By Ernie McCray
Some places in our lives resonate with us in special ways. San Diego City College is one of those places for me, a place that always seems to be about creating a better world. My kind of place.
Along these lines, I heard City College’s Interim President, Denise Whisenhunt, say to an overflow audience at the school’s Saville Theatre that the campus was “at the forefront of the social justice movement.”
Those words in her short welcoming speech seemed evident as I looked around me at all the attendees at the school’s “3rd Annual Social Justice & Education Conference,” a gathering that just gets better and bigger every year.
“A Call to Action” was this year’s theme and I, too, took part in the opening ceremonies which included a Native American prayer that reminds us that we should give more than we take and take no more than we need; an African American rite honoring ancestors who paved paths for us. Both rites apply to all of humanity.
I followed such reverences with a few remarks and a couple of poems that touched on the call we had been given, suggesting that social justice becomes a reality only when the citizenry embraces such an ideal and places it at the top of its bucket list, so to speak, collectively.
I tried to make the point that our call required deep passion and a never dying commitment to the task of crafting a humane society. Of course, this was just a prompt as this crowd knew such as all of that.
But we activists have to always stoke the fires that fuel our souls and my soul was moved by the conference.
I missed one of the featured speakers, the gifted Texas Poet Laureate, Laurie Ann Guerrero, who explored the role of an artist during a time of despair.
Being an artist I would have loved to have sat in on that session but I caught all of Hip Hop Artist and activist Jasiri X’s beat driven poetry and videos which highlighted that he truly has, as the program said, “his finger on the pulse of today’s social justice issues.”
Such a purveyor of hope, he was, in our moments together, connecting with the young people in attendance so easily, responding to their questions in absolute sincerity; helping them understand that when it comes to building a just society each of us has to figure out what we have to contribute. Jasiri reaches out to his community through his spoken word artistry. What are we passionate about? How can we give?
Jasiri starting becoming an active citizen by writing about situations that caused him pain and he began feeling the agony of people who are treated unjustly like the parents of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and Jordan Davis who were executed needlessly.
So he came to using his art freely to address such inhumanity, believing that “art is an extension of the life that you live”; that art “should move culture and thought forward”; that art should be used in a positive manner to uplift and unify our communities.
Jasiri feels that it’s critical for us, as we work to satisfy our collective hopes and dreams, to use the right language, language that can impact mainstream attitudes toward specific groups of people, poor people, people of color, gay people, women… He eloquently articulates that our activism has to shape the way society views “reality.”
I could see that there were a lot of young people who, like me, were caught up in the man’s brilliance and earnestness. He resonated with me to a great extent when he said that in our work we have to bring our youth along so they learn how to be caring and powerful citizens too.
I think how something effects children should be at the heart of most of what we do as a society.
In this vein, Jasiri has established a 1HOOD Program for young artists in Pittsburgh, his hometown, in which he inspires them to make better decisions in their individual lives and to take personal responsibility for bringing about positive changes in their communities.
“When we address the needs of the youth of today we erase the dilemmas of tomorrow,” Jasiri says.
A big “Amen” to that! And I’d say that what Jasiri is teaching his 1HOOD community is the very essence of what we activists must be about: getting ourselves together – before we even dare talk about changing the world. No room for half-stepping in such an endeavor.
I left the conference literally bubbling with hope just knowing that a large number of young people had been exposed to 1HOOD thinking as they contemplate turning their world around.
I also left the conference feeling as I did when I arrived, that San Diego City College is a place that always seems to be about creating a better world. My kind of place.