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Williams talks democracy and the imperative of social justice education

On April 6, Rhonda Y. Williams visited the University of Maine to present this week’s discussion at the Socialist and Marxist Studies Series (Controversy Series) in the Bangor Room in the Memorial Union.

Williams, an activist scholar, a professor of history and the founder and director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University, presented a speech followed by an open discussion with the guests in attendance.

Williams introduced her own title “Democracy for Whom? The Imperative of Social Justice Education.” Her talk was split into four acts, followed by her slideshow, which explained how she teaches these lessons to her students.

Act one of her presentation discussed “The Promise of American Democracy; channeling James Baldwin.” Baldwin was a writer that served as a witness to truth. He spoke into being the unspoken about the “everyday mess of race-based humiliation.”

“Baldwin examined how black people were constructed,” Williams began, “and how these constructions of black people perceived as servile, as less than, as criminal, as economic burdens of the nation impacts their treatment in the United States.”

Williams continued with the act, explaining that the violence that built the United states remains “woven into the fabric of the ‘democratic’ nation.”

Act two was titled “Radical, Democratic Humanism.” Williams spoke about Ella Baker, a civil rights and humans rights activist who had a career that lasted for more than five decades. Baker, who explained how marginalization and exploitation work “does this by diagnosing not only what everyday people suffer as individuals, but how they are in relationship with the system of power, that they are driven by perceptions.”

The act was closed with an introduction to the “I Am” model: “Who I am, who you perceive me to be, how you see yourself or not in the ‘I am’ exposes not only the evidence of things not seen, the evidence of things not said, but also amplifies the evidence of things done,” she said.

Act three was titled “The Forming Mirror of Truth.” Williams talked about the three lessons that people must learn: participation, compromise and tolerance. She also spoke about Nathan Huggins, a leading scholar in African-American studies and his ideas of “a deforming mirror of truth: a conspiracy of myth, history and chauvinism.”

In the final act, Williams spoke to the audience about education and began to answer the “Democracy for Whom?” question. It is important to analyze how people understand industry, how they define their political community and how they excavate in order to identify the narratives by which people make sense of their condition and interpret the common life they share, “or do not share,” Williams added.

After her 30-minute presentation, she opened the floor to questions from the audience. She ended her talk with a message to the audience, “Words are not enough. We need actions. We can’t lose our optimism.”

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