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MSU 2023 'Slavery To Freedom' Lecture Series preview: Marley Dias, Angela Davis, Freeman Hrabowski

Marley Dias (left), Angela Davis (center) and Freeman Hrabowski (right) are the featured guests for the 2023 "Slavery To Freedom" Lecture Series at Michigan State University.
Courtesy
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MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine
Marley Dias (left), Angela Davis (center) and Freeman Hrabowski (right) are the featured guests for the 2023 "Slavery To Freedom" Lecture Series at Michigan State University.

Michigan State University begins its annual Black History Month observance with the return of a campus tradition.

On Thursday, the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine presents the first of three speakers as part of the 2023 Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series, Slavery To Freedom.

This year’s speakers include Marley Dias, founder of the #1000BlackGirlBooks project, political activist Angela Davis and former University of Maryland-Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski.

WKAR’s Kevin Lavery spoke with Associate Dean of Diversity and Campus Inclusion at the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, Marita Gilbert.

Interview Highlights

On the success of #1000BlackGirlBooks

It (#1000BlackGirlBooks) has really become more of a movement to help young people see themselves in children's texts and the literature that's available to them, and to have aspirational and inspirational characters with whom they can identify.

On campus diversification efforts

So, (I’m) thinking about how it is that we diversify the folks who walk around our campus, whether they’re professors or academic success specialists or running the labs…really think about diversifying the folks that we see so that we can attract a student population that reflects our community.

Interview Transcript

Marita Gilbert: So, as we thought about having these intergenerational dialogues, it was clear to us that we should invite Marley Dias, who is the creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks.

If you know her story, she started as a preteen, really just trying to find books in her local libraries or bookstores that had characters that looked like her, or that had experiences similar to her and was not successful.

It gave her the drive to actually seek these books out and to collect them, and so that's how #1000BlackGirlBooks was born.

But it has really become more of a movement, right; to help young people see themselves in children's texts and the literature that's available to them, and to have aspirational and inspirational characters with whom they can identify.

Kevin Lavery: And have we seen a substantial ripple effect because of her work? Are we seeing a lot more diverse characters in children's literature? Are we seeing more Black girl protagonists books in the hands of kids now?

Gilbert: I think we are definitely moving the needle. I think Marley's work has been exceptional. I think some other events that have happened recently, have also been an impetus for us to be able to have more literature, children's literature, that is more representative of all of us. I think Marley kind of planted the seed for us. And I think I think that it has been watered and nourished and I think we're starting to see the bloom now.

Lavery: The next speaker who comes up later in the month is Dr. Angela Davis, who is a legendary political activist and figure in American history.

She's probably best known as someone who supported three inmates at Soledad Prison. They were charged with killing a prison guard. It turned out that she had bought several firearms that were used in that attack. She was a fugitive from justice for a while. When she was finally brought to trial, and jailed for more than a year. There was a huge national campaign for her release, she was found not guilty. This is someone who really bounced back to create a real trailblazing career.

Gilbert: Yes. Dr. Davis grew up in Birmingham, and knew the four little girls who were killed in a Birmingham church during Sunday school by a bomb.

That probably set the tone for her to think about, you know, what might freedom look like?

What I would say is in terms of evolution, in terms of even how we think about and talk about freedom movements and connecting with them, what are the tactics that best serve the work now? I would say that has probably been an evolution.

And I think it's worthy for us to think about what we've learned, what tools served us well in a previous generation, and are those useful now as the world has shifted and changed?

And what does it really look like for us to fully embrace an antiracist community? And what does it look like for us to fully appreciate all of us who live in and celebrate this country?

Lavery: The final speaker in the series is Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President Emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. What does he bring to the table for this speaker series?

Gilbert: This is someone who is an icon to us in higher education. I celebrate him for being able to use all of the training and all of the scholarship to actually make what I call inclusive excellence; to actually make it actionable.

So, in thinking about how it is that we diversify the folks who walk around our campus, whether they are professors, whether they are academic success specialists, whether they are running the labs, really think about diversifying the folks that we see so that we can attract a student population that reflects our community. He's been able to do that.

Lavery: I also understand, Dr. Gilbert, you have a few community engagement events that are going to accompany this series this year.

Gilbert: The Slavery to Freedom series is going to collect 1,000 Black girl books that we plan to distribute to families in the Greater East Lansing-Lansing area in three ways.

The first is, we're going to do a book distribution. Second, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters partnered with us to build 10 “little lending” libraries, which we will place throughout our community so that families who may not be able to afford to purchase brand new books can come and receive new books that they can read and then return and share with other families. So, we'll have 10 of those.

Finally, we would like to donate some books to Reading Is Fundamental. So, I'm super excited to be able to not just bring folks to campus to hear our speakers, but also to leave a treasure with our community as a part of the series.

Lavery: Dr. Marita Gilbert is the associate dean of diversity and campus inclusion at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. We've been talking about the 2023 Dr. William G. Anderson Slavery to Freedom lecture series. Dr. Gilbert, it is a pleasure always talking with you, thank you for your time on this.

Gilbert: Thank you so much.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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