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Angela Davis and Nas to headline rescheduled MLK talk

Nas has been nominated for 11 Grammy awards and has sold over 25 million albums worldwide.

Author, educator and activist Angela Davis and hip-hop artist Nas will visit Lehigh on Monday, March 10 at 8 p.m. in Baker Hall at the Zoellner Arts Center, in celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Doors will open at 7:15 p.m.

The event, which was previously scheduled for January 21, was rescheduled due to weather conditions. This year’s MLK award winners for dedication to social justice will also be honored at a ceremony prior to the event.

“We are very excited for the opportunity to bring Dr. Davis and Nas together for this event,” said Tyrone Russell, director of multicultural affairs and co-chair of the planning committee. “We were very fortunate to come to an agreement to bring Nas to campus to interact with our community. This allows us to achieve our goal of a conversation between two different individuals engaged in important work.”

The conversation will also focus on current civil rights challenges, especially the criminal justice system. Their visit headlines the revamped, year-long focus on social justice led by Lehigh’s MLK planning committee, and will be moderated by James Peterson, director of Africana Studies and professor of English.

Davis first achieved fame in the 1960s as a prominent, outspoken activist on issues related to social justice and equality. The author of eight books and a sought-after lecturer, she has spent the past 15 years at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she is now Distinguished Professor Emerita of history of consciousness, an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program, and feminist studies. Davis is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia that works in solidarity with women in prison.

Davis’ work in recent years has focused on the range of social problems associated with incarceration and communities most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. Her most recent books are Abolition Democracy and Are Prisons Obsolete?, about the abolition of the prison industrial complex, and a new edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Ranked among the greatest hip-hop artists of all time by MTV, The Source and other outlets, Nas has enjoyed a successful career that has spanned over two decades and ten studio albums, six of which have topped the Billboard 200 in the United States. To date, he has sold over 25 million records worldwide and received 11 Grammy nominations; his most recent album, 2012’s Life is Good, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. On April 15, Nas will release a special 20th anniversary edition of his critically acclaimed debut, Illmatic, which will feature several rare and unreleased demos and remixes to commemorate the occasion.

A native of Queens, N.Y., Nas’ music blends commentary on socioeconomic issues with poignant references to race, African culture, religion, politics and more. His work has crossed into the academy as well. In 2013, the Hiphop Archive & Research Institute at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center established the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship, a fund for artists and scholars whose work is related to Hip-Hop. He also recently announced a new television series, Street Dreams – a biographical drama that will recount the trials and tribulations of Nas as he worked to establish himself in the music industry in the 1990s. Nas has been an avid supporter of UNICEF, working to raise funds for the Horn of Africa region in East Africa. He also donated all proceeds of Distant Relatives, his 2010 collaboration with Damian Marley, to help end poverty in Africa.

A year-long focus on social justice

In previous years, groups of staff, faculty and students planned a series of events in mid-January to honor King. This year, however, the planning committee upgraded the week-long celebration to a year of active reflection and dialogue about the causes for which King is remembered.

This year’s planning committee, under the direction of Russell and Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies and university chaplain, is aiming to engage the university community throughout the academic year. Among the first events held on campus was the “Trayvon Martin, Race and Justice” discussion held in October. The committee also hosted a discussion of Davis’ book, Are Prisons Obsolete, which was led by Steffen and CalvinJohn Smiley ’08, ‘09G, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the CUNY graduate center in New York.

“It’s not just a celebration for a week,” says Russell. “It’s more effective to institutionalize these beliefs across our campus in different forums and in ongoing conversation. We want to look at all ways to engage—across the campus and with local groups—and we want to find ways to look at what’s happening at the national level and make those issues relevant for our campus community.”

In addition to the series of events, Lehigh will continue to honor the contributions of those whose abilities and achievements uphold and exemplify the teachings and ideals of King through the annual MLK awards.

In addition to Russell, Steffen, and Peterson, MLK Committee members include Gordon Moskowitz, psychology professor and department chair; Monica Miller, professor of religion studies and Africana Studies; Darius Williams, professor of theatre and Africana Studies; Silagh White, director of arts engagement and cultural affairs; Allyson Baer ’12, a graduate student in comparative and international education; Brenda Martinez ’15, a journalism major and founder of Dream and Act LU; Karl Brisseaux ’11, communications associate and a graduate student in American Studies, and Linda Harbrecht, director of communications.
 
 
Photos courtesy of Angela Davis and Nas

Story by Karl Brisseaux '11

Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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