Literature and African American voices

Illustrated old books

Students, staff, and faculty gathered together in the library to discuss the empowerment of African American literature in the black community and how the literature reflects the past and current society in the United States.

The discussion was led by fellow Moraine Valley professor, Dr. Amani Wazwaz and the students from her African American literature class.

Dr. Wazwaz began the discussion by giving a preliminary summary of the topics to be discussed within the forum. The atmosphere shifted to a more serious tone as Dr. Wazwaz dove right into her points regarding systematic racism and oppression throughout the course of American history. Taking excerpts from Michelle Alexander’s book entitled The New Jim Crow, Wazwaz described in detail how the evolution of systematic oppression has given a definite meaning and significance of race in America.

She used the examples of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration to show overtime how the color of their skin defined African Americans first as slaves, then as second class citizens, and finally as criminals in the American society.

This was news to several audience members; however, majority of the crowd was unsurprised by the revelations in Alexander’s book, yet they still seemed amazed too by the realness of hearing those words out loud. One student by the name of Brandon spoke out with a heartfelt response. “It’s upsetting to know that someone the same age as me, but a different race can commit the same crime as me, but would receive a lesser sentence.” Dr. Wazwaz continued to lead the discussion in regards to self-love and unity within the African American community.

Using quotes from African American writers and celebrities such as novelist Toni Morrison, activist Frederick Douglass, and world renowned boxer Muhammad Ali, Wazwaz and her students presented an overall theme of how African American literature encourages spiritual and intellectual advancement of African Americans. Some of the questions brought forth for discussion: How do we encourage self love in African American children? What are some acts of self empowerment you have seen in others? What we can we learn from writers and activists about the importance of unity?

The audience engaged in genuine dialogue that brought up some thought provoking questions and intellective statements about race and oppression in American society. As in all, the discussion on black excellence in literature lead the audience to have a in depth view of African Americans in society. It appeared that everyone who participated in the lecture walked away feeling as if they received some valuable information, and hopefully will put their newly obtained knowledge to great use.