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I could not have been a willing and effective advocate with the President and others in power without the grounding I received from Dr. Turner and student leaders of color.
In the fall of , President Rawlings met with various constituencies to share his decision. Out student meeting followed the faculty meeting with President.
As the faculty meeting transitioned, Dr. Turner, Dr. Harris, and others calmly exited without too much of an indication as we entered the President's office. We could tell it was not bad news and maybe it was even good news. In the end, President Rawlings made what some called a Solomon-like compromise with a way to meet some of his interests by creating a freshman campus while maintaining program houses.
Had he not made the right call, we would have been ready both on the activism and student government side. Turner later expressed satisfaction that the battle had been won, but noted how far away this debate was from the actual racial justice issues that needed to be addressed. Activism had stopped a step backwards, but we still needed to go forward. It was the first example that I personally observed and experienced where people power could in fact shape policy and decision making of those in power.
Turner knew that the struggle would continue. During the second half of my college experience, the locus of activism centered around a proactive push by the Latinx students for more resources in the Latino Studies Program and a reactive response to yet another administration initiative that lacked any sensitivity to issues of racial justice and equity.
To this day, the origin of such thought leaves one with questions, in particular because there was no accountability taken for mistakes in process and content. In the most forgiving view, the report was written by faculty members who were clearly ignorant of the Africana enterprise. The more astute observers detected more nefarious motives with the report serving as an attempt to assert greater control both politically and perhaps intellectually over the Center.
I will never forget Dr. Turner speaking at a faculty forum on the report. The early speakers covered other parts of the report and saved the addressing of Africana to an African American woman professor who had served on the committee.
It was clear what the organizers were trying to do, a tried and true tactic out of an old playbook: create a scenario where you could justify the moves by framing the issues as disagreements from within the African American community. Turner arose and the room was on pins and needles. The sharpest of minds had seen it all before as he yet again intellectually dismantled the arguments in the report. How could Africana fit under American studies when Africana was not just an ethnic study? Was the study of the continent of Africa as an area study being subsumed under the United States?
Would we also be. He did not take the bait addressing the other professor only in passing with an invitation to her and any of the other faculty to spend some time at Africana to understand the enterprise.
An old photo of mine of Dr. Turner tearing the Report on the Humanities to shreds at a faculty meeting. As the weeks wore on after the forum, I was shocked that the Arts School Deans were continuing the charade.
Turner and others had completely rendered the report as illegitimate. We had protested and the clock was running out on the end of the semester. At the end of one such protest, I made an individual decision that in retrospect was a mistake and should have been a community decision. I decided to sit-in in front of the Dean's office until they said they would no longer consider the report's recommendation as it relates to Africana.
As a student trustee, I was hoping to provide another pressure point, but it was an independent decision and I was worried what Dr. Turner and other students would think. A number of friends and activist students came to Goldwin-Smith as word went out that a sit-in had started. As the relatively sleepless days wore on, morale dropped. At just the right point, Dr. Turner made the effort to come by and let us know he appreciated our efforts.
His affirmation meant the world. The Latinx students held their final protest of the year with us that next day. And after a week, Associate Dean Biddie Martin made the announcement that the administration would not consider the report for any policies as it relates to Africana. I tell this story not to claim any victory for myself or the students who sat in, as pressure was coming from all corners.
I share the story to demonstrate how much Dr. Turner did for me: a white suburban kid who would not allow himself to protest first semester, ended up starting a sit-in as senior. It was the steel of his intellectual and moral arguments and exposing me to a rich tradition of resistance to injustice that gave me the resolve to commit to anti-racism not in a one off way, but as the way to live my life.
Turner's impact extended beyond student development and campus activism to helping frame the emerging cross-discipline, cross-region field of study that termed Africana. Many of the black intellectual giants came through Africana at some point in their careers, influenced by Dr. Turner and the constructs established within Africana. Africana shifted the frame for which we might view the African and diasporic experience of Africans.
The cultural, historical, and philosophical connections from the diaspora and Africa were now addressed with much greater clarity. The political boundaries within Africa and in the Americas were largely European creations in which African culture and thought were not beholden and indeed transcendent. Africana grew out of a long tradition of Africans in the Americas yearning for those connections that had been denied through slavery, segregation, and conscious attempts to separate Africans from their history and culture.
It was W. B Dubois in who used the term Africana to describe a Pan African encyclopedia that he wished to develop. Notably it was Africana faculty alum, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. These Pan-African frames in which Africana was established were grounded in a deep history of yearning for those connections revealing itself anew amongst the contemporary generation of African American leaders. The establishment of the Africana Center came at the request of student activists following the Willard Straight Hall takeover in , arguably the most pivotal moment in 20th Century Cornell history.
This is a vital distinction for Dr. Turner himself. He was not asked by the faculty, but by the students to establish the Center. The takeover and what followed paralleled the evolution of civil rights movements into racial justice, feminist, and social justice movements in which the limited gains made were challenged and often stalled by the reactionary politics. Cornell continues to deal with fundamental questions as to what degree it will embrace in deeds racial equity in the contest of building a diverse campus community not only.
This fundamental question extends through time from the mids to today. For much of its existence, Africana has been under-resourced and under appreciated to the point of fairly consistent attacks on its existence, the Dean's report on the Humanities being just one example of many.
Hopefully with the investments in Africana over the last twenty years, that narrative is changing. Turner and the existence of Africana frequently held the mirror to Cornell and its commitments on diversity and racial equity.
Given the often lackluster performance and falling short on commitments, one understands why the person and institution was targeted over the years. To be clear, Dr. Turner was panned as a radical by many of his contemporaries. In many conversations I had with even the most liberal of administrators and members of governance, there was always a sense that Dr. Turner went too far and that he was sewing division on campus, but underneath I often felt a fear of the unknown because so few would put themselves into Afro-centric learning and discussion environments.
The truth was however, that more often not that the fight was brought to him and I'm guessing like all of us he would have preferred to invest his time in his job teaching students, writing and researching and following his interests like his love of what he called "African classical music commonly referred to as jazz.
And it turns out that perhaps Dr. Turner wasn't so radical after all. While Dr. King offered the hopeful statement that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, Dr. Turner taught us to maintain a healthy skepticism of such hopeful sentiments.
Our collective history, indeed our most recent history of Katrina, Ferguson, Charlottesville, and on and on demonstrates that this is not a maxim that ensures all will eventually be right. In the last decade, we have seen Black Lives Matter forming in the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown. A few years later, we saw a national uprising for racial justice and equity after the police murder of George Floyd.
For brief moments, the nation and institutions like Cornell said it has to be different this time. We can not keep turning away. The devaluing of black lives must stop. And in these moments over the last decade, I have thought to myself. How about truth teller? He taught us that the arc of the moral universe doesn't bend unless we pull it, individually and collectively, towards justice.
The last time I saw Dr. Turner, it was at Professor Don Barr's funeral. Turner's words lifted our spirits again through humor and tender remembrance. You know Don would have felt his remembrance incomplete without words from his friend and partner on so many issues. From the anti-apartheid movement to co-teaching a class on racism for many years, their's was a partnership to be admired and from which we still can learn.
Indeed, for many of us who experienced Don and Dr. Turner's racism class, they will forever be linked. Don showed the white kids what true allyship looks like, how leadership should be balanced with followership, especially on issues in which your privilege means you are not the one most directly impacted. I believe Don Barr had a retirement party of sorts at which I spoke. I remember spending plenty of time sharing my deep love and admiration for Don and not being fully able to separate my experience of Don with Dr.
I shared a number of points of deep appreciation for Dr. Turner and the partnership of which so many students and the university benefited. I know Dr. Turner knew how much he meant to all of us. Like so many of my peers who experienced his tutelage and guidance, he created the fertile intellectual and developmental ground for which to shape a life's mission and to build and maintain the moral courage to stand by truth and justice, even as so many countervailing enticements attempt to pull one off course.
I remember him lamenting at a Unity Hour that in the earlier days of Africana many students went into teaching and social work but that more recent waves students were now looking to go to Wall Street instead. I am hopeful that such a tide has shifted back because he wanted us back in communities taking what we learned to make the world a more just place. While I feel that I am never doing enough, I am hopeful that Dr. Turner is satisfied with the impact he had on me and so many others, and hopeful that we all make him proud as we continue in this life.
Indeed, after the initial shock of a legend passing on to join the ancestors, you soon realize that those who have stood on the side of truth and justice live on in deeply profound and meaningful ways. He lives on in all of us, not as a trite expression, but in reality, in the work that each of us does with our lives.
Malcolm X left a hope that applies so aptly to our saying goodbye for now Dr. Turner: "One day, may we all meet together in the light of understanding. This group is to support organizing for state conventions and to put pressure on Congress to address the full slate of Democracy and Human Rights Amendments. A group to support organizing for the Majority Vote Amendment and Rules for the appointment and confirmation of federal judges and justices of the Supreme Court of the Democracy and Human Rights Amendments.
A group to support organizing for Term limits for the elected representatives, judges and officers of the United States Amendment of the Democracy and Human Right Amendments. The ERA has already been passed by the requisite number of states and needs Congress to pass an act that eliminates the original deadline which ended in Originally Posted on January 30, For much of December and January, Huntington Woods Library's "Drag Queen Storytime" was under attack by forces of bigotry within, and without, the local community.
It began with City Commissioner Allison Iversen, whose emails about the event included the following "I have been trying to get this stopped since it started. Please do get more people involved.
I am one voice and we need many people to call this out for what it is. There is a waiting list for the event, and ONE letter of opposition that was the only letter sent to the Mayor's office.
Allison Iversen would resign early on December 18th, with her bid to end Storytime failing. The results have been readily apparent. Joyce Krom, the librarian organizing Storytime, has been assembling wildly successful events, with attendees at her first event and a perpetual waiting list since. You said it, doc.
Despite all these triumphs, Poindexter was astute to point out that hate wasn't listening. In her emails, Iversen put out a call for greater involvement in shutting down the event. Tennessee-based hate group Warriors for Christ answered that call.
Their founder, Rich Penkoski, placed his ignorance on public display when describing his reasons for protesting the event "Parents that bring their kids to this, you can say what you want, but a transgender 4-year-old is like a vegan cat. We know who's making the lifestyle choices for that cat and that child. Children should be left alone. Upon encountering consequences for this behavior, they filed suit claiming their First Amendment rights were infringed upon.
With local organizing provided by Sara Smith, the inaugural Queensguard was formed. It's mission: protect children, their families and the Queens from hate speech and other attacks, allowing Drag Queen Storytime to continue unhindered.
The forces of hate had an early start to the day. They stood near the entrance, inviting passersby to pray the rosary for an imagined corruption of children. They were being interviewed by the Church Militant, a Ferndale-based group that abandoned all the class consciousness of the Game of Thrones group they copied, but kept the bigotry. South of them, along the sidewalk, were a pack of six men in hoodies, several of which read "Proud Boys" along the chest, and another in a red "Make America Great Again" sweatshirt.
Warriors for Christ, numbering 6, were the last to arrive, but were very proud of their custom jumpsuits. Somebody paid money for those. On the other side of the wall, Queensguard had amassed over supporters with almost an hour left until the 3 PM event start time.
An experienced and capable bunch, they immediately took the front line, bedecked and bedazzled in rainbows, facepaint, and a gigantic array of custom signs, plus a bunch more donated by Planned Parenthood and American Atheists. The lime-capped bigot opened proceedings declaring shame and eternal hellfire on the supporters for helping corrupt the minds of children. As more supporters rolled in between 2 and 3 PM, eventually exceeding , Warriors for Christ decided to target specific marginalized groups during their raving.
Others reported Islamaphobic comments, and a bizarre obsession with adult diapers. As volunteers with ample cellphone batteries teamed with supporters carrying a portable speaker, the screech of bigotry was deadened by the speaker and the crowd erupting into Barney's "I Love You".
At the very least, there's love on the left. Rich Penkoski will be furthest right. Parents and their kids arrived for Storytime. One participant in the Queensguard had a basket full of flowers with ribbon and a positive, affirming message attached for each child attending.
MDPAN's Lead Marshall, wearing a rainbow cape, topped with a pink wig, brought popular children's books to pass out to each young person who could make it for Storytime. One parent would later remark "Uh oh, I hope my kid's not expecting a present and cheering every time we go to one of these.
The Proud Boys made a considerable effort to distance themselves from Warriors for Christ, milling around on the sidewalk South of the parking lot. Unfortunately, the majority of the parents were entering from that direction. Red Orchestra RO provided volunteers for the demonstration to ward off attacks, verbal or otherwise, from the hate groups present. It should be noted the Proud Boys were briefly added to the FBI's terror watchlist, and have strong ties to the recently arrested Roger Stone.
RO took the point on the South end of the parking lot to ensure no parents would be accosted, with significant success. Meanwhile, at the wall, the Southernmost member of the Queensguard embarked on a special mission.
Matthew Kinne is an attorney that's traveled nationwide trying to stop WfC's campaign of hate against any number of genders greater than two.
He brought a large thermos full of hot water, and an entire case of hot chocolate powder with balloons tied to it. Kinne attempted to have a frank, calm dialogue and perhaps a declaration of piece. Instead, the Warriors for Christ speaker rejected the gift, and proceeded to point at trans members of Queensguard and deliberately misgender them, including comments like "God will make a man out of you!
What heathen would turn down hot cocoa on a day like this? While everyone was dressed in their Pride parade best, it was the Motor City Sisters taking everyone's breath away.
With Warriors for Christ targeting individuals among the Queensguard with hate speech, Sister Misty Meanor sprung into action. Clothed as the Virgin Mary, or at least the second part, she bravely strode to the front of the line, directly in front of the bigots. From there, she turned her back to hate and let her habit fly, supported by a pair of nearby Queensguard.
Golden and blue light from the fabric completely covered the megaphone operator in Warriors for Christ from view, muffling his speech in the process.
Not pictured: A very frustrated bigot. Despite WfC's leader, Rich Penkoski, saying children should be left alone in his attacks on Drag Queen Storytime, the families participating were the next major targets of the group. A barrage of vitriol eschewed from their megaphone, attempting to tell children as young as 3 that their parents were going to make them go to hell.
Fortunately, the Queensguard was more than prepared to counter. A few clicks and swipes on a cell phone had "Baby Shark" blaring through a portable speaker, with other activists holding the mic from their megaphones up to the speaker, creating a surround sound effect focused directly on the religious zealot screaming at 4-year-olds. Paralyzed with involuntary laughter, WfC's mouthpiece did the one thing no one expected: he stopped talking.
At this time, the Proud Boys skulked off, and members of RO took point at the neighborhood intersections to ensure their preferred tactic of jumping lone activists post-event would fail. Unrelated to the previous paragraphs, but these are some excellent signs. RO provided escort detail for families or members of Queensguard walking to their cars alone or in a small group.
Thanks to the baby shark attack, the primary threat of WfC was effectively diminished. All families were able to return to their cars safely. It was at this point it became apparent how overwhelming the support for Drag Queen Storytime was in the Huntington Woods community. The literature didn't stop with just the kids, either, as many of the organizations present educational pamphlets to distribute.
Joyce Krom joined the exit procession for a bit, making sure to meet one of the illustrious Motor City Sisters:. After an impromptu dance party to finish the successful defense, the principal organizers started returning to their vehicles.
However, there was a bit of a standoff as everyone departed. Both sides stared each other down for a few minutes, then back-up arrived from other organizers who just finished packing up. The WfC pick-up sped off at the sight of greater numbers and all returned safely. MDPAN is please to report zero arrest and zero instances of violence, and would like to thank Red Orchestra and all experienced protesters who helped keep it that way. More information about the Proud Boys can be found here.
CW: Literal Nazis and what comes with it. An oral history of Antifascist action in Detroit, collected and synthesized from accounts with on-site participants.
The initial threat, from his Facebook profile. Their spread was complete with 11 cases of bottled water, lasagna, vegan chili, stuffed peppers, pizza and a veritable mountain of cornbread, delighting the houseless community and passersby alike, wetting whistles and sating appetites.
Mitten Medics were on hand to make sure anyone who got hurt could get patched up, and keep folks hydrated on an 80 degree day. Once he arrived within earshot of the FNC table, Antifascists sprang into action, forcing him away from MC Pride with an ersatz blockade on the sidewalk, while others harangued him through megaphones along the stone wall.
His cries of homosexuality being a mortal sin were drowned out by commands to take his bigotry elsewhere, and multiple suggestions for therapy interspersed with everyone's favorite expletives.
Like many bigoted Christians, this one was also not blessed with reading comprehension. Finding himself in front of the Renaissance Center, the hateful zealot attempted to give antifascists the slip, heading back down the sidewalk and got as far as the parking garage elevator before running into another ersatz blockade. This time, his choices were a packed sidewalk and the oncoming traffic of Jefferson, he chose the latter and rabbited to the median where Woodward and Jefferson intersect.
From there, his declaration that transgender people were a crime against god was met with protesters blasting Pride anthems, such as "Born this Way" by Lady Gaga and "I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross, through a portable speaker.
He found himself at a loss for words as the protesters started grinding and twerking in front of him. Emboldened future MC Pride attendees took care of the rest, verbally dissolving his life's philosophy on their way to the entrance line, and he sheepishly skittered away. Meanwhile, Food Not Class' serving was going so well, they were in danger of running out of everything but cornbread by 3 PM.
Two houseless folks who enjoyed the spread elected to stick around and serenade foot traffic with punk rock and classic pop standards on their ukelele, while hanging out with FNC volunteers.
Thanks to the generosity of those who enjoyed the serving earlier, they had enough for seven large pizzas and six cases of water. Not ten minutes after the pizza order was placed, a Swastika flag was spotted in front of Cobo Hall, headed directly for Hart Plaza. The Smallest Blitzkrieg. Walking on the North side of Jefferson, in front of the Scientology building, a lone antifascist tried to halt their march.
Photo source: Herman Davis. A second antifascist later bolted to the scene once they crossed the street, heading towards the end of the Pride entry line. They ran into a wall of no less than thirty DPD officers, some in riot gear, acting as a phalanx for ten members of NSM. The Nazis were sporting the clearance aisle of their local Army-Navy surplus, only one had a replica SS uniform.
Amid the black tacticool, one woman with a Macklemore haircut stuck out in a Mormonesque khakis and white polo ensemble. The antifascist attempted to darted around and tail the group before it could reach the entry line. Secret of partners on sarcasm, anecdotes, wordplay, and there and qualifying phone screens.
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