The screen is black and white as a clip plays of James Baldwin, the widely admired writer and activist of the 1960s, where he speaks on achieving transformative racial equality in America.
Suddenly, a voice proclaims “AMERICA, WE ARE HERE.”
Somber, jazz-like melodies begin to play as the screen bursts back into color, this time a montage: swarms of protesters boasting #Black Lives Matter posters, syringes pressed into arms for inoculation, the face of a scornful Trump, viral footage depicting police brutality, Joe Biden beaming alongside his election results, crowded Covid testing sites, and even more protests.
The hellish congestion of 2020 in a nutshell.
At the end? A snippet of 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman at this year’s Presidential inauguration, boldly reciting, “There’s always light if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
The opening sequence of this years Jackie Robinson Arts & Humanities Lecture Series (JRLS), rightfully themed “Art as Activism in the Era of COVID-19 and Civil Unrest in the USA: Re-set, Re-Discover & Re-Imagine,” is only a minute long; yet, sets a powerful, impassioned tone for the rest of the night.
The evening’s program, brought to audiences by coordinator and PCC history professor Christopher D. West as part of the college’s Diversity Initiative Division, marks the production’s return for an impressive ninth season. This year’s virtual series is spread into four parts, with each installment seeking to delve deeper into a given aspect of its core theme.
The JRLS program overall seeks to engage, educate, and entertain the community through hosting conversations and performances focused on diversity, inclusion, and the Black-American experience.
Perhaps one of the programs most exuberant guest was two times Hollywood Grand Slam Poetry Champion, Kito Fortune, whose booming voice and sharp gaze whilst reciting his poem “Pandemic” quickly melted into a playful cheerfulness as he discussed the semantics of his poetry alongside returning JRLS host and curator Charles Reese. The young poet clearly wowed audiences, as several participants weren’t shy in expressing their affinity for his work.
The event also brought forth a trio of guest panelists, consisting of revered PCC alumni: musician and actress Chelsea J., Engineer Bryan Bloomfield, and current U.C.S.B. Physics major Shannon Ramirez Slater. The conversation, which was later joined by Interim Dean of Non-Credit Division William E.L. Syms tackled the evening’s topic of the educational pipeline and how students can make the successful leap from community college to a four-year university.
The dialogue between panelists showcased vulnerability, with each guest speaker candidly detailing the hardships of juggling academics and finding one’s own passions and path in life. Under Reese’s careful questioning, the audience was able to catch a glimpse of just how much self-ambition and perseverance are needed to achieve personal goals.
Thus, in a time where people across the globe desperately seek distance and isolation for their physical health, the Jackie Robinson Lecture Series serves to emphasize and tend to the community’s mental and emotional wellbeing too. Above all, the message of the evening echoes a popular sentiment from James Baldwin himself: Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.