“Getting the Revolutionary Word Heard”
Speech Written and Delivered by Reza Clifton
August 14, 2015

“I May Move” Short Video
Poem, Speech, and Production by Reza Clifton
Distributed September 25, 2015

I want to open up by congratulating each one of you for the work you put in to be a more informed and inspired person in our community. Disagree with me if I’m wrong, but the readings and discussions that shaped this program not only beefed up your awareness of Black history, but of American and World History too! Plus it asked you to look and learn more about yourselves, as you approached and tackled readings that both infuriated you and left you excited. To experience and share such an array of emotions takes courage, which you showed.

As you know, a group of us was gathered to join an advisory board for this space, and to help plan this class, and I’m one of the folks who serves in that capacity. I’d like to recognize and honor the other folks – Rheem Brooks, Cherise Morris, and Sophia Wright. And Marco McWilliams.

I also want to recognize a final advisory board member: Kabir Olawale Lambo, who in many ways, inspired this talk.

Kabir and I met at a networking event where we spoke the entire time, more or less about hip hop and reggae. During the course of the conversation it came up that Kabir had majored in Africana studies at URI, and he was trying to figure out what to do next and where his academic background would lead him. I immediately volunteered to try and help him answer that question. Why? Because I had graduated from URI a decade earlier after pursuing a degree in the same area, and asa professional I’ve always felt guided or served by my degree. Always. I’ve been a self-employed writer, I’ve worked in community health and medical research jobs, I’ve worked doing school reform and building capacity for communities to respond to educational disparities, I’ve worked building college access opportunities and career readiness for teen parents, and more. But I’ve always been guided by my Black Studies background.

I think the reason why is because being a Black Studies scholar is not about where you work. It is about “Getting the Revolutionary Word Heard” no matter where you are.

When you are a Black Studies scholar, Getting the Revolutionary Word Heard is the preparation, the process, and the purpose. That’s because Black Studies scholarship, unlike other humanities areas that exist and lay frozen in theories, formulas and eras, is anchored by themes of resistance, renewal and liberation, all of which are frameworks and positions that must respond to ever-changing realities. Like the lifelong scholarship expected of lawyers and doctors, who must regularly read up on case law and medical journals to better serve their communities, Black Studies scholars have a responsibility to stay aware of and sensitive to changing forms of racism and oppression, while also engaging in, and embodying, self-efficacy, self-advocacy, and self-awareness – where the self refers to you and your community. It is imperative that we do these things not just because we want better lives, but because as Black Studies scholars, we know that these are the same forms of resistance and rebellions brought to bear by our forefathers and mothers, and in whose tradition we proceed. We also know from the journey that brings us here today, that the enemy and mechanisms of white supremacy policies and practices evolve and mutate everyday. For example…

An article came out this past Wednesday in the Washington Post called “Black poverty differs from white poverty,” where writer Emily Badger, had this to say:

“The poverty that poor African Americans experience is often different from the poverty of poor whites. It’s more isolating and concentrated. It extends out the door of a family’s home and occupies the entire neighborhood around it, touching the streets, the schools, the grocery stores. A poor black family, in short, is much more likely than a poor white one to live in a neighborhood where many other families are poor, too, creating what sociologists call the “double burden” of poverty.”

Now, to be honest, I think some of us knew this. In fact, isn’t that why the Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrated at Bernie Sanders’ events? But what does it mean for Black Studies scholars and community activists that the Washington Post is also reporting on it? Are we supposed to wait until the Washington Post does a story before we Get the Revolutionary Word Heard?

Another example for you –

The New York Times had an article back in May submitted jointly by the Editorial Board called “Racial Penalties in Baltimore Mortgages” where some of what they wrote included:

“The mortgage crisis that brought the economy to its knees seven years ago was especially devastating for black communities, where homeowners who qualified for safe, traditional mortgages were often steered into ruinously priced loans that paid off handsomely for brokers and lenders while leaving borrowers vulnerable to foreclosure.

“It found that black borrowers in Baltimore, especially those who lived in black neighborhoods, were charged higher rates and were disadvantaged at every point in the borrowing process compared with similarly situated whites. That money might otherwise have been put into savings, invested in children’s education, or used to improve health or living standards.”

In this story, we see a great example of the fallacy of respectability politics and individuals who might say – forget Black Studies scholarship, forget resistance, and just go buy a house for you and your family. As a Black Studies scholar, you know better; you know that sharecroppers were convinced to work for pay and live onsite while being charged too much for rent and food and, therefore, running debts with their white managers, and you know that the men of Alabama were offered medical service for Syphilis while receiving very little instead. I’m not saying don’t buy a house, of course; I’m saying that we know as Black Studies scholars to look good and long at the fine print.

It’s great that the New York Times finally got to this story; if you’re a Black Studies scholar like me, then you may have pitched this story to a national radio organization back in 2010, and you’ve been telling the story as many ways and times that you can because you are secure enough in your scholarship even after they, and their nationally-renowned host – tried to convince you, through the subtle racist comment, that the problem isn’t a racial one, but, rather, one of people who want to be part of the American dream who just can’t afford it. Um no, I’ll just get the Revolutionary Word Heard elsewhere, thanks.

One way that I have found space and motivation for getting the Revolutionary Word Heard is by working as a freelance writer, multimedia producer and radio personality. In fact almost two years ago, I launched a zine, which is why I’m thrilled that you all collectively created a Black Studies zine as a class project. Not only did the class engage in something I did, but it officially joined the ranks of people like Ida B Wells, Frederick Douglas, WEB DuBois, the Black Panther Party, and others in the resistance and freedom movements who knew the value of education, literacy, and telling our own stories! I hope that you all continue to build bridges between your knowledge, your creativity and your passion through print and digital works.

Remember, all the fuss about the power of Black Twitter isn’t just about hype; it’s about Black Studies scholars like you who are tired of waiting for Washington Post, New York Times and NPR to catch up! In essence, yes, I am endorsing FB, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. These can be powerful tools and spaces. For instance, I use my own accounts to index articles about the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. But by making my index public by using my Facebook wall, I’ve also become a resource for others interested in these topics, and made it known to those interested – love it or hate it  – that I am a Black Studies scholar.

But Getting the Revolutionary Word Heard doesn’t only have to be online. It can be through interpersonal conversations and referrals to a class like this or you can start your own Black Studies space through book clubs, movie nights and networking events. You can also practice personal boycotts or initiate community-wide boycotts and tell people why you’re not buying certain items, and why they shouldn’t either.

By all means, go even smaller, like making sure you speak with authorities when you’ve personally encountered racism, pushing for your children to have quality teachers and rigorous classrooms, laughing, loving, dancing and daydreaming. Yes: laugh, love, dance and daydream. Why? Showing joy rather than angst is revolutionary. Hearts that are joined instead of ankles and wrists is revolutionary. And as Afrotuturism teaches us, imagining ourselves in the future is revolutionary. So Get the Revolutionary Word Heard.

Yes, to you graduates and participants in the DARE Black Studies Program, I say Join Us in Getting the Revolutionary Word Heard.


To read more #3amblack poetry from Reza Clifton

To read the full Washington Post article referenced in the talk

To see the “PVD Black Resistance Zine” produced by the first graduating class of the Fred Hampton Institute for Resistance