June: A time of celebration and sustained activism
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Kijua Sanders-McMurtry shares reflections on the significance of Pride and Juneteenth, resources about MHC’s efforts to combat anti-trans and anti-history legislation and the College’s updates to our 2020 Anti-Racism Action Plan. Read the letter and learn more about the College’s work to combat homophobia, transphobia and racism.
Dear community members,
The powerful words of Sojourner Truth, who once noted “I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me,” are deeply resonant for me today. Sojourner Truth, formerly known as Isabella Baumfree, was a self-emancipated abolitionist and suffragette who resisted enslavement, racism and sexism throughout her life. She was a woman who possessed powerful oratory skills and engaged in steadfast community building. She chose the name Sojourner Truth so that she would never forget to heed the call to fulfill her life’s purpose through her activism.
In 1843, she arrived in western Massachusetts committed to working alongside other abolitionists and joined the Northampton Association for Education and Industry. She purchased a home in Florence, Massachusetts with earnings from her speeches. As a concerted effort to promote racial healing, a memorial park was established in her honor by the residents of Florence. I invite you to visit this park as we gather together this weekend.
Across the nation, there is growing political fervor to ban books by Black, Indigenous, authors of color, and LGBTQ+ writers. In at least 44 states, lawmakers are seeking to obscure American history and the roles of racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia and other forms of oppression throughout U.S. history.
To fight back against anti-history legislation, we’re joining with the Zinn Education Project and hundreds of other organizations in a nationwide day of action in defense of banned books and teaching the truth. To learn more about the Teach Truth Day of Action this Saturday, June 10 and our plans to participate in the day of action at the Sojourner Truth Memorial in Florence, MA visit the MHC events page. You can learn more about our day of action plans and other efforts across the nation as well as past and present efforts to challenge and ban books via this resources page.
The Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights
In the month of June, we are reminded annually to reflect upon the powerful struggle for freedom and justice that led lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people to resist as they were being harassed at the Stonewall Inn by police officers on June 28, 1969.
Activist Sylvia Rae Rivera, who recalls being there that night, spoke out against injustice with the words: “We have to be visible. We are not ashamed of who we are.” It is within this powerful statement, that we find pride in the beauty of what it means to be members of the LGBTQ+ community with ancestors who pushed every one of us to resist shame.
As we honor Pride, it is important that we remember those whose struggle has secured this time of celebration. And, as we celebrate, it’s vital that we continue to fight for freedom, to speak out against homophobia, transphobia, racism and all the ways in which the LGBTQ+ community is under siege.
Across the nation, anti-trans legislation threatens the safety of millions. As a community, Mount Holyoke is committed to affirming the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people. However, affirming TGNC lives at MHC is not enough. We must continuously educate ourselves about how the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming people are threatened and fight with the TGNC community to bring an end to these draconian laws and to create safer spaces for TGNC people to live and learn.
This week we are launching a series — “Strategies for Queer Liberation, Safety and Solidarity.” In the first video, “Resisting Oppression: Showing up in Solidarity for our TGNC Community with Attorney Rachel Weber,” Weber talks through mutual aid, the history and legal basis states are using to craft anti-trans bills and strategies for anyone and everyone to organize and resist transphobia.
We invite you to learn more about Pride, local celebrations and our own LGBTQ+ history at Mount Holyoke which highlights a rich tradition of queer activism and visibility past and present.
Juneteenth, historically known as Jubilee Day, marks the day that enslaved people in Texas were notified that their freedom had been determined two and half years earlier with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The delay of this announcement was rooted in a long history of racism and anti-Black violence that continues to this day.
Just as Black people in 1865 joyously celebrated news of their emancipation in spite of the unconscionable, years-long delay, the contemporary Black community continues to celebrate a still imperfect freedom. Three years ago, after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, corporations and organizations created Black Lives Matter campaigns, yet we continue to be plagued with the truth that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that Black people, their ideas and voices are valued. Amidst persistent threats to Black life, we honor the ongoing struggle for Black liberation.
Opal Lee, the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” is the lifetime activist whose tireless efforts made Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday in 2021. As efforts to celebrate Juneteenth proliferate beyond the Black community, it is important to reflect on Opal Lee’s vision for the day and remember that Jubilee Day has long been celebrated by the Black people in fellowship with one another. At 96, Opal Lee continues to commemorate Juneteenth with a walk for freedom, and she encourages all of us to walk with her, wherever we are and however we are able (https://opalswalkftworth.raceroster.com).
We invite you to learn more about Juneteenth and ways that you can address anti-Black racism and work to realize a more perfect freedom for the Black community and, in turn, us all.
Anti-Racism Action Plan
As a Mount Holyoke community, we have prioritized our work toward an anti-racist, collective future. In the summer of 2020, we set forth an Anti-Racism Action Plan to build toward that future. Each year we take stock and evaluate the progress we’ve made and the work we’ve yet to accomplish. You can learn more about the plan, our work across the College over the past year and resources to continue on your own anti-racist journey on the College’s website.
Anti-racist work requires a sustained commitment to understanding oppression, analyzing power and attending to the present realities and complex legacies of harm. It also periodically requires inspiration. I continuously find both in the work of Mount Holyoke student activists past and present.
Student organizers in the 1990s were tenacious in highlighting the interconnectedness of oppressions. They understood that liberation must be sought across all marginalized groups. Students created “Libertad” to record, reflect upon and address the experiences of the oppressed at Mount Holyoke. It was a publication for “the people who are constantly being silenced, diminished or ignored in an indirect or direct way.” They envisioned “Libertad” as an outlet for marginalized persons to “feel free to speak, a space which can offer them support.”
More than thirty years after “Libertad”’s creation, in our third year of our Anti-Racism Action Plan journey, I’d like to think we are collectively living into “Libertad”’s mission — that Mount Holyoke is a community ever-deepening our commitment to creating space for and affirm the lives of those who have been silenced, diminished or ignored, whether historically or in the present moment, directly or indirectly. Harkening back to the words of Sojourner Truth and Sylvia Rae Rivera, I remain purposefully focused on the light of this world and I refuse to be silent or invisible in this struggle against oppression.
While there is much work to do, I am deeply grateful to each of you for your continued, and growing, commitment to our shared, anti-racist future and to your daily efforts to reckon with racism and all forms of oppression and to create spaces where we can share our struggles, build collective power and work toward a more perfect freedom.
I remain grateful to be in community with each of you.