By Paula Ajumobi, ’19

Photo by Emily Stewart

This past weekend at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Peace and Justice Summit was an incredible experience that made me rethink what activism truly means in the time we are in now. During the talk with Ava Duvernay and Anna Deavere-Smith, someone said: “stop with the passive observance.” In fact, a common theme of all the talks that we went to was hope for the summit to have an impact on more than the people who went to the summit. People like Al Gore hoped that we would take what we learned and inform people or tell people to come to the national lynching memorial or about climate change, that we would turn our attendance into action. At first, I struggled with this idea, I am not the most involved in activism activities on campus, but I’ve come to realize that spreading the word about the injustices in our country can be done through very simple actions such as talking. Yesterday, I was having a conversation about a celebrity who made references to lynching and I was constantly bringing up what I had learned at the summit or had seen at the memorial and museum. I have learned that activism can be as simple saying “Go see the lynching memorial, and understand why references to lynching should never be taken lightly.”

Something else I was pondering was the idea of who is included in activism and who are we exploiting to make a point. The Peace and Justice Summit was an amazing experience but ever since I have left I have thought about who was actually there. Who was able to listen to Reverend Barber or Michelle Alexander? Was the majority of the crowd people who were actually affected by these issues? Barriers such as the cost of entry to the summit, memorial, and museum could have affected the demographics of those who attended, and I think it did. I realize my privilege as a Duke student allowed me to attend that event and that made me highly aware of who was around me. I realize that we need as many people as we can get in this movement for a better world, but we need to be intentionally making sure we aren’t leaving anyone behind. So what does this mean? I am not completely sure, but I think I must go back to the idea of activism.

Photo by Emily Stewart

We must be extremely conscious of who we are talking to, and who we are reaching out to when going about and doing this work. Also, being extremely conscious of our privilege requires a restructuring of how we engage with other people and the projects that we are doing. Finally, we must make sure that voices are not just heard but are also uplifted. It’s a vague concept, but it’s something that I will have to continue thinking about.

The last thing that I want to mention is the idea of memory. I think that this past weekend made it clear that memory and having an institutional history is so important. We must not forget the names of the people who were lynched. We must not forget the history of slavery and how the prison system is now just another version of it. Finally, as we are doing this work, the poor black and brown people who are unjustly in jail must not be forgotten.