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Herman C. Hudson Symposium

Theme: "The African Diaspora: The Quest for Human Rights"

Keynote Speaker: Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones

March 24-25, 2006

The third annual Herman C. Hudson Symposium, which is produced by graduate students in the department under the aegis of a faculty member (this year, Professor John McCluskey), brought together students in a variety of disciplines at Indiana and other universities to present papers and readings from their intellectual and creative work. The two-day event featured an opening session lecture by Professor Valerie Grim, chair of the department; an entertaining and thought-provoking presentation by spoken-word poet Versiz; a Library Evening Extravaganza, with the George Middleton Trio; four student panels spotlighting aspects of the quest for human rights in the African diaspora; an illuminating keynote by Ohio's 11th District Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones; and a closing session talk by Professor A.B. Assensoh, director of graduate studies for AAADS.

Here are some highlights of the symposium:

Opening Session:

Professor Valerie Grim introduced the symposium's theme by speaking on aspects of the quest for human rights and beginning a dialog with the audience. In noting the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Grim said that rights are an expression of human values. Human beings are valued when such rights as equality, dignity, and justice are recognized. Systems that foster human injustice must be challenged until liberation and respect for rights are obtained. It is a question of politics, but also of so much more: Social, cultural, and economic issues cannot be separated from the political.

Grim, in mentioning her own lived experience and academic study of the valuing of African American lives in Mississippi during the 1960s and '70s, said that race and racism are constructed so as to void human rights. The paradigm of race and racism exists in many places worldwide, where the same problems beset the poor. She sees land as the key to autonomy and as an expression of human rights. There have been instances of government intervention to redistribute land in Mississippi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. But, she noted, civil rights can be gained without gaining human rights. For example, the right to vote does not necessarily mean equality in a society.

When poverty and homelessness exist and basic human services, such as health care, are lacking, then human rights are being abused. Governments and organizations must not blame the victim for such conditions, but rather the system. Many of the world's deprivation problems stem from the heritage of the colonial system, which also fosters social poverty rooted in racism and sexism and based on exclusion.

Grim, saying that there is much to do, offered some suggestions for change to begin:

Increase people's awareness of their power to question and stand up to the powers that be; Keep the issues alive;

While there is no such thing as a colorblind society, society does not have to penalize people for color;

Groups and nations must collaborate and be watchdogs for human rights;

Identify and prioritize needs, best options, and best practices; and

Support each other as individuals.

 

Entertainment:

Versiz (Jaamal May), a poet, performer, and producer - and the only hip-hop artist ever to open for the Detroit Symphony - provided both entertainment and enlightenment for attendees at the Hudson Symposium. In citing the importance of art in the understanding of experience, he said that change in art and society is facilitated by the point of view of artists. A culture's subconscious is constantly being mapped through media repetition, and the unthinking masses are needed and used by all bureaucracies (e.g., both Republicans and Democrats). Poetry, and other arts, provide food for thought and an antidote to brainwashing.

The poet performed "Liberian Sun," written for his friend Hazen Lewis, about the experience of witnessing chaos and death, with civil war as the subtext, in "a world bleeding itself crazy." It was an astounding recitation of a brilliant spoken-word poem. (This and other incredible works by Versiz can be found at www.versiz.com.)

Spoken-word poetry and written poetry are both important, said Versiz, and both are better than electronic media. In the post-BAM era, poets know who they are; self-actualization has taken place, and, inevitably, some poetry is really harsh. In discussing today's music, he said that hip hop is underrated and is, in fact, no longer new. Hip hop evolved much as rock did, and now there are lots of styles. But radio has co-opted hip hop, which is another reason why hearing and reading words/poetry is so much better. Music can be listened to without understanding, but poetry must be understood. Music plus the spoken word equals rap, he added.

The mixture of impassioned poetry, information about music and publishing (including an endorsement on the staying power of books), and advocacy of the politics of free discourse set a convincing tone for a conference about human rights. Versiz ended his talk and performance by telling the audience, "You gotta be the change you wanna see."

 

Keynote:

Stephanie Tubbs Jones has served the public for 25 years, as a prosecutor, judge, and representative of the 11th District of Ohio. Now in her fourth term as a member of Congress, she serves on the Committee on Ways and Means (among others) and is an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus. After reciting a poem by Maya Angelou, Tubbs Jones spoke on the pertinent issue of voting rights - and wrongs. While fair to all persons, the humorous and vivacious lawmaker did not mute her vigorous Democratic politics, which brought forth frequent applause from the audience.

Tubbs Jones discussed the problematic issues surrounding the voting and requests for recounts in Ohio in the last presidential election and her disagreements with Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, whose rulings on provisional ballots and other issues confused voters and observers alike and cost thousands of would-be voters the opportunity to cast ballots. (Blackwell is now the Republican frontrunner for governor of Ohio.) Tubbs Jones took the opportunity in Congress to object to the vote counts in both Ohio and Florida. She noted that the right to vote is one of the most important human rights. African Americans have been afforded that right, but it's hard to get elected. (Tubbs Jones is the first African American woman to be elected to Congress from Ohio.)

In touching on current topics, the congresswoman said that the U.S. Gulf Coast was important to African Americans for several reasons: that's where many slaves arrived here; it's a melting pot area; it's a stronghold for people of color; and the Ninth Ward is a crucial make-or-break electorate for Democrats and people of color. Regarding Cuba, she said that she once spent two and a half hours with Fidel Castro, "who is an amazing man, whether you love him or hate him." She noted the contradiction in U.S. policy that accuses Cuba of human rights violations but opens trade doors to China. About Darfur, she said that the Black Caucus is pushing for U.S. involvement in stopping genocide by calling for Congress to step in. In addition, she spoke of how workers are exploited by Wal-Mart; how the United Nations Human Rights Commission nowadays fails those who need it by issuing only generic objections rather than substantive action; how she is proud to be a "product of Affirmative Action" and believes strongly in the policy; and how the African diaspora is still not well connected through the people except at the academic level.

Tubbs Jones is involved with the Count Every Vote program, with Sen. Hilary Clinton, and the Second Chance Act, which aim to reinstate the right to vote for people whose right has been lost through the criminal justice system. A standard bearer for GLBT issues, Tubbs Jones noted that sometimes the legislative successes too often reap regression by generating fear. She advocates moving forward one step at a time on such issues.

With a 100 percent voting record on human rights issues, Tubbs Jones is optimistic, even as she believes that the nation is still dealing with some of the same problems as when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. That optimism ringing in her voice, she ended her talk with another poem: "Arise Africa."

 

Panels:

Four panels, each with a faculty chair and student panelists, addressed topics pertaining to the theme of the symposium. They were, in order of presentation:

“Poetic Affirmation: Use of Cultural Practice and Tradition as Forms of Resistance”

Trica Keaton (chair)
Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Glyn Jemmott Nelson
Member/Founder, Black Mexico AC
“Afro-Mexicans: From Resistance to Affirmation”

Mohamed Yunus Rafiq
Department of Telecommunications, IU
Mashairi ya Kuimbana: A Form of Poetic Dueling in Tanzani and Effects of Its Decline at Community Level in Tanzania"

Siobhan Carter-David
History, Indiana University
“What Is African, Caribbean, and American All Over?: Using Images to Decode the Web of Blackness in U.S. Urban Centers”

“Emphasizing the Societal Noise: The Changing View of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality and African Americans”

Audrey McCluskey (chair)
Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Tahirah Akbar-Williams
African American and African Diaspora Studies and Library Science, IU
“And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Convergence of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality and Its Affects on the African American”

Stuart Steven Wilson Grande
Applied Health Science, IU
“Breaking Through the Surface: A Call to Challenge the African American Male Health Experience from the Inside”

Asha L. French
Creative Writing, IU
“The Trial of Sarah Baartman, Black Women in Music Videos: A Question of Accountability”

“Trading Spaces: (Re)Presenting Black America in Folkloric Expressions”

Frederick McElroy (chair)
Professor, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Yanikka Lemons
African American and African Diaspora Studies, IU
“Selling Lies and the Black Man's Country Club”

Regina Nacole Barnett
English, Albany State University
“A Case Study of the Biblical Archetype of the 'Wanderer' in Black American Literature”

Amina McIntyre
African American and African Diaspora Studies, IU
Scene excerpt from “Crystal Stares”

Robert Jordan
African American and African Diaspora Studies, IU
Reading from “Hungry”

“From Bloomington to Watts: Relocating and Revisiting Historical and Contemporary Representations of Black Power, an Interdisciplinary Perspective”

Valerie Grim (chair)
Professor and Chair, African American and African Diaspora Studies

Ryan Cobb
African American and African Diaspora Studies and Library Science, IU
“Engaged Orthodoxy and the Megachurch: A Contemporary Expression of Black Power?”

Jennifer Housel
African American and African Diaspora Studies and Art History, IU
“A Revolution Deferred: The Watts Towers as a Case Study”

Kellie Hogue
African American and African Diaspora Studies, IU
“Black Power and a Yellow Rose in Heaven: Bloomington, Martinsville, Carol Jenkins"