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Emergent strategies for social change

By Jonathan Rhodes
On November 10, 2017

Senior nursing major Rebecca Mccloskey hugs Adrienne Maree Brown during the book signing after the lecture.
Jonathan Rhodes/The Lion's Roar

The 13th annual social justice speaker Adrienne Maree Brown, author of “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds,” gave a lecture to university students, encouraging them to engage in social change and make a difference.

Brown explained how the struggles of running a business as an interracial couple inspired her.

“I look at my parents, and I think they are so brave,” said Brown. “In every interpersonal interaction that they have, they are like, ‘We are going to fully be ourselves and let love guide this moment. If we were able to find each other, we could find a way to connect with anybody that comes through those doors.’ Sometimes I get really annoyed with them and want them to do more, and other times I feel overwhelming respect for their bravery to let love lead their lives.”

Brown explained how from that place of love she understood that love was the way to connect people and help them be who they are.

“That’s where I come from,” said Brown. “When my parents fell in love, what they were doing was considered impossible. That’s what I was born into. Love is the thing that makes the impossible become possible. Love is the thing that makes us overcome the walls that get built up and the ways that we are told we are inferior or superior. Love is the thing that gets us through to our humanity, to our togetherness.”

Brown asked the audience if they had family members who had been in prison, been addicted or been homeless to show that the things people are taught not to talk about with their families are more common than society thinks.

“It’s very easy to say, ‘Oh that’s happening to someone else,’ but when I actually check in with audiences, almost always it’s happening with those people,” said Brown. “But, we don’t talk about it. These are things we are taught to be ashamed about, and I think if we are ashamed and we don’t talk about it, then we never see how widespread it actually is. This is happening to everybody. If you start to realize that there are more of us who are impacted by it than those who are not, you realize that not talking about it, then that tiny percentage are benefitting from not talking about it. I don’t want to see these things politicized. I just want us to get better about how we treat each other as a species.”

The inspiration for the book “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” comes from science-fiction writer Octavia Butler.

“Octavia’s book is a collection of original science-fiction from people who are trying to shape change, change the world,” said Brown. “Change does not just happen to us. We get to shape it. If you think change is only ever happening to you then you become a victim. It’s very easy in an oppressive system to feel like, ‘Everything is happening to me.’ I never deny that these oppressive systems exist, but the only people who have gotten free are the ones who are willing to stand up against it.”

Students were impressed with Brown’s openness and her inspiring words on how to be socially active.

“What I enjoyed the most about the speaker was her unique viewpoint, being gay and being in a polyamorous relationship and having her unique viewpoints on life and seeing herself as different but still working with the community and seeing everyone else as a member of the society,” said senior criminal justice major Garrett Alline. “Even though we have huge differences, we all have the same problems, and that can really draw us together to fight for social justice.”

Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Marc Settembrino was proud of the turnout and of the response from the students for the “Social Justice Lecture Series.”

“We had standing room only,” said Settembrino. “We ran out of chairs and programs. Students almost never stay for the questions and answers. But Adrienne was really engaging and was speaking to the experiences of our students, and they wanted to feel that with her.”            

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