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Angela Davis Packs the House for Keystone Honors Academy Benefit

April 19, 2014

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Angela Davis smiles graciously as she receives a standing ovation at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania where she spoke about peace in turbulent times

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Angela Davis spoke before a packed house at Cheyney University on April 17, bringing a message about peace in turbulent times. All monies raised from "An Evening with Angela Davis" will go directly to supporting students in Cheyney University's Keystone Honors Academy. The 70-year-old American icon, scholar, social activist and author covered a lot of ground during her hour-long lecture, touching on many historical events depicting social, racial, and gender inequalities and injustices.  Among the issues closest to her heart: poverty, educational access, and incarceration.

"We are an academic community, and critical thinking is an essential component of the educational process," explained Dean of the Keystone Honors Academy (KHA), Dr. Tara Kent, who was responsible for bringing Davis to Cheyney as a KHA fundraiser. "Angela Davis is someone whose life’s work requires us to engage in critical interrogation. Her engaged scholarship has been applied at the many universities where she has taught, including San Francisco State University, UCLA, Vassar, and Stanford University."   For that reason, many academic communities came to hear what Davis had to say, including students and faculty from University of Delaware, West Chester, Temple, Swarthmore, and Delaware State Universities.

"This is my first visit here," Davis said, calling Cheyney University the "oldest historically black institution of higher learning.  But, already," she remarked, "I've discovered many connections," including a building named after her neighbor's husband, Marcus Foster. "I feel very much at home here," she admitted, to the delight of many.

Despite having a cold and not feeling her best, Dr. Davis commanded attention with her powerful intellect, engaging personality, warm, melodic voice, and profound one-liners that roused the audience, resulting in cheers and applause numerous times. 

Davis said she admired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela because "they never attempted to take individual credit for the collective movements in which they were involved.  They learned as much from their comrades," she said, "as their comrades learned from them."

In addition, Davis said, "this country has much to learn from South Africa."  While South Africa has many of the same struggles such as poverty and incarceration, "South Africa can talk about apartheid without receding into the shadows of guilt," she said. "South Africa, I think, has come so much farther than our country in understanding its own past.  Maybe we should look toward South Africa in that respect." After all, she said, "we have a very long way to go.  We're still confronting the remnants of slavery."

Her first childhood memories, Davis recalled, consist of the sounds of the Ku Klux Klan bombing black homes and churches.  "That was an era of terror," she insisted.  "That was terrorism and that was a part of history--domestic terrorism--we need to admit it."

Davis took a look at the civil rights movement, the Black Panther Party, segregation, and other historical events and reminded the audience not to just observe the anniversaries of these events. Instead, she said, "let's look at the lessons that we can learn so that we can address the problems of today."

When it comes right down to it, Davis said, we're still fighting today for the same rights that our ancestors fought for including full employment, decent housing, free health care, an end to police brutality, and a decent education.

"Dr. Davis inspired me to put on my critical thinking cap and expand my thoughts beyond the realm of what is--into the uncharted territory of limitless possibilities: A different world, a society that is ethical and egalitarian," reflected senior Liberal Studies major Angelitta Anderson. "She helped me to see, that I can possess extraordinary power, as an ordinary being; when I join forces with other ordinary people collectively,we have the power to change the world."

"Dr. Davis has always emphasized our communities' struggle for economic, racial and gender justice issues," said Dr. Virgilette Nzingha Gaffin, CU Associate Professor of English & Africana Studies. "More recently she has focused on what is now referred to as the 'prison industrial complex' and asked the audience to think about a country that devotes more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. She went on to ask us to imagine a 'world without prison' and to help her forge a 21st century abolitionist movement."  Gaffin said she left feeling fired up and ready for the challenge.

“An Evening with Angela Davis” was funded entirely by private donations and was a fundraiser for Cheyney University's centerpiece program, the KHA, which provides a unique educational experience for academically gifted students.  "We were working to raise funds for talented students who do not have the means to access a college education," explained Dean Kent. "The KHA program has strong outcomes, and graduates students at a rate that is higher than the national average for all American colleges and universities, and our students are an excellent investment."

On hand to explain how a KHA scholarship helps students pursue their educational and professional dreams was KHA alumnus Brittany Fox, a 2008 CU graduate, now finishing her second year as a Sociology doctoral candidate at Columbia University, an Ivy League school where she also completed her Masters in Public Administration.  She hopes to teach at the collegiate level, just as Dr. Davis did for years.  She told the audience that because of the KHA, she was able to study abroad in Ghana and spend a semester at the University of Cambridge in England.  Fox also said that her Cheyney education "sufficiently prepared me for my present studies at Columbia," equipping her with the toolkit necessary to be successful.

All monies raised from "An Evening with Angela Davis" will go directly to supporting students in Cheyney University's Keystone Honors Academy.  Among the sponsors: PK Financial Group, Dr. Marion Lane, Savoy Furniture, Kendal Crosslands, and many individuals including faculty members Dr. Lynn Green, Dr. Rita Johnson, Dr. Janet Manspeaker and Dr. Wesley Pugh.

If you would like to learn more about the KHA or make a donation to help the honors students, click www.cheyney.edu/keystone/index.cfm.  All checks should be made payable to The Keystone Honors Academy.