By far the most personal offering so far, Barbara Omolade‘s story of coming of age in the civil rights movement was concisely presented as today’s contribution to the January Series. Omolade is currently Calvin’s first Dean of Multicultural Affairs and a noted expert on minority involvement in US Higher Education.
While the focus on the presentation was principally to chart the journey from youthful membership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to her present position, Omolade also slipped in a thesis of ‘generational challenges.’ When asked a question about the success of the Civil Rights movement, Omolade argued that it had met its goals and achieved that generation’s challenge. Our task, she suggested was to identify the corollary challenges of today, and there was a hint that she sees that as extending some of the freedoms of civil rights globally.
I was particularly struck as she talked of how SNCC co-ordinator Ella Baker insisted all her staff and volunteers spend time listening to the voices of the people they were advocating for. All SNCC workers were sent to meet with the victims of segregation and encouraged to respect their voices. It’s amazing how the idea of “listening to the affected” remains radical whenever it’s suggested; how much we need to be reminded to be grounded.