Scholars Forums and Planning Future Events

I am probably more of an organizer than an educator or activist/demonstrator.  When I was a kid we always had cheese sandwiches with fruit sauce and popcorn on Sunday nights while watching Walt Disney so one day I tried to institutionalize this fine tradition by announcing to my family, Hey, lets do this every Sunday night! As if we weren’t already doing it.

As Assistant to WISR’s President, Student and Facutly member for many years, I’ve learned that planning well attended seminars at WISR has always been a challenge since they are not required.  Sometimes we have hit the mark and have been able to bring together students in individualized learning programs to have a chance to discuss and learn from each other.  It can be helpful to pool a community of learners for dialogue to cut one’s teeth on social change issues of the day as well as to learn the skills for Action Research vital to get through WISR’s programs.

Some years ago we had a Black Scholars Forum in February, honoring Black History month.  It might have been my idea as I tend to come up with a lot of ideas.  With advice from Drs. John Bilorusky and Cynthia Lawrence, we invited three African American WISR alumni: Shyaam Shabaka, Vera Labat and William Cavil, to speak on a panel.  The main table in WISR’s seminar room was full and people sat to the side as well.  The topic seemed to fill a need and the participants wanted more. WISR Factulty Member Vera Labat ended up taking over the leadership and it met for several more months until mid summer as I recall.  It tapered out but the question resurfaces on occasion, should we have a Black Scholars Forum annually?  Should we have it at other times of the year, not just Black History month?

I got the sense that some people wondered why I was there though since I wasn’t Black.  Growing up in a white middle class neighborhood, I was concerned about racism.  Going to Africa with my parents was a way for me to deal with racism as a teenager.  I had the chance to visit Johannesburg for a couple days and East Africa for a month when my uncle was a missionary in Tanzania.  Because I cultivate knowledge of my own Scandinavian culture I realized that this first hand experience is something needed by African Americans as well.  Years later at WISR I learned that WISR Student Shyaam Shabaka has done just that, and taken numerous groups to visit countries in Africa.   One of our WISR Faculty/Students, Larry Loebig, worked for the The Black Scholar Journal.  I hope we can form a committee perhaps to plan these at least an annual basis.  But there are many other themes we could plan around as well.

I’ve organized with people on many social change projects and am often a little in the background but sometimes in front.  I like to see it as a power sharing venture though there are times we need to give weight and listen to those with the most knowledge of the situation instead of taking the stage, meaning well, when those we would purport to help need to be heard.  In 1988, I co-instigated what developed into the Year of Black Hawk in Rock Island, Illinois, the home of the Sauk and Fox Native American, working with a descendant of Black Hawk who was active in the Indian movements in the Bay Area.  Then we went out to Danville and worked with the Automobile and UC Berkeley museum there to find out how they came to use that name, and to commemorate this.

As the Black Scholars Forum petered out, some faculty were saying, why don’t we have an International Scholars forum, or an Asian Scholars forum and a Native American scholars forum, etc.  With the new WISR space, we are eager to have events and invite people.  We are all set up to show films.  I want to suggest that we put together committees around different cultures and themes, to plan at least one event per year that could be tied to a specific time of year (this of course is optional but an effective way to rally people).  My ideas include: Black History month; Native American History month; Earth Day; and 9/11 – the anniversary of the Coup in Chile and Latin American history.  In addition to planning an event, each topic could have a blog or put together a printed group of papers.  All it would take is a minimum of commitment and the WISR staff and other volunteers would do their best to help promote it.  Having things planned out way in advance, would make it much easier to get the word out and bring people in.

I want to suggest that we put together committees around different cultures and themes, to plan at least one event per year that could be tied to a specific time of year (this of course is optional but an effective way to rally people).  My ideas include: Black History month; Native American History month; Earth Day; and 9/11 – the anniversary of the Coup in Chile and Latin American history.  In addition to planning an event, each topic could have a blog or put together a printed group of papers.  All it would take is a minimum of commitment and the WISR staff and other volunteers would do their best to help promote it.  Having things planned out way in advance, would make it much easier to get the word out and bring people in.

I ask that each WISR Student, Faculty, Board Alumni and Community Learner/Supporter consider picking one topic that is close to your heart, though if you pick two, no one is likely to complain.  John Bilorusky and I can help coordinate and find more participants from WISR’s network.  You don’t have to go to a lot of meetings, just agree to join a committee, help put something together and make every effort to attend.    Last but not least, students can of course get credit for all of this through the normal channels of writing papers and for doing action research and learning about social change, depending on what your subject area is.

Here is a list for starters to consider.

Music and Social Change

Environmental/Earth Day

Black/African diaspora

Latin American

Native American/indigenous

Scandinavian

Irish

Gay/Lesbian…

Yoga scholars

Asian scholars…

Conflict Resolution

Coaching

Other WISR Core areas to organize around could include Social Action Research, Writing, Social Change Theories.

This entry was posted in Race and Class, Social Change, WISR Seminars. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Scholars Forums and Planning Future Events

  1. Marilyn:
    I am excited about the notion of resurrecting the Black Scholars Forum in some form or fashion. I think the name needs to be changed to something like: “Racism: WISR Students and Scholars Review the Black Experience in the USA from Diverse Perspectives.”
    I would be willing to participate in one such forum by presenting an overview of my experience in the Civil Rights Movement possibly entitled: “Light, Bright, Damn Near White” which is the title of a book I’m working on for possible publication by WISR Press.

    • That sounds great, Richard. What I’m looking for is a committed core group to pick one topic each to plan an event for once a year. Racism is a topic that interests many as well. The Black Scholar Forum attracted so many people that it would be a shame not to present it again. It will depend however on who agrees to organize what. Thanks for your suggestion.

    • Richard, I think it would have been great to have you do an event at WISR around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Let’s brainstorm when you could present soon. Great that you are working on a book!

  2. John Bilorusky says:

    I think Marilyn has put forth some excellent ideas and possible directions for us to begin to create more seminars, film showings/discussions, community think tanks, or other community-oriented group learning activities at WISR. Our new space is large enough to accommodate over 40 people, and it has nice ambience and a central location in South Berkeley. One of my main concerns and suggestions as we move forward with a number of ideas/themes for events, is that we don’t have a lot of events and only two or three participants per event. We are a relatively small learning community, and most of our members are busy with a lot of work, family and other commitments. So, in order for those attending an event, I think it is important that we make every effort to have a “critical mass” of at least four to six people attending each event. With this goal in mind, I’m going to suggest that any person, or persons, organizing a seminar or event take on responsibility for “recruiting” at least 4 to 5 participants in addition to themselves. These participants do not have to be members of the WISR learning community–they can be people who are not necessarily students, alumni/former students, faculty or Board. I am very happy to work with Marilyn and others to facilitate such efforts.

    • Thanks for your comments, John. I want to reemphasize that I want to organize groups of people to agree to help put together one event per year on a topic agreed upon by each group. It is helpful to organize around a date event, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday or Indigenous Peoples Day or 9/11, when people are paying attention to that topic already and we can provide a way to pursue it further.

      I also think these groups could gather written essays to print or publish online on their given topic.

  3. John Bilorusky says:

    HI Marilyn, I think your last explanation above might well be written up as part of the longer program description for the conference! Sounds good. John

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>