Power, Progress and Working Woke
By Divya Murthy and Saniya More
How can power overcome its oppression?
This article is part of our Black History Month coverage.
“Don’t just stay woke, work woke.”
These were only a few of liberal political commentator Angela Rye’s ringing words to the audience at the 33rd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The commemoration at Syracuse University is observed as one of the biggest celebration of its type in the United States.
Over a hundred round tables bedecked in white cloth and flowers welcomed the attendees into the Carrier Dome, where a huge orange artwork of Dr. King hung behind the podium, emblazoned with the words “Remember. Celebrate. Act.” The words and recordings of Dr. King’s speeches played on the speakers.
The evening paid homage to Dr. King’s pioneering work with student performances like the SU Black Reign Step Team and the Young and Talented Hip Hop Performing Arts Company. The two groups were inspired by his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and his practice of non-violent protest. Student performances also saw musical selections by the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble, the Black Legacy A Cappella Group and original individual selections as well.
Moments from Keynote speaker Angela Rye’s speech were among the most captivating of the night: her words urged a continued, persistent path to power, purpose, equity and freedom, reflecting the meaning behind the words, “From Intention to Impact.”
Rye’s words grew more piercing and emotional as she addressed the challenges in achieving power, justice and fairness among the black community and communities of color. Her words outlined a historical journey of injustice, from the transatlantic slave trade to the modern prison industrial complex.
“Families, ripped apart from the west coast of Africa, chained together in the belly of a dark ship, human waste, stench of death only unchained to be bathed by cold, saltwater on the deck of that ship, from ocean water dumped on you from buckets. When you arrive to the shores of America the Beautiful, you are auctioned off in too many instances, once again divided from family and loved ones, sold, but the cheque you’ll never see because your labor is for free, often until death. And you’re wondering why we’re still screaming ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
Dr. King’s vision was still far from fulfilled, she said.
“We have so much further to go, but we have come very far, even though some of us may argue that might have backslid just a little bit, thank you to your President,” she said to cheers and chuckles from the audience.
Rye defined power as the ability to achieve purpose. In demanding power for communities that are still reaching for it, she called for greater interdependence and action in the way forward to honor Dr. King’s legacy. Where we’re going from here requires going, she said, it requires movement.
Before the event, Rye met with a select group of students at the Noble Room in Hendricks Chapel. At the meeting, students had the chance to ask Rye questions about obstacles she has faced in her career. Rye also offered the students advice, telling them to never let their race or sexuality stop them from achieving great things. Globalists Editor-in-Chief Saniya More was one of the students at the meeting. Here are her thoughts:
“Having the chance to meet Angela Rye was an honor. Her sheer intelligence, broad perspective, and depth of personality are striking and inspiring. As a woman of color, I could relate to many of the points she brought up in the discussion, and it felt good to know I’m not the only one who has faced discrimination and other obstacles in life. Ms. Rye is a powerful role model and I admire her immensely.”
In a media room conference prior to the event, Rye also addressed college activism, protest, and initiatives like the Globalists. We asked Rye about the way forward to creating effective dialogue and making sure one’s voice is heard.
“I love that,” she said. “I think effective dialogue is exactly what we’re missing right now. Trying to find common ground is one of the best things we can do. I don’t think we have to force folks to be homogenous or force folks to be exactly the same. But can we at least get to a place where I can hear you, I don’t have to speak over you and I can acknowledge and respect your differences and appreciate them enough to venture down a path and open a conversation?”