On Jan. 21, the Undergraduate Student Government at the University of Connecticut announced their upcoming Justice Now Initiative via Instagram. The speaker series, set to take place throughout the month of February, centers on amplifying the voices and experiences of Black men and women and features a stacked lineup of speakers including Angela Davis, Ilyasah Shabazz, Eddie Glaude Jr. and Martin Luther King III.
The Justice Now Initiative is predominantly the brainchild of Darren Mack, a second-semester English major and USG Alumni Senator. After initially developing an idea to have Angela Davis speak at UConn, Mack was connected with the USG Student Development Committee, which focuses on diversity, social education and advocacy work on campus. Mack worked closely alongside Student Development Chair Christine Jorquera and Deputy Chair Rita Tsafack-Tonleu in order to turn this dream into a reality.
“I wanted a greater sense of Black unity and collaboration on campus,” Mack said in regard to his inspiration behind developing the speaker series. “In my heart, this project had to do some good for the disenfranchised and unheard Black students on campus or it would be another publicity stunt throwaway for really no one’s benefit.”
Mack reached out to a variety of Black organizations and clubs on campus, such as the UConn chapter of the NAACP, in order to better serve the community and fulfill his desire to create a truly impactful, rather than solely performative, event. Mack was also in constant communication with senior agent Drew Sullivan of the American Bureau Program, a leading speaker, celebrity and entertainment agency with an impressive talent roster. Mack referred to the work as “fulfilling.”
“The work, no matter how tedious and miniscule the task, was always important to me because it served a greater good than myself,” he said.
Mack emphasized the importance of creating an event series that would lead to sustained change and conversation on campus, rather than just acting as another example of performative activism.
“This series is not meant to be your average Black History Month program that the university or USG can tout around for a little bit of social clout…”
“This series is not meant to be your average Black History Month program that the university or USG can tout around for a little bit of social clout; it’s a call for people to rise up and challenge the institutions that exploit them, to create a meaningful dialogue amongst ourselves that doesn’t reek of White performativity and guilt and to ultimately usher in an attitude of ‘change-making’ in every part of this institution,” he stated.
The first virtual event of the Justice Now Initiative will take place on Feb. 1 with civil rights and Black feminist activist Angela Davis’ talk entitled “Abolitionist Movements in the 21st Century,” moderated by UConn student Mason Holland. This discussion will be followed by the Feb. 11 event featuring Malcolm X’s daughter, professor and author Ilyasah Shabazz. Her talk, “Melting Pot: Multi-Cultural Diplomacy/Multi-National Patriotism,” will be moderated by UConn student Shane Young.
On Feb. 15, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University Eddie Glaude Jr. will give a talk on “The Paradox of Education for Black & Brown Children,” moderated by UConn student Iyanna Crocket. To wrap up the series, human rights advocate and oldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther King III will discuss “Race & Politics in America,” moderated by Tsafack-Tonleu.
All events will be virtual and begin at 7 p.m. Each presentation will also have a Q&A portion, and students are invited to submit any questions prior to the events at this form, which can also be found at the link in the bio of the USG Instagram.
“These conversations are necessary to bring to the UConn community for two reasons,” Mack said. “Firstly, to amplify and empower the voices of the marginalized, unheard and oppressed and to secondly illuminate the racism, inequality and discrimation that can be found in every predominately white educational institution across the globe.”