Angela Davis & Gloria Steinem talk Social Justice
By Malcolm D. Anderson
The 2016 Sackler Center First Award ceremony began with respectful uncertainty and admiration for Angela Y. Davis as the sunset illuminated the Beaux Art Court in the Brooklyn Museum.
The reception was blanketed with hushed awe and restrained adulation. Those present exuded grace and an eager desire to hear what the lauded activist would say once seated opposite Gloria Steinem. A flock of 46 strong-minded and driven artists and activists in support of social action comprised the appropriate number of VIPs for an event of such esteem. Eleven of the 46 showed their support in person. Anne Pasternak, Thelma Golden, Kiki Smith, Petah Coyne, Coco Fusco and Faith Ringgold were just a few of the eleven floating around the European wing on Thursday, June 2nd.
The sold out audience was fleshed out by an amalgam of indomitable individuals and organizations of purpose and those still searching for their own fiery impetus, spanning several generations and races—an apropos mixture.
Properly breaking the audience’s enchantment from the surreal moment rapidly approaching, the ceremony began with song. Two rows of young students from the Manhattan Country School, shepherded by Susan Harris house right and Donovan Soumas house left, graced the auditorium with a mesmerizing rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” They flowed from English to Spanish and back to English, coaxing the seated spectators into participation for the last verse.
Elizabeth A. Sackler took to the podium following the performance by the excited youngsters, highlighted the five social action organizations like Black Lives Matter and Girls for Gender Equity and those who sponsored their attendance before she segued the evening with a few words spoken most sincere:
“So this evening is particularly special and important. It’s an evening as the Sackler Center First Awards honored, in one person, all that we hold dear, all for which we strive and all for what we stand, all that has been the foci of our exhibitions and programming, to wit, the fight for freedom, the fight for equity and the fight for justice, we honor Angela Y. Davis.”
The First Lady of New York, Chirlane McCray—who did not have to pay to attend—introduced the educational cut of the Shola Lynch documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners with genuine sentiment of her own.
“This movement we are a part of is not looking for part-time efforts but lifetime members. We need people who are all in, all the time. We need people like Angela.”
Forty-three minutes and innumerable rounds of thunderous applause later, the entire venue vaulted to their feet as Angela Y. Davis and Gloria Steinem assumed their respective positions at the small table center stage. The shoulders of Angela Davis still carry her with the same unadulterated fire which landed her under the suspicion of three crimes all carrying the death sentence back in June of 1970.
The packed house clung to each word uttered for thirty unjustly brief minutes before the pair got the wave from director Anne Pasternak, and the official business concluded with a sigh that it had not lasted just a little bit longer.
The grateful crowd flooded into something that could have been mistaken for a line, yearning for any sort of moment with a hero to many, irrespective of length or kind. Whether every member of the throng achieved their goal or not, all in attendance left in a reverie of self-reflection and revitalized purpose. Angela Davis’ words hung in the air like dust playing in the light:
“We have to act as if it is possible, to create a movement, a revolution and change the world, and it starts with building community.”
Article & Photographs © Malcolm D. Anderson