very poor, so it was no way I was ever envisioned to go to a school like Brandeis. It was either Lincoln University or Temple University in Philadelphia, which were in-state schools for me.
So, the connections that were made, and then, following in that first semester of AAAS, having the opportunity to really engage with the secret sauce here at Brandeis, and that's the faculty, particularly the black faculty. An intellectual like Ron Walters, and then followed by Hussein Adams, were the things that really motivated me and carried me through. Those are the first perceptions or reflections that I have of AAAS.
And I'll just close by saying, that closes the loop, in a way, because, after I graduated in '73, I went to Howard. And I spent two years at Howard in the political science department, under Ron Walters. Vere Plummer was my freshman roommate. And there are a lot of giants, many of whom Professor Williams talked about, but there are also individuals like Lathan Johnson, okay? There are also individuals that you heard about yesterday, Dr. Pauli Murray and many others, that were intellectual giants, and the faculty here cared about students.
I'll just close by saying this one last thing. I thought about this, flying up here from West Palm Beach yesterday. When I was an undergraduate here, it was Negro History Week. Black History Month didn't happen until 1976. Okay? And, therefore, this was an opportunity for me to better understand and engage and get a better perspective of the culture as well as the political environment and the struggle, both here and in the African continent, many of our ancestors had gone through. That's my first reflection of the AAAS department.
Chad Williams: Thank you.
So, Lucretia, as a AAAS major, you went on to a career in public health.
Lucretia Jones: Yeah.
Chad Williams: So, there are many people who still ask the question, "So, what can I do with a AAAS degree?" Right? So, I'm wondering if you could help us maybe understand that, from your perspective, and what type of skills your AAAS degree provided you, as someone who went into the field of public health, specifically.
Lucretia Jones: Okay.
So, when I was here, I was a pre-med student, like I said, and I applied to med school and did not get in in '77. And I think, at that time, we were one of the largest groups, because we had a big class, the class of '77. Big. Big for Brandeis. And it was about six or seven of us that applied to med school, and none of us got in. So, I was always interested in the health field, went on to California, worked in labs, and all of that.
But what I think AAAS did for me, it instilled, which I already had some, the idea of social justice and equity. So, when I went back to my community in the South Bronx, by then, I had a child, so I started getting involved in education in the failing schools in my neighborhood. Started looking at environmental issues. Now, this, I still only had a B.A. And looking at the disparities in my neighborhood compared to others. So, that's when I got really involved ... grassroots community organizing, and found an organization called Mothers on the Move that did a lot of work around housing, environmental, and education.
And, because of that, the [inaudible 00:31:28] that I learned here did that for me. And, so, in doing that work, I realized they just brushed me off like, "What does she know? She's just a parent and don't know anything," because I had no letters after my name. So, that made me go back. So, I went and got my master's. I got an MPH from Columbia, and having the name of Brandeis did help. That carries a lot of weight, especially in New York. And then, I had ...
So, then, they looked at me differently when I came in and started raising hell about the discrepancy. And that's how I've been a very vocal activist, and that came from there. And even that, I knew I could do much more. I got really involved in research, and then I went on to get my doctorate. And, so, with those skills ... And, still, now, I'm very involved in the social justice, so I'm working with a group in the Bronx. It's like a community research review, a community IRB, where we're looking at the major universities and stuff, and making and training people and patients in the community how to understand research and what to ask when they approach you, and also working with researchers to come to us and make sure that they understand the social issues and the stuff around research and working in our communities. And our motto is, "No research [inaudible 00:32:53] without us."
So, I think, if it wasn't for Brandeis and the AAAS teaching me about ... and learning about our struggles through the years and all, I wouldn't have been able to move up and have ... And, so, now, I am with the Department of Health. Been there 25 years. Plan to retire this year.
I was thinking about this yesterday, listening to Professor Davis and the Ford Hall group, y'all made a difference here at Brandeis, and I ... We took over a building. We took over the radio station. We were fighting. We did the same. But I think more of what I learned gave me the ability to make a change outside of Brandeis, in my community, and that's what I'm really grateful for.
Chad Williams: Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate it.
So, Janice, speaking of grassroots, you started a organization called GrassROOTS. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about this remarkable organization that you've created, and how that was inspired, informed in different ways by your Brandeis experience. And, also, your AAAS experience.
Janice J. D.: Yes.
So, I did not think about college. So, I'm from Jamaica. I came to the U.S. in 1984. And I had no intention of going to college. And I certainly had no intention of going to college in Massachusetts if I was gonna go to college. So, my high school selected a series of colleges for you to apply to, and you could select one. So, they selected Brandeis as one of the colleges, along with Middlebury, Cornell, Harvard, Case Western. And I got into these schools, but I really wanted to go to D.C., in many ways because D.C. looked exciting then. And, while I love mathematics, I really also loved politics.
And my mother got very ill, and they said she was gonna die. And I'm the only daughter of the four children, and, so, I said, "Oh, I'll go to this little school that y'all have here. And I'm just gonna be here. My mom will die. I will go to D.C., and life will continue." And then, I came here.
I had more fun at Brandeis than Brandeis had with me. And I didn't really know Ford Hall's history. I was ahistorical for much of my time here, until my last year. I was Jamaican in a place that really did not really understand what that exactly meant. We had 110 black students on campus when I came here, and we had a lot of different kind of intraracial dynamics that were happening between indigenous black Americans and Caribbeaners and African students, and that really felt really silly to me. And I made some grounds, I would say, to try to ameliorate those challenges. They were done publicly, and at the university's expense.
So, I was in charge of the Black Student Union. I was also a senator, and I was in charge of Black History Month. And I was really clear about being black when I came here. And I think Brandeis tried to attack that, sometimes overtly, sometimes in other ways, but I was born black. And, so, I really enjoyed blackness, and I understood the benefits of being black in ways that I could articulate, even when they were grossly unsophisticated.
And, so, my time here was really wonderful. Like, wonderful. Like, I had the best time here. In ways that you don't usually hear from black students in white spaces, right? Like, I had that ... in the made-for-TV version of my life, it'd be like, "Yo, she's doing the most." I did the most here. And a part of the most was, I really studied here. Like, I really studied in the way that you might hear Angela Davis was talking about study. I really studied, from professors in sociology, Gordie Fellman, Carmen Sirianni, right? I studied with those cats. And Sundiata, Nyangoni, right? I wasn't even in their classes, and I was like, "Yo, but you gonna teach me something, though." Right? And I would just make them. Just, legit. They'd be in the cafeteria trying to get a drink, to go about their business. I'd be like, "Yo, I hear this cat Fanon, everybody up in here talking about Fanon ... What's a Fanon, though?" Because I knew Marx, Roy, Vaver, right? I was over in soc. But I was like, "Everybody come from class being like, 'Fanon.' Fanon? Who Fanon?"
So, I had that kind of engagement with them. Now, why I say that as a precursor is because, here, I did organizing. I learned the fundamentals of organizing through kind of the way that multicultural coalitions had really organized. But I understood something about Brandeis that I couldn't have articulated, not until I thought, "Chad's gonna ask me hard questions." Is poverty. I began to understand the insidiousness of poverty. And here. We read a book in sociology that said, "We gave away millions." And that book was intended to be really an insight into how philanthropic whites decide that they're going to disperse wealth rather than horde it. And, simultaneously, I was in the barracks. The young man who had a dorm next to me was a partial owner in the Houston Oilers when I was here. A really good friend. Now, the Texas Texans. And the black students, relative to the white students, were poor.
And that engendered a whole host of feelings, and really invited some kind of distorted friendships, but also some insights into white culture and white understandings that we didn't know. So, it did a whole series of things. But I was just really disheartened by how poverty felt, especially since American poverty is strikingly different from Jamaican poverty. And, so, I carried that with me as I left here, and I went to an even wealthier place after I left here. I went to teach at a private boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island. And, if y'all think these people are rich, those folks were real rich. Reader's Digest gave me a fellowship to blacken up some white spaces and to teach them. Y'know, since I'm black, that ain't no work.
So, I did that, and I then began to even understand more this divide around economic inequality. I would leave Newport, Rhode Island, and I got my master's and Ph.D. at Temple in Philly. And then, I really began to study poverty seriously. And I'd had this live experience of being born poor, this experience of being at Brandeis and being in the economic bottom, going to Newport and being, again, at a new bottom, and then being in Philly, learning about how so many people were poor. And they stayed with me. So, by the time life had met me, and I was of myself instead of of, singularly, the world, I decided that there was something that I could do. And what I'd learned along the way was that it wasn't simply that black folks were poor, but there were a particular sect of people who, across the globe, were always poor, and those were women and girls. And that I could do something about that, that I could disrupt poverty if I started to think about it not at the time-point of adulthood, but really the beginning of childhood.
So, I developed an organization called the GrassROOTS Community Foundation in 2011 that took the position that, while black folks are disproportionately feeling poverty, women and girls are really feeling the pains and were carrying the burden, and that burden was felt often in their bodies. And that much of what we understood about the liberation of black people was still framed by men and was really framed in a way that said you needed to be beaten down and kind of unhealthy. You needed to be your tired self. You needed to be your overweight self.
I sometimes tell a really awful joke that people don't like to hear, and I was like, "If Malcolm was still alive, or Martin were still alive, they'd probably be on dialysis." Because a part of it is that there seems to be no effort to have healthy leadership. There seems to be a kind of a separation between physical health and leadership, and I really knew that, because I knew the women who were doing the work to kind of help our communities were tired, overweight, back hurt, shoulder hurt, all the rest of these things, didn't sleep well. And I was like, that shit ain't for me. I'm cute. And, so, I wasn't gonna do that.
And they couldn't stand on lines, and they couldn't protest, and they couldn't march because their bodies couldn't do it. And I needed my body to do this with me. And Brandeis had taught me that. I mean, when I say that we ... I made the former president, he was the provost first, I made him deeply uncomfortable. Jehuda Reinharz was the provost when I was a student here. And, y'know, people get tired. Like, if you are unhealthy, you get tired real fast. But what you don't want is a kid who runs three miles in the morning at 6:00 AM and lift weights to be like, "Yo, why there no bacon in the cafeteria now?" I don't even eat bacon. Right?
So, I had the endurance to make things really challenging for professors here, because I was super healthy here. Like, I was one of those pre-decathlon kids. And, so, no matter how tired, I would just hang out, be like, "Yo, provost, what we gonna do about the bacon in the cafeteria now?" Right? So, I had the energy to protest things here, and they couldn't wear me down. And, so, public health, the physical health that I had in my youth, I wanted to carry for the labor of fighting for poor people.
And, so, GrassROOTS Community Foundation became a training organization with a focus on social justice and public health, so that I could teach young kids very early how their physical, mental, and sexual health was gonna be essential to their ability to be free. That poor people can't afford to be sick. We the only people who can't afford to be sick. When you're poor and sick, you in a bad spot. So, I train young people to consider a holistic health frame with a social justice agenda about fighting against poverty. And I've since been very fortunate to have a lot of success in this area across the United States, from New Jersey to North Carolina, to Memphis, Tennessee, et cetera. So, I bring together cohorts of young people and their social networks around them so that they recognize that they have to invest in these young people and invest in their early health so that they can not only move out of poverty, but they can disrupt what we know as black leadership.
Chad Williams: Thank you, Janice.
So, Napoleon, kind of on this theme of fighting, of protesting, particularly on campus, you were a AAAS major at a time when the department was, quite frankly, in peril. In 2009, the department, as a result of cutbacks throughout the university in the wake of the financial crisis, was being considered reduced from a department to a program. Right? And, as we heard yesterday, that would have meant the department could very well have been eliminated at some point, right? That didn't happen. Because students like yourself and others took a stand and insisted that this was not acceptable.
So, I'm wondering if you could, perhaps, kinda speak to that moment. What was happening, particularly amongst your fellow students? And what did you think, in terms of kinda the long-term vision of the department?
Napoleon L.: Well, for me, I think, being here at Brandeis ... I'm a guy that likes to work in the background, right? I don't like to be in the forefront of any sort of movement. However, with the leadership in our department, and by the time I was taking courses, a lot of my courses with Professor Nyangoni ... Listening to Professor Nyangoni and Professor Sundiata, of all the sort of things that they had to deal with, in terms of really saving our department, battling each and every single day of changing from a department to a program, going to the faculty meetings, and ...
So, for us, as students, we realized, like, this is something that is in ... This is our history, right? This is our program. That the university didn't value. Right? And, for me, in particular, this was an important program for me, right? In terms of my own identity and my own development. They'd just taken away something that is meaningful for every student, right? I think every student needs to take a course in the AAAS department. Right? I think it's required to really understand racism, the really oppressions that exist in this world ...
To me, I came as an athlete, right? But my time here ... Everyone thought I was gonna go to the league. This a very competitive school. After two years, I decided to give up basketball. Brandeis, you took a while to get rid of the [inaudible 00:48:23], but that's a good thing. Right?
But let me say this. It was because of this department, that it gave me the knowledge and understand that something's not right. You're not gonna use me just as sort of an instrument, or as a tool, just to win some basketball games.
But I found myself, as the development of the department, and ... It was very important that ... sitting in Nyangoni's ... Professor ... Right? And I say that because Professor Nyangoni did check me one time. Because it's important to say, "Dr. Williams." Because other people need to hear that.
So, I think, for me, the department was essentially my home, right? But, also thinking about my role here ... A lot of schools and universities are in trouble. We're here now. What can we do for this department? Thinking about our role, our duties. What will this be 10 years from now? 20 years from now? We have power in this room to really think about the ways of what we want to do to shape this department so it's here 100 years from now. Right? As leading the charge in African issues, African-American issues. Leading the charge in understanding the dynamics of this world.
One thing I didn't realize when I came to Brandeis was that other institutions, from my friends, and I hear, they weren't taught by their professors. Two weeks ago, I had a professor who I had here, Professor Jane Hill, she gave me a call, and this my homegirl. But, again, that brought me back to understanding the real connections that you have with your professors. That is something that not many universities have.
So, my goal and our task, for all of us, is to really think about, what are ways that we can continue this legacy? Right? What can we do? And thinking about adding professors who are in their fields, and [inaudible 00:51:28]. Right? And [inaudible 00:51:34] so they could be here and leading the change of our country and of our world, of black people, right? Because we're all different, as you mentioned earlier, in terms of Africans, and Caribbean, and ... But why can't we just develop a department that [inaudible 00:51:56] for the future.
Chad Williams: I'm all for that.
Napoleon L.: No, because, listen, we gonna be here next year saying, "Oh, department, oh, they need some money." Right? "The students are having issues." Right? "The faculty, they're going through their tenure review, and they're dealing with stuff, but they need our support."
So, what are ways that we can lead the charge forward of really thinking about ... Because a lot of HBCUs are in trouble. But what can we do right here to continue this legacy of this department? Because it is the backbone of this university. Again, thinking of all the goals of this university and how we could lead the change forward.
Chad Williams: Thank you, Napoleon.
I think those are such important points. I wanna come back to them. But I also want, Aja, perhaps you can speak to another point that Napoleon brought up, which is the relationship between the students and the faculty in AAAS. So, you were a student during what I might humbly say was kinda this renaissance period in AAAS, with Professor Derron Wallace coming to campus, Professor Greg Childs, Professor Carina Ray, Jasmine Johnson ...
But in particularly thinking about black feminist thought. And, of course, that was developed by Professor Leah [inaudible 00:53:52], and kinda taken to the next level by Professor Johnson. How both of these remarkable professors cultivated this black feminist space within the department, curricularly, but also politically, as well. Your time as a student also coincided with Ford Hall 2015.
So, I'm wondering if you could perhaps kinda speak to that synergy between the classroom, between the spaces of activism on campus, and kinda the role that the faculty had in helping you navigate that relationship.
Aja Antoine: Okay.
So, I'm gonna start ...
Chad Williams: Wherever you want.
Aja Antoine: ... at the beginning, which is that ... I'm a daughter of the South. Pensacola, Florida is where I'm from. It's the most northeast you can get in the state of Florida. We call it Floribama, for good reason. And, when I came here, I had a lot of the cultural markers of women who grow up in the South. So, I was docile, I was submissive, I didn't really think a lot about the expectations people had for me, I was trying to hit the mark and nothing more, nothing less. That's just my mind. That's where I was when I came to campus. I was like, "All right, we're gonna get a degree, and then we're gonna get married, and then we're gonna die." It was like ... And I'd inherited this ... No, no, no. But I'd inherited this sense that that was the prize, that was the gift, being able to attain a certain level of wealth to have the freedom to choose who I wanted to ... It was like, my mother gave this to me. She broke her back so that I could come here, go to school, get married, and die.
So, I'm in black feminist thought. I'm taking AAAS classes. I'm taking sociology classes. I am in the archive. I'm in the archive. My first summer at Brandeis, I have the opportunity to take a summer semester course looking at the legacies of school desegregation in Mississippi and Massachusetts, understanding the synergies there, the people, but also the struggles, and how individuals span both campaigns, and what the implications are. I had the opportunity to do that. I was in community archives, university archives, at Mississippi State, at Ole Miss, at Tugaloo, at Jackson State University, at Harvard, at Brandeis. I was immersed in that work. And I kept coming across literature on women and their role, and I was just enlivened. Black feminist thought gave me an opportunity to ... a whole 14 weeks of curricula, language, among other things, to really dig into that.
Now, we're in my second year. This is when Ford Hall happens. And I'll speak to the faculty piece of it, but, first, I'll just say, for the record, what I learned from Ford Hall in a word is how to tell institutions when they've failed you, how to tell people when they've failed you, how to be upfront, clear, and concise about it, to say it, to just tell the truth. And I've had to do that in my 20 months since leaving campus. I've had to tell my employer how to treat me. I've had to tell ... my personal relationships with my family, like, "This is how you nurture me." And I got the language from that, from this literary canon, this political thought, social theory magic that ... The department is this small. The classes were well consumed across ... university-wide. And there was a celebrity effect that came with being at the front of the room, delivering this information. And I could also see, because of the closeness that faculty allowed, their generosity with their time, which is so precious and often not monetarily compensated for ... When I understood that I wanted to be a ... Let me finish. When I understood that I had the capacity to have an academic life, I got so curious. I was up in everybody's face. "What's the quality of your life? What's it like being you?"
Chad Williams: This is true.
Aja Antoine: And, particularly, black women faculty, and they were really honest with me, they were really clear with me, like, "This is what it is." I started reading "The Cancer Journals" by Audre Lorde. I started reading about really successful black women in the academy, and reading the theories that they were able to produce. I mean, it's a dream to have Hortense Spillers in the house. But the faculty piece, it's unapologetically generous with time, with attention.
When I said "interlocutors" earlier, I really meant it. You were in dialogue. Professor Williams and I were in dialogue all semester long, in my writing, in my classroom. It was such a gift. And, in the 20 months since, I've mourned the loss of that community. And I will continue to mourn it, because it only happened at one specific point in time, and it will always be that finite. And I have to figure out how to do that, how to make that happen in my regular life.
I'll close with one last thing. Black feminist thought, for me, is maybe 75% of my major experience here. And I think the last thing I'll say is, as much as I got a lot of content, a lot of research acumen, I also got a lot of personal entrepreneurial skills. The ability to talk to people, to communicate with them, to tell them what I don't know and what I do know with conviction. What other major has students leave with conviction about what they know, why they know it, and how it matters? And that's because the faculty are models of that. And they don't just take their research seriously, the stuff that gets their bills paid, tenure, they also take the other stuff that feeds their souls seriously, like students not just surviving, eking by, making it work, but becoming alive, making decisions that are consequential to not only this university but the world. I'm looking at this group of women that you're gonna hear from in the next panel, and I'm thinking of them when I say that. And many students who aren't here, who are also from that time period, during Ford Hall.
The last, last, last thing I'm also gonna say about that ... Academic rigor wasn't sacrificed during that movement. Not at all. But I will also say, in a story ... There was one day out of the 12 days where Professor Johnson came with a boombox, and we're studying, but there's also dance, there's laughter, there's all these other things that go along with the academic [inaudible 01:01:57] ...
The last, last, last thing I'll say is that, in the classroom, in black feminist thought in particular, there were opportunities for students to demonstrate the breadth of their creativity. Nyah Macklin, whom you might have heard from, as a songstress, a political leader, an incredible person, there was one day in class where she'd spoken to Professor Johnson and she sang "Strange Fruit" a cappella in the classroom. That's the kind of education I was able to receive, and those are the kind of people I was able to do it with.
My education cost a quarter of a million dollars. It was worth it. And I am proud of my black feminist degree from Brandeis University.
Chad Williams: So, Curtis, I wanna ... can kinda circle back to a point that Napoleon made. So, what do we do? What do we do for the department, moving forward? You were one of our first graduates. I mean, you're one of the pioneers. And, now, you're on the Board of Trustees.
So, what do we do? I mean, especially considering that President Liebowitz has laid out his framework for Brandeis's future. Where does AAAS fit into that framework, and what should we be thinking about in terms of continuing to hold the university accountable for this department, but also for our larger community?
Curtis Tearte: Well, first of all, I think it's important to recognize that one of the critical factors that happens for, particularly, any black student that comes to Brandeis and graduates and moves on is that there is a clear understanding that it's important to reach back and pull individuals up and forward. We have to continue to do that.
I had a brief conversation with a couple of my fellow alums last night, after the session, and it just jumped out at me in terms of their commitment to teaching, to mentoring, to writing letters of recommendation, to being available to just listen. We, as a community, have to continue to do that. We're also blessed with several new communities, extended communities, that many of us didn't have when we were students. We did have the Upward Bound program, Jose Perez, Marsha Jackson, who are two of the ... Rose [Brayboy 01:05:35], three of the individuals that I've recognized that are here that are alums of not only the Brandeis Upward Bound program, but also Brandeis University. There's the Posse program. There's the Atlanta Posse, the New York STEM Posse. There's the MLK Scholars who are celebrating their 50th anniversary.
We also have at least two endowed scholarships. We have the Joseph D. Warren Endowed Scholarship, which is, right now, five and a half years in an existence, has an endowment of $340,000. Five years. We have the Alumni of Color Scholarships. And I would present a charge to each and every one of you here, and as you talk to individuals, friends and family, it's important to make a contribution, whatever that contribution may be. And I'll put it in perspective for you. Many of you are familiar with the recent gubernatorial race in Georgia. Stacy Abrams, she raised over $15 million in that campaign, maybe even north of 20. The average amount of her contribution was $39.50. Am I right, Jose? He was there. It's not a matter of, you need to figure out how we can give seven figures, or six figures. It's those $25 gifts. It's making a contribution to those endowments. And then, having the opportunity to meet and talk with those scholars that are receiving those awards.
My wife and I spent an hour this morning with two of our scholars. It was the highlight, in terms of just interacting with them, getting a sense of what they're engaged in, and the challenges that they're facing, but their spirit was through the roof. I also have to compliment Napoleon. Napoleon hit it right on the head. And I believe it links directly back to what you said in terms of the President's vision, the Springboard initiative, which I know was written up recently in the front page of, I wanna say it was "The Hoot." It may have been "The Justice," which I read this morning. But he's doing a series of round-tables, which I call them, but forums. I would encourage any and all of the students here to engage in those. And, when they go on the road to the alumni cities, understand them. Because the faculty and growing the faculty is one of the key things.
Last, but not least, you mention the vision, for lack of a better term. I don't know if many of you know, but Professor Williams is the co-chair of one of those three visions. Along with a professor from [inaudible 01:09:43]. They spent pretty close to a full day interacting with the Board of Trustees two weeks ago. In breakout sessions, where every board member attended each one of those three sessions to understand the sessions, the listening sessions, the interaction that they were going to have in terms of developing their summary over the course of the next two or three months. Those are the things that are critical to the continued success. And it's not about thousands and thousands of dollars. It's about a few dollars that add up. And the continued support, particularly, and I'm jumping, and I'm glad Napoleon said this ... But, as we go forward, how do we position ourselves to really make an endowed chair for AAAS a reality?
Chad Williams: So, we have time for questions from the audience. Again, we have three microphones in each aisle. If you do have a question, please line up behind the microphone.
Audience 1: Okay.
Chad Williams: Yes, [inaudible 01:11:21].
Audience 1: Hi, everybody. I just wanna start off by saying I appreciate each and every one of you up there for starting this lineage, so to speak. And I'm already kinda romanticizing, thinking about my daughter, or son, or whatever gender, y'know ... I'm thinking about them, and I'm like, my babies are going here. I want them to be a part of it. But that's not my question.
But my question is ... It's not fully formed, but I think that, in itself, really speaks to the complexity of what I'm about to say, is, like, what was life ... Or, Aja, I wanna go back to the point where you were talking about post-grad. So, I just graduated in May, and it's a lot. I felt what you said when you were talking about mourning this community. And I really do, and I feel it in the work that I do now. And I'm just curious about you all's experience of, what does self-preservation look like after exiting this intellectual community and being around these amazing people that inspire you? What does that look like post-grad, and how are y'all forming these relationships, if any? So, yeah.
Chad Williams: Thank you, [crosstalk 01:12:40].
Janice J. D.: So, I still know every single person that I knew while I was here. And they're all on this Whatsapp group about this weekend.
I think that the answer ... So, I left here, again, Brandeis, and I went to teach at St. George's in Newport. And how I got that job was, one of the black students here was a student at St. George's and was a part of their Black Alumni Association, and they knew that they were trying to have more faculty of color come to that school. I do think the reason why some people experience loss is because there is a thing that happens here about feeding the mind, and there is, sometimes, for some people, a misinterpretation that the mind is the most central part of one's wellbeing.
And, for my friends who, like many of us, I think we would agree that Brandeis really is so unique in helping us think, we forget that there are other ways in which we need to feed our bodies and our lives. So, people didn't really connect with their peers. They shared kind of a unique euphoria of the four years, but they didn't actually build friendships beyond a shared commitment to the idea that folks could be liberated in the world, black folks were oppressed, and they didn't connect.
I made a substantial effort to connect with people, and that's why I still know those people, and I didn't experience the loss. The world is not designed, at least as I know it, to singularly be engaged in intellectual enterprises, but they're people who you have dinner with, people who you go to the theater with, people who you dance with, people who you have sex with, people who you reject because they don't dress well. Right? Whatever the case may be. And I think one of the ways of salvaging the moment of leaving this intellectual euphoria is making time to connect not only with yourself as a full human, but making time to connect with those people who really help you become your best self.
I wanna come back to the question of what we need to do. I was one of the co-founders of the Intercultural Center. And that work, we were joined by this effort to find safety, and it was connected to AAAS. And I think one of the things that has to happen for AAAS to succeed, the Intercultural Center must also succeed. Our fates are tied. And the last time I was here ... Several things I learned from the current students were that, you all don't really come together enough in social spaces. You are so intellectual. And, albeit, I'm a professor, right? I got a Ph.D. I got post-doc. I've just, again, doing the most, right? So, I understand this attraction to intellectual ideas.
But, again, your full self is not just your ideas. And, so, you have to find social spaces, you have to create with each other. You're gonna find this richness in your full self, and that full self, you can carry those friends and those colleagues, those professors, beyond this space if you all decide that it's not just the classroom and the two hours or three hours in there, but you take that conversation to the Intercultural Center, you develop those linkages across. And that space is often been left, my understanding, not so much tied to AAAS, but they are wedded, and you can see them wedded in Dr. Williams and Dr. Lopez. Just in case you don't have an example. Dr. Lopez heads the Intercultural Center. Dr. Williams heads AAAS.
Chad Williams: Putting all my business out there.
Janice J. D.: They are actually wedded. And the fates are wedded.
So, in the same way that they are married to each other and encompass not just intellectual ideas, but also social and physical self, we need to think about AAAS in that same way. So, you can avoid this space by choosing to engage beyond intellectual ideas by choosing to bring your fullness of yourself to the peers that you've had and make those friendships last.
Chad Williams: Thank you, Janice.
Next question. Thank you.
Audience 2: Hello?
Hi, my name is Keith Jones. I'm class of 2015. [inaudible 01:17:38]
My question's more directed towards Lucretia. I work in clinical research, doing regulatory work. So, you mentioned working [inaudible 01:17:51] with a community IRB for black and brown people, and I'm curious about that experience. Like, how were you able to organize it? What are the things that you go over with black and brown people when entering the clinical trial sphere? Working in it, I know, is very isolating, we'll say. Particularly, I work in cancer research, and it's mostly white people. And I'm curious to see what I can do to kind of better try and involve people of color, and getting black and brown faces in there. Because it's important to have the research, but I also wanna make sure it's accessible to us, rather than just trying to be like, "Yeah, just get some brown faces in there," and then just do experiments without them knowing what the hell's going on.
Lucretia Jones: Thank you.
So, what we did, it's called the Bronx Community Research Review Board. We created and got funding to do Community Engagement Research Academy. And, so, it's like a four-month academy where we take participants and we have a facilitator. So, we pull from all the people that we know, researchers in New York City, and lecture, train them. We actually have a toolkit you might be interested that we just created for organizations, to help them train their community and people on what to look for, and about research. And we go over research that didn't go well, we talk about [inaudible 01:19:17], and we tell them about what to do, how to create research survey instruments, and what to look for, and what bothers them. And ask questions like, "How would you want this worded? Is this offensive to you?"
So, that's what we do. And then, they go through this four-month ... We've gone through two academies already, and then, we recruit them to be on this board. And then, we reach out to researchers, a lot of the researchers through the new CUNY School for Public Health, before they do their dissertation. So, they come to us to get feedback and make sure they're culturally appropriate. And, so, that's what we do and how we train people.
But I can give you the link for how to.
Chad Williams: Thank you.
In the middle, please.
Audience 3: Good afternoon. My name is Allen Knight. I'm class of '75.
And what I wanna say the AAAS did for myself, though ... I'm from Boston. I didn't go through the public school system. I went through private school system. But I didn't have any teachers of color. Coming to Brandeis and seeing professors of color, I was saying, "Okay ..." [inaudible 01:20:36] "What are they gonna teach?"
So, I got my introduction. I guess I was kind of, in a way, brainwashed, I guess, because I'm so used to having white teachers and all through the whole system that I went through. [inaudible 01:20:52] Catholic school system. When I was coming in to Brandeis, though, they [inaudible 01:20:57] coming from Catholic school coming to a Jewish environment, how was that gonna work out? It worked out well for me, though. I got to know some of the black professors. They were all open for conversation and discussions. They make time for you, though.
And I'm telling you, the one thing coming to Brandeis instilled ... to move on forward, though. You're not just coming here, more or less, to get your education. [inaudible 01:21:22] the passion about what you know. Also, too, I found out, once you get your BS, you're moving forward, though. You never gonna stop there. You're hungry for knowledge, you're hungry to pass on what you've learned. And you met friends here, you made life-long friends coming to Brandeis. But I'm saying, I'm glad they made that decision.
At the time I was thinking about Brandeis, I was also thinking about going to a black institution. Coming from a white environment, most of these are white I've been in classes with. I've been the only black kid in the whole classroom, which was okay, because I knew who I was. I had no doubts about who I was. So, I spoke my mind. But I'm saying, at the time I was getting ready to apply to school, somehow, black colleges were never on the agenda. They had stopped doing their bus tours down to D.C. and all, and to different colleges.
So, one of my mentors mentioned, "Well, how come you're not interested? You think about Harvard, and Brandeis? Why one of the black institutions?" So, I'm saying-
Chad Williams: So, we do wanna get to the question.
Audience 3: So, yeah, definitely, the question is the experiences I know that each one of you have had up there. We've had the takeover ... No, it was '71. I mean, was it '69? We had a takeover in '74 and in 2009. What do you think we could learn from history that we keep doing this over and over again?
Lucretia Jones: Well, I know, it seems like, no matter how much things change, they stay the same. Coming here ... I'd never considered a [inaudible 01:23:06], and I really didn't consider coming to Brandeis. I really wanted to go to Stonybrook, where my friends were. But I'm so glad I made that decision to come here. Because of the support.
So, just being in predominantly white schools ... I went to Bronx Science, the same thing, Jewish. I went to Catholic elementary school. So, coming here, it meant a lot to me having and feeling that bond with people that looked like me, who taught me, my advisors, Tony Williams, and everyone. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have gotten through Brandeis, because it was tough.
And, also, I wanted to say, about the friends and the relationships, we partied a lot. In the '70s, it was wild. We talked about this all night, yeah. And somebody said, "Well, maybe if you didn't do so much, maybe you would've went to med school," but I think, if it wasn't for ... No. You said that. But I think, if it wasn't for that social ... I wouldn't have been able to get through. It was that bonding that allowed me to grow and make it. Because it was tough being up here, isolated, and all. And carrying that through.
But, yes, there was Ford Hall '69, I think, and '72 was the administration building. We did it in '75 [inaudible 01:24:36] and then 2015. And we have to support each other. I'm a social media person, supporting and, y'know, #FordHall2015 to get it out. And hopefully, students know that I did support, and that's what we have to do. So, it's gonna happen, but I think we have to, like Curtis say, reach back. And I try ... Anybody wants information, I give them my number, call. I've brought students to my job to shadow me. And that's my way of giving back and trying to make these differences so Brandeis don't have to keep doing that.
Chad Williams: Appreciate that.
Lucretia Jones: I hope that answe-
Janice J. D.: Can I just add, though?
Chad Williams: [crosstalk 01:25:15]
Janice J. D.: There's a hypocrisy to Brandeis that creates this [herpacitic 01:25:20] effect of the flare-up. So, Brandeis is great, y'all. I mean, I think everybody knows that. But racism is nice and alive here. So, that racism, sometimes, get mismanaged, and then, the students of color and black folks gotta help it manage itself.
So, Ford Hall is one. The rise of all these different things, the Intercultural Center. That happens. We exist. Brandeis is not exempt from the inequities of the larger societies. And, so, we will see these flare-ups, and we are happy to be whatever you put on herpes and help it go back down and suppress it. And we are gonna fight inequity, because, inside the classroom, students are learning, whether you're in AAAS or not, they're learning that inequities do not have to simply be things that we allow to happen. And, so, as more students recognize that inequities can be challenged, and they are seeing it in their lived environment, they will challenge it. And these flare-ups, rather than treating them as aberrations, we should treat them as moments of real examples that the education that Brandeis is offering is actually really working. And it's exciting.
Chad Williams: So, we're-
Janice J. D.: It's absolutely exciting.
Chad Williams: Sorry. I'm sorry.
So, we're gonna try and squeeze in a couple of questions. Again, try and be as succinct as possible in the questions. And, also, the answers. But we have break time, so we can continue the conversations.
Audience 4: Jed, Jose Perez class of 1975. I enjoying the discussion, but it's African and African-American studies, and I'm focusing on the African and the African diaspora as a black Latino, in terms of moving forward. And part of that is, is you look at the population of this country. By 2050, it would be primarily Latino and African-American populations. And how do we share power and begin to basically build the relationships moving forward?
There's also been tremendous contributions by Latino students, like myself, in terms of AAAS and in the movement overall, and we need to start focusing on bringing everybody inside the tent. So, I would like the group to address that.
Chad Williams: Thank you for making that point. Absolutely.
Audience 5: Just wanted to piggyback real quick on what Allen said about, why do we keep doing these protests over and over? And one of the things happened with that '74 protest that I will never forget, when we did that Perlman Hall takeover. And I've got the list of the demands. The biggest demand for us was maintaining TYP at the '74/'75 level, and we fought to make sure that happened. That's why I was able to recommend Napoleon to become a TYP student, to come to Brandeis, because of the fought that we did in 1974.
Let me just say this. One of the most discouraging things that I've seen since coming back to Brandeis was, we had the AAAS center. We had a whole building where we partied, we had meetings, and that's where we really connected with Boston, coming into the AAAS center that's no longer there. I think that's one of building they tore down. They now have three rooms over here in East. Where my dorm was is almost as big as where the center is now. And John Hogan mentioned to me this morning. He said, "Wouldn't it have been amazing if today would have been the naming of the Perlman Hall building, where was the last stance with TYP, as the Angela Davis Hall that held the AAAS and the Cultural Center there? Wouldn't that have been amazing?"
So, I think that's something we might wanna recommend, Mr. Trustee, to the President. Because we do have to manifest what we've already done to make Brandeis what it is today in a more meaningful and significant way. And that's one of the ways I recommend you take to Liebowitz, naming Perlman Hall the Angela Davis Hall so we can now house the AAAS center and the Cultural Center there. Thank you.
Curtis Tearte: Let me just add a footnote to that and point out a very, very important individual. Professor Williams had him just very recently. For all of you that may or may not have knowledge of this name, Herman Hemingway. Herman Hemingway, in 1953, was the first black graduate from the first matriculating four-year class at Brandeis. Am I right?
Chad Williams: Yes. First black male graduate. Yeah.
Curtis Tearte: That's exactly right.
So, we've got some tremendous giants that have led the way, and I just wanted to book-end that in terms of a perspective that I wrote down that I wanted to mention his name here today.
Chad Williams: Thank you very much.
So, we have time for one ... We're actually out of time, but I wanna give Dr. Fields a chance to ask the final question.
Dr. Fields: I'll ask one question. Can we adjust class as African-Americans who attend and struggle at desegregated or desegregating universities? And, if so, how could we do it? I say that because I was aware most of the time, my years in public schools, there were brilliant young kids around me who never had the opportunity to fight these fights to be treated the same way as white students. And part of the problem, it's come to me, is that we don't have a form of autobiography in the community, for this kind of story to be told outside limits like this. But, possibly, it occurs to me, wouldn't there be an opportunity to get to the brilliance of those people who write raps and let them create autobiographies that will cause a whole new stratum of young Afro-American people to come up into the higher levels of education, and the ability to do higher forms of work?
Many of them are very, very smart and become criminals because they don't have outlets, but they certainly have brains, and they do stuff. I went to junior high school with them, and I knew [inaudible 01:32:27] could be done. But we can talk about moving in a different way, but find the vocabulary to do it. People don't read autobiographies that much, or write them. But they listen to rap, and rap tells stories. So, I'm just throwing that out. Isn't this a means of dealing with the class divide as well as the color, and so forth?
Chad Williams: I hear you. That's why I teach a class on hip-hop, which some of these students in here have taken.
All right. Final question, please?
Audience 6: I don't have a question. I have more of a statement, and I'm not gonna take long.
Chad Williams: Okay, please, yeah.
Audience 6: First of all, I wanted to say that my time in the class of '76 ... My time at Brandeis was wonderful. What I enjoyed most about it was meeting of African students on their diaspora, because, in order to get to Brandeis, you usually come from a predominantly white, good school, as a black person. You don't come from shabby schools.
But I really appreciated the Jewish culture. And I learned a lot seeing how they operated during the Seven-Day War, how they got together and put their resources together. And I look at this campus, and I see the result of the resources that are put together by the community, and it's a good model.
I also wanted to say to the black students that some of you, a lot of you, have the potential to do great things. This time at Brandeis is a nice time for you to wrap your head around your intellect, see your potential, see other people, what could be done. But you have it in you. And, when you leave this comfortable intellectual environment, your mentality is gonna be tested in that world. You're gonna have to respond appropriately. Forcefully. Don't be walked over. Don't feel as though you're less in any environment, okay?
So, that's how I wanna tell you. And to hold each other up. John Hogan, one of the classmates, who around talking about our experience, he said he came from a segregated school. He came up to Brandeis and ... There he is. He never knew about eating with white people. He worked in a restaurant where people came in the back door. And I'm saying, "John, we're still doing that in 1976?" But you have students here that are from Africa, from all over the diaspora that haven't experience it. We need to learn from each other. It's not only what Brandeis can teach us. It's what we're gonna teach each other.
So, support each other as students. If you see someone that's down or looking a little on the edge, go take them for a little [inaudible 01:35:19]. "Can we talk?" Lift each other up, and that's all I'm saying. You better appreciate the good opportunity you have at this university.
Chad Williams: Thank you. Thank you.
Okay. Viola's ... She's looking. Okay.
Viola: Can I ask a question?
Chad Williams: You can ask a question. Again, I wanna be mindful of time. We have a next panel. So, please, try and be as succinct as possible. Go ahead, Viola.
Viola: Okay. It's not a hard one.
Like [inaudible 01:35:43], I'm a recent grad, and I noticed a lot of other recent grads in the room. And, so, I was wondering if any of y'all would be willing to speak to just, like, one succinct piece of advice for recent alums? Because, like [inaudible 01:35:59] said, we're struggling.
Chad Williams: Sure. So, go ahead.
Viola: Yeah, thank you.
Chad Williams: Thank you.
Aja Antoine: Okay. So, my best advice, at this moment ... I didn't understand credit when I left Brandeis with my very nice degree. And I was a victim of the Equifax breach. And I imagine a lot of people ... 147 million people. So, what I'm trying to say to you is, understand your social security, how credit works. I'm happy to talk to any students who are about to leave campus, or about to get their own apartments, work out these kinds of microfinance kind of questions, like 401k, all of these things that you can ask for, retirement funds. Things like that. And that's what, in my 20 months, I've had to doggedly figure out on my own, in New York City, where it's precarious if you are unable to figure out those things very quickly and you don't have support.
So, that's the kind of stuff I'm happy to be a resource for. And everybody older than me can speak to that, as well. But that is so important for people who just don't have that literacy, and you're out in the world with your big ideas. That's all I have to say.
Napoleon L.: I'll just say this quickly. We are here to support one another, right? The students were are current here, former, all alumni in the community. There are a lot of alumni around the world, in the country itself. And one thing I notice is that, this is a powerful family we have here. I can go to Memphis or California, look up on LinkedIn, or find someone that is a Brandeis alum. We're a family.
So, if you need help, firstname.lastname@example.org. Email us. Connect with one of us. Because we have people, if you're traveling somewhere ... I tell everyone, if you travel to North Carolina, call me. I'm serious. We have to support one another.
So, in terms of finding jobs, opportunities, we have to really connect with one another to really build a community. So, every one of us has an opportunity and responsibility to open up the opportunities for the ones that's coming along. So, if there's anything that we can do to support you, let us know.
Chad Williams: Anybody else wanna briefly speak to that?
Janice J. D.: So, I think it's really important that you have a clear sense of what are your skills, and that you begin to write that down and figure out how you can articulate it. Critical thinking and writing are the things that I think all Brandeis students have some level of mastery on, but you need to think about your skills. What can you do such that it can be transferrable to others? It is wonderful to connect with people because they're alumnus. It's wonderful to connect people because you're a woman, or that you are black. And, in the end, what you want to be able to say to people, "I'm all of those things, and I have the capacity to do X, Y, or Z."
And, so, know that and recognize that your genius may not be currently apparent to you, regardless of what your friends and family say, but that that genius is real, and it has no caveat. So, explore it, know it, and be able to articulate it.
Chad Williams: Thank you. Please give a round of applause to our amazing panelists.