By Anna Mitchell ’22
Anticipation. The way so many stories begin. A student DJ livened up the room, as audience members trickled in, shimmying their way into spotted rows, chatting, wondering. Wondering what to expect. For many, I imagine, Dr. Bettina Love is already an inspiration and each iteration of her—whether it be an article or an interview, a photo or an essay—an affirmation of that inspiration. For others, such as myself, that inspiration had yet to flower. And flower it did.
To celebrate Dr. King’s life, work and legacy, a team of dedicated faculty members formed and now serve as the Dr. MLK Jr. Commemoration Planning Team. The committee promotes empowerment and purpose, emphasizing Dr. King’s philosophy on the liberating nature of social justice and education as intertwined and interdependent entities. Along with organizing an annual day of service in his memory, the team brings a noteworthy speaker to join us in Claremont and share a lecture honoring Dr. King. This year, the team partnered with Scripps Presents to bring us the esteemed author, scholar, and activist, Dr. Bettina L. Love.
Love’s work has been featured by many, including The Atlantic, The Guardian, and NPR. In 2014, Dr. Love was invited to a White House research conference to speak about her research on Black girls in the United States. Signed copies of her latest publication, a book entitled “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” were available—and in high demand—after the lecture.
As she took the stage, Love’s charisma, radiance, and dynamism were immediately evident. However, the longer I listened, the more I understood how these words only begin to convey the great depth, kindness, strength, and beauty of her presence.
Emblazoned across the screen behind her was the title of her commemorative lecture, “What Came Before & After King: Abolitionist Teaching & Life,” which she supplemented by such questions as: Why does King get to be who he is? How can white America love Dr. King and not love all black people? What does it mean to be an activist today?
Addressing these central themes, her lecture evolved into a dynamic, captivating, quite frankly, brilliant call to action. She began by rewinding. “The legacy of King starts on the Continent,” said Dr. Love, going on to establish the history of brutality committed against African and African-American peoples and the superhuman resilience with which such brutality has been met.
Love also highlighted the multi-faceted intersectional struggles our country encounters today, from deaths of young black men by the police, to the breach of treaties with indigenous peoples at Standing Rock, to school-shootings and the climate crisis.
She spoke in detail on education, the plight of segregated schools in United States (of which there exist over 8,000), and challenged the notion of a school-to-prison-pipeline, arguing that schools themselves are becoming more and more like prisons for many black and brown children throughout the country. She projected the example of a midwestern school using solitary confinement as a form of punishment for its students.
“It starts with our schools. From the very beginning of your educational experience you are segregated,” stated Love.
Throughout her lecture, Love argued that we must all collectively and collaboratively recognize and empower “the beauty, ingenuity, and creativity of Blackness.” To understand, love, see, teach and be in solidarity. And then, we act.
Be an abolitionist. Be active, be accountable, and, depending on your identity, either create the freedom dream or share in it. A dream, as she describes it, of a just and loving world.
“We live under Whiteness,” stated Love, going on to express the pressing need to remove what she calls the “White Vision Glasses” that distort reality to see, for example, the backpacks of young Black people as storage for weapons or drugs, not notebooks, lunch boxes, laptops, and pencils.
Love then discussed privilege as a form of stored capital, asking those who possess it to “spend [their] capital.” Referencing a passage from the renowned James Baldwin, Love stated: “It’s time that we go for broke.”
After bringing the audience unanimously to their feet in an eruption of emphatic applause, Love proceeded to prove the consistency of her energy and message in compassionately responding to questions. She offered words of encouragement and of experience, both as a seasoned academic and activist.
In response to one query from a young audience member on how to spread this message of action to those who could not hear her speak, Love offered two answers. One: check out her online curriculum developed through extensive research, interviews, and travels. Two: take it into your own hands.
“Don’t leave here in despair…thinking that you can’t be a part of something great. Because it’s happening. [And y]ou have power,” she said, lodging the most resilient sort of courage, if not in all hearts, at least in mine.
So thank you, Dr. Bettina L. Love, for reminding us how to act as King would have us act. Thank you for sharing your love, your power, and your hope.