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Vision & Justice | Friday | Part II || Radcliffe Institute

Vision & Justice | Friday | Part II || Radcliffe Institute


– Good afternoon. Good afternoon. It’s such a pleasure to be
here, to welcome you back to the Vision and
Justice convening, hosted by the Radcliffe
Institute for Advanced Study. I know that it’s been, for
me, an extraordinary morning. And I want to reiterate
my thanks to Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin and all those
in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for the
extraordinary work that’s gone into this. This afternoon, we will be
focusing on the role of culture in shaping narratives
in civic space. We’ll do this through
a set of panels. The first one will
focus on public art, the next on technology,
and finally, narratives involving
mass incarceration. This convening is
about celebrating those who have done the work
of gathering us together to consider these
questions anew. And I’d like to salute
the two individuals who are about to come to the stage
for the extraordinary amount of work they’ve
done, in this regard. I’m so honored to be able to
call them friends, as well as colleagues. The first is the conceptual
artist Hank Willis Thomas, and the second is the associate
professor of art history at Cornell, Cheryl Finley. They will speak
about public art, but will ground the conversation
in celebration of the memorial that Hank Willis Thomas is
doing in collaboration with MASS Design here in Boston, on Boston
Commons, to celebrate and honor the lives of Martin Luther King
Jr. and Coretta Scott King, entitled The Embrace. Please join me in welcoming
Hank Willis Thomas and Cheryl Finley. [APPLAUSE] – Hi, everyone. – Good afternoon,
everyone, and welcome to the afternoon session. Thank you so much, Hank. Thank you, [? Sarah. ?] Thank
you, Vision and Justice. We’re so happy that you’re
all here gathered today, and we’re really delighted
to continue the conversation. I wanted to begin with
that monumental sculpture that you’re about
to embark upon, and this really monumental
commission to shift the conversation, but to
continue some of the themes that we’ve also heard about
earlier today and yesterday, and to shift the conversation
to think about two themes that I think run through your
work quite heavily. One is the theme of
humanity, and the other one is the theme of love. – Yeah, well– [LAUGHTER] –after seeing this morning’s
panel, I realized yeah, sometimes it’s better
to be like, yes. – Yes. – I think a lot about how
James Baldwin said that artists are the legislators
of possibility and the parliamentarians
of hope, and also the need for there
to be a space for intimacy in public life. And that’s something that
Theaster spoke a lot about this morning,
about the way– how do we reorganize or reconsider
the way that we relate to public space, to allow us
to think about the future, and helping it become
our better selves. – I agree. I think the conversation
about futurity is one that this work,
The Embrace, evokes. And I love the way,
through some of the images that we’ve just seen of
the bronze sculpture that’s going to be erected on the
Boston Common in the coming year– the way in which that work
is one that embraces– pun intended– your own manner of working,
where you take iconic gestures that we often see, for
example, in iconic photographs. And you began with the
medium of photography, and then digitally
manipulated photography. But I’d love it if you could
tell us a little bit more about this monumental
sculpture that you’re about to embark upon, and
its relationship to the space where it will be and the
history that it evokes. – Sure. Well, I don’t think I
need to tell people here, but the Boston
Common is the oldest, I think, continuously used
public space in the country, and it is for many reasons. Boston has been so
central to so many moments in our country’s history,
from the Boston Tea Party on down through the
segregation movement. But also, thinking
about, more importantly, related to the MLK
Memorial, where this is the place where Martin
Luther King and Coretta Scott King fell in love,
and that she lived in proximity to that
park, and likely walked through that park. And to think about what it means
for two people, young people studying to come together
and build a relationship, to build a partnership,
and the power of what it means to come together
and to embrace someone. And the way in which
she held up– she was the foundation of
his legacy, in many ways, and carried it on for decades
after he was assassinated. And when we were given this
opportunity to make a proposal, for us, we didn’t want to make
a memorial to just two people, a monument to two people. We wanted to actually create
a call to action, in a way. And so this idea of
a reflective work that shows and embraces
both a reminder to everyone who’s walking there
and walks inside it, that they should think about the role of
what it means to come together with someone. And if there’s
anything that– impact that I would like to
leave on the world, it’s the impact that my
grandmother had left on me and my mom, which
is the power of love to overcome every obstacle. – Right, right. And it’s so true. And the way that you also
offer in this new work the possibility of seeing
oneself, and seeing oneself with others in The Embrace, but
also through the reflectiveness of the sculpture itself. And so to be able to have
something to reflect upon, but also to see this
beauty of humanity in, I think is one of the
most powerful things that this new work is going
to do for the Boston Common. I also like the way
that it evokes, too, the history of
African-Americans, especially in Boston and in and
around the area of the common. Of course, Coretta Scott King
and Martin Luther King Junior, to whom the monumental sculpture
is devoted, but to think about a larger history of
people in Boston from the past, from history, but also
in the present day is something that this work
will do for the city of Boston. So we’re excited to see it. – Me too. – Yeah. – I hate talking
about work before it exists, because it’s like– – Let’s cross our fingers. Well, let’s talk about
something that does exist. So exactly one year ago today,
the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama,
with Bryan Stevenson, unveiled the Peace
and Justice Memorial. This was designed in partnership
with MASS Design group, and also on the grounds of
this amazing and beautiful and moving memorial, there
is a work entitled Raise Up that you have there. And I’d love to hear
a little bit more about the process of thinking
and conceiving of how you would make a memorial
within a memorial, and the memorial that
is to Peace and Justice, but that is very much reflective
upon the legacy of slavery, the legacy, of
course, of lynching, and also the present day
crisis of mass incarceration. Now, I was actually there
about three weeks ago with students from
Spelman College, and we were moved to tears. One of the things that we were
thinking about was not only going to the museum, which is
the first stop on the tour, but reflecting on the
kinds of information– the sort of bombardment of
information about this problem that is exhibited in the museum
through historic photographs, narratives, objects,
works of art– including your own. And then going to the space
of the memorial itself and seeing how some
of the statistics, especially those
relating to lynching, are transformed into
a space of reflection. – Yeah, well, I strongly
believe that artists have a role to play in civic life,
and that we have not been filling our shoes as much
as we could, should, and must, in order to live in the
kind of societies we want. And I also think that civic
leaders should really think of themselves as creatives,
because if they’re always trying to solve problems the
way that they always have, I think that’s– basically, you wind up repeating
history and far too many ways. And I really think of my work in
the National Memorial for Peace and Justice as part of
Bryan Stevenson’s artwork, because it is a
monumental artwork of the memorial and the museum. And as a conceptual work
of art to create and hold space for an element
of our country’s legacy that has been far too
ignored and not acknowledged, and then having this piece– bringing artists like
myself and Sanford Biggers, and Titus Kaphar, and many
others, and working with– – Poets like Elizabeth
Alexander, yeah? – –MASS Design– well, yeah. Ava DuVernay was
there at the opening. And so [? Sarah ?] was there,
[? Darren ?] was there. Hi, everybody else
who was there. [LAUGHTER] But you realize this is artwork,
that Bryan is an artist, and he’s trying to find new
creative ways to address issues that academics have
approached in various ways, artists have approached
in various ways, politicians have– but also the need–
and Skip, you do it all the time with
your documentaries, in telling history in a new way. And I’m incredibly
inspired by that. And my interest in a lot of
the work that I do as sculpture and photography is looking
at historical images as a way in trying to
bring history forward– to not ask people
to go back and look in books to do the research,
but to put elements of historical record that are
overlooked into public space, into galleries and
institutions so that people have to confront it and think
about the present moment in the context of the past. – Yeah. I think you do it so
effectively, not only by looking to
historic photographs– and we can, of course, talk
about the way you grew up. You were in archives
and museums. Your mother, Dr.
[? Deborah ?] Willis, artist and historian of
photography extraordinaire, was at the [? Schomburg ?] as
the first head of photographs. And you grew up in those
archives, so you saw images, and you’ve kind of called from
many collections and histories relating to African-American
peoples in your work. And one of the things that
is really transformative is how you began
working primarily with photography and
in two dimensions, and then transform these
two-dimensional images into something
three-dimensional. And not only just a
three-dimensional sculpture, but also monuments that are
placed in public spaces. And I think it’s really
impactful, especially when we talk about
civic engagement and also responsibility– and not only responsibility
for historians, and artists, and cultural workers, but
also responsibility for people who actually go to these
monuments and experience them. And I’d love to know if
you could say something about the experience
of some of the spaces that your works have inhabited. So that if they’re, for
example, in city squares, or if they’re on lawns and
greens and public spaces, the ways in which people
have a kinesthetic experience by walking through and
experiencing the monuments, I think, reflects some of
the passion of the work that you try to do. – Yeah. I have to acknowledge this
image that’s behind me, and looking at this image of
both propaganda to encourage quote, unquote “white women”
not to vote and to very much discourage black
men not to vote. And thinking about how public
space and propaganda goes out into the world
through advertising, and magazines, and
various mediums that tell us who we
are, what to think, and how we should
navigate the world. And I think my role is to
remind others and myself that I am whoever I think I am,
meaning that I have– my potential is only limited
by my own creative capacity to bring what I want to
imagine into the world. And as a result of that,
I started to think that– something that I really
hold true is that I am you– something that Gordon
Parks has said– that I’m each and
every one of you, and that through
collaboration, I can get to touch as
much as I possibly can and be everywhere
that I possibly can. So I’ve been able to, through
my collaborative projects, be exhibited in airports, and
in museums, outside of museums, and in public sculpture
parks, and all around in five or six or
seven different countries, and now For Freedoms in all 50
states plus DC and Puerto Rico. And my ego isn’t
attached to my name, my ego is attached to my love. So if I can love you and you
do something, I’m like yes, I just did it. And so I have a
real joy in being a small part of a
community of people who are changing the world. And that’s what I saw
when I was watching the slides this morning. And I was like, oh, we’re
all here working together. I don’t think about myself– even though I’ve been
friends with Theaster for almost 15 years, we’ve
never made art together. Then I was like, wait, I
guess we are working together. And thinking about this
collective work that we do, I feel that I am large,
and I contain multitudes, as a great American once said. – Well, and speaking
about collaboration, it seems to me, just after
having written about your work and known you for
much of my life too, I would say that this
need to collaborate is really part of
your working method. And just when you
finished graduate school, you and other artists
formed Cause Collective, and Cause Collective is
one of the collaborative that Hank is very
actively involved in that has, as you
said, mounted exhibitions in airports along the way– – Afghanistan. – –Afghanistan. The Truth Booth has
been just about all over the world– at least
that’s the intention of it. And then For Freedoms, I wanted
to come back to that project too, just to get you to talk a
little bit about it, because it was a really prescient idea
that you and Eric Gottesman started this– you started For Freedoms at a
time that in the country here, we were dealing with
the midterm elections. And you wanted to
address that with art. And you wanted to address
that in a way that would make people think about
what it means to participate in a civic society,
what it means to have your vote
counted, what it means to be able to have your say. And so I’d like for you to talk
about the program, but also the references
that you’re making in the title of the work. – Well, the For Freedoms
50 State Initiative– but actually, For Freedoms
started at a conference that my mother, Deborah Willis,
and [? Ellen Tascano ?] did– Black Portraiture[s] III, II– in collaboration with Skip
and the [? Boyce ?] Institute at NYU in Florence, Italy. And it was a convening
much like this, so I can imagine great
things being born out of this collaboration. And Eric and I were walking
from one session to the next, and we were talking–
it’s May, 2015, and we were talking
about the election season and what we thought
might happen. So our president wasn’t
even running at the time. And we realized that
every election, him and I attended to only speak
around election season. And we would be saying, oh,
so-and-so should do this, so-and-so should be doing that. And we realized
that some point, we need to put some
skin in the game, and that by the inspiration
of all the creative people we around, that we actually
should take the ideas that we have in these conferences
and these convenings and put them out into the world. And so we were very much looking
at an artist’s work that was put out into the world as a way
to tell stories for patriotism, which was Norman Rockwell’s
F-O-U-R Freedoms paintings, which were a representation
of FDR’s Four Freedoms. Which were freedom of
speech, freedom from want, freedom of worship,
and freedom from fear, which he spoke about in his
1941 State of the Union speech, and saying that
everyone in the world was entitled to these
four basic freedoms that we should be
willing to fight for. And Rockwell made
these paintings that showed what these
human rights values were, and how they were
worth fighting for. And they were used to
raise hundreds of hundreds of millions of dollars
for the war effort by the United States government. And we thought that we
needed to be involved with that kind of
propaganda making, so we started an organization– F-O-U-Rfreedoms.com was
taken, so we thought– Eric realized that
forfreedoms.com wasn’t taken. And we decided that
we’re for freedoms, because if we wanted to
actually be thinking forward, we had to be for freedoms that
we, at this point in our lives, may not be willing to
embrace or even consider. And we start off as a super PAC. And we decided
that we were going to be putting critical discourse
into political discourse through fine art thinking,
and asking artists from all over the country and in
the various parts of the world to create billboards with us
that we eventually, in the 50 State Initiative, put
up in all 50 states, plus DC and Puerto Rico. I think [? Biate Ross Smith ?]
and Theaster, who are also here, did billboards with us. So we want to do
over 200 billboards. – Wow. – In the past few years, we’ve
done over 100 exhibitions with artists from over
250 institutions all over the country, and did
over 100 town halls, which were convenings in
the spirit of this, but not as awesome, that really
are centered around artist practices as a form– as inspiration for
civic discourse. So thinking about
mass incarceration with artists who have
been incarcerated, who are challenging what that– how we should be affecting
the criminal justice system, but as well as with
politicians who are also invested [INAUDIBLE] various
projects that we’ve done. – That’s fantastic, and it also
kind of makes me think back to one of your starting points–
if we were to look at, say, the work that you did when
you were in graduate school. And a theme that runs through
your work, this image, I am a man, and this
work here that kind of comes from that iconic
Ernest Withers photograph– a lot of the work and
a lot of the ideas that you have espoused
in your public work and also in your 2D
work has had a lot to do with the ways in which
black men are represented in the media and in photography. And I wanted to ask if
you could talk about some of those initial works that
you did for your thesis show, and the way that you
seamlessly put together images that were
photographically manipulated and placed them in
advertising kiosks– and many people thought
that they were real ads– and how that transformed
your working methodology, going forward. – Yeah, and that also
started with Eric, as well. I was making images that
look like Nike ads– but Nike would probably
never make those images– and wanted to really find
a way– and MasterCard, and Absolut, et
cetera– but wanted to find a way– here the Four
Freedoms paintings behind me. And then this is the original
five of us who started– – Love it. – –For Freedoms, acting as
political operatives in this performance. Because you got to
believe your own hype. – Right? – But I put these
billboards in the MFA show because I’m a master
procrastinator. Every space in the whole
exhibition was already gone, so I was like, it’s fine,
I’ll find something to do. And we were talking
about maybe I’ll get a bus stop or something. So I went to this Viacom
Outdoor, at the time, and said, can I rent the bus stop? And they were like,
it’s $2,000 a day. I was like, I can’t do that. And then I saw these
kiosks that they have on Market Street
in San Francisco, and I was like, how about those? And the guys said,
they’re $500 a day. And the show was 10 days. Ii was like, I don’t
have that kind of money. I was like, how about
$500 for 10 days? And he was like, OK. And somehow it took– they took a crane, it was like
the 3-ton, 12 or 15-foot sign, and they plopped it
out in the courtyard in front of the school. And I remember watching
people walk into the building and being like, this school’s
just getting so corporate. I can’t believe Nike and Absolut
are sponsoring the MFA show. And I realized that
somehow, by just using that language of– their
branding language, that I could add things into that language
that they would have never intended, because
there is something with– our president’s
name means win. For 30 years or 40 years,
you saw a shiny golden sign that said Trump. The power of
branding is so epic. It’s usually a one-way
conversation telling us what to buy, but I think
now, we need to kind of adapt that ubiquitous language,
because you don’t even have to speak a language to
interpret the advertisements. So how do we start
to use branding as this new global language
should tell different stories? And that’s what kind of birthed
a lot of the methodologies that we’ve been doing
with For Freedoms. – Yeah, and then using branding
and cross-branding, even, to be able to speak out and
to transform the civic society that we want to live in. I wanted to ask you
to talk about a work that I really love, that
has the word love in it– many of your works have
the word love in them. And this is a sculpture
that was installed in 2017 in San Francisco
called Love Over Rules, and I’d like for you
to talk about that one and tell us about this
sculpture, which is one that is illuminated at night. These are just the letters,
if you will, in fluorescence, illuminated at night– love over rules. What does it mean,
and why is it there? Why is it such an important site
for the placement of that work? – Yeah, well, I see you’re
wearing an “I am human” shirt. I’ve never seen one
of those in person. I designed that shirt for a
documentary on Maya Angelou, and I’d never seen it in
person, so that’s cool. Thank you. – All right. [APPLAUSE] – And everything
that I can try– and you’re walking around
wearing a shirt that says, “I am human.” Often, when I introduce
myself to people, they say– I say, I’m a person,
and often people giggle. Because we give ourselves
title titles and labels that validate us. But especially as an
African-American man, I think, if there’s
anything I want someone to know about me
from the second I get to speak, it’s
that I’m a person, that I am a human being. Because all too often, our
humanity is not recognized, and I feel like I have this
responsibility to remind myself of that– because people are
fragile, among other things– but also to remind
everyone else of that. And this need to
have intimacy is something that drives a
lot of what I want to do, because I think when you
have intimacy with someone, it’s so much harder to harm
them, at least willfully– often. And my cousin, [? Sanga ?]
Willis, was murdered, and– he was shot at gunpoint
during a robbery. Someone was robbing him. And he was 27 years old. We lived together. Our last argument– because
he was my life plan. I was just like, I’m just
going to sit by on him, and I’ll be fine. And soon after he was murdered– so our last argument
was about I was going to go to San
Francisco to grad school. He’d always wanted to
move to San Francisco. He was like, man, you’re
always following me. I was like, no, I want to
go to school, blah, blah. And literally two days
later, he was murdered. And I wound up moving to
San Francisco without– my plan really was to follow
him, but I wouldn’t admit it. All of a sudden I was at a
loss about who am I, what am I. And then recognizing how often
you know African-American men, young men especially– because
we were bragging that we turned 21 without getting shot– and recognizing how many of
us fall victim to violence, not only from police
violence, but also because of a sense
of not valuing ourselves and each other. And I found some random
recording of my cousin on a disk that someone had. And it was the last– [INAUDIBLE] your cousin, we were
messing around on a microphone right before he died. And the last words that
he said on this recording were love overrules. To me, it was– I feel like it was a
message, not only to me, but to the world, that
I wanted to put out. – Yeah, that’s so prescient. – And it wasn’t clear
if it was love overrules or love over rules. Because I think he always felt
frustrated with the idea– the rules, as a black man. He was an athlete. He had to play sports. He didn’t like
playing sports, but he got to go to college
through playing sports. And a lot of the roles that
he had to play in society, he felt like he needed to do
that in order to be loved. And so for me, I
think a lot of what I wanted to do with
that piece– which was put in San Francisco,
where we were arguing about– on a building,
that, I think, it’s really a monument to my cousin. – It’s such a powerful
monument, but also so simple. The way that you use
words is something that really impresses me. And I’d love it if you could
say something more about that, perhaps referring to
the work that just flashed a little while ago– I am a man. The way that you
use titles and try to think about different
ways that certain titles– – [INAUDIBLE] For Freedoms. – –might mean things. Yeah. – There’s an artist actually
who did a For Freedoms billboard that you’ll see maybe, named
[? Christine ?] [? Zun Kim, ?] and it says, words
shape reality– the words that we choose to
really create the pictures in our mind to create
the world that exists. And sometimes we don’t have
words to describe things. We have to make them. But also, there are
subtle shifts in words, like All Lives Matter was
a response to Black Lives Matters, as if black lives
weren’t part of all lives. And I wanted to put
out All Lives Matter, because a lot of times
people who were saying All Lives Matter meant
all lives matter, but some more than others. – Right. – And so there’s an inherent
kind of mixed message– or hidden message in there. And so what we hoped to do– so
with this 50 State Initiative that you see some of the
younger people on our team are putting up the maps of
where we’re doing projects. We really do think that we need
to have a much more complicated critical public discourse. That you don’t
just see something and have a knee-jerk
response of anger, or joy. But really, what good art
does is it asks questions. And I think it was
E E Cummings who said, always the
beautiful answer, where are the
beautiful questions? Where are the
beautiful questions? And how do we become comfortable
with not knowing the answer? Because the road to progress
is always under construction. Every time we reach
a milestone, we have to recognize that we
have more road ahead of us to develop than
we have behind us. – Sometimes there’s a roadblock. – And sometimes
there’s a roadblock. So that’s a lot of what I’m
interested in with language, and with ideas, and
with the collaborations, is to just put things
in people’s minds and my mind that kind of
infect us with curiosity. So someone else saw that
we were doing lawn signs with For Freedoms, and then
another artist approached the lawn signs from a very
different way, of asking people to write I feel free– and this kind of open
container of being For Freedoms that
is really hopefully as expensive as the human mind. – Yeah, it’s really,
really powerful. And these images that
have been flashing, especially some of the
ones of young people, not only make me reflect
upon the session earlier with the two young
women that was so, so powerful this
morning, but also it made me think about you and this
particular moment in your life. You’re the father to the
new beautiful baby girl. And I’d wanted to ask, how has
this new responsibility changed the way you think about
the work that you do, and the imperative that’s
inherent in the work that you do, what
you need to do, what needs to get out there,
how quickly you might need to get work out there, and the
power of the message that you want your work to have for
your daughter’s future? – Well, we named our daughter
[? Zenzele, ?] which means, in Ndebele– it can be read
many ways, but it’s like you did it for yourself. But it could also be read
as you did it to yourself. And so we gave her
that name, call her [? Zenze ?] because we
want her to recognize that she has her own capacity
within herself to make the world how she
wants it to be. And [? Zenzele ?] is the name
of Miriam Makeba who is also a major inspiration for us. And what I think a lot about, as
far as my role, is patriarchy. And being a cis-gendered
heteronormative man, how do I not put too much of my
own inherited baggage on her, or them, frankly,
to allow them to be the person they want
to be without the need to check anyone else’s
boxes to feel loved? Because if the greatest
gift that any of us is given is our consciousness and our
ability to say I am, saying I am lovable– which is something
that my grandmother had me say from two years old– is the kind of affirmation
that can drive you through all kinds of storms. And then also for
her not to feel that she has to choose
a side or check a box– like I say us is
them, and they are us. Those people over there,
who I don’t want to be like, probably just don’t
want to be like me as much as I don’t
want to be like them. And I’m hoping that I
can just set an example that my mother my father
did of recognizing that love overrules, that
love for yourself can break many rules, and love
for your community can open countless doors. And so these are our versions
of the Four Freedoms images that show real families that
have traveled across country borders and religious
borders to come together, and are making America great
again through their love. – Beautiful. I think we’re going
to end it there. – OK, thank you. – Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] – I just want to thank
Cheryl and Hank once more. So good afternoon, everyone. My name is Kimberly
Drew, and I’m a writer and independent curator. And as the resident
internet person in the room, I just want to
encourage everyone who has a device to be live
tweeting, to be posting, to be sharing, using hashtag
#VisionandJustice today. It’s strongly
encouraged that you use your phones in this room. How cool is that? After kicking off the
convening, I had to pause and reflect upon what I
wanted to say to everyone, as I introduced our next panel. For those of us who
are just joining or those who are tuning in via
livestream– hi, livestream. I was watching this morning. We’re convening this
weekend to consider the role that each of us can play in
understanding the nexus of art, race, and justice. This morning, there
was a stunning panel hosted by [? Sarah, ?] featuring
Theaster Gates and Sir David Adjaye. I’d like to paraphrase Theaster. There is what we expect
government to do, but then there is also
social expectation that allows harmony. It is our belief in others. Justice requires
our deep commitment. In many ways,
commitment is the ethos of this weekend’s convening. It is the commitment
of our fearless leader [? Sarah ?] Lewis. It is the commitment of
her peers here at Harvard– her students, every volunteer
and programming assistant that has worked tirelessly
to make this possible. The success of
this conference is due to our commitment
to each other, and of course, our commitment
to art, race, and justice. This afternoon, I’m
happy to introduce our next conversation,
featuring two voices who will speak about
their commitment to the Turnaround Arts Program. To quote our forever first
lady, Michelle Obama– forever and ever and
ever, and the only one. [APPLAUSE] “Arts education isn’t
something we add on after we’ve achieved
other priorities, like raising test scores and
getting kids into college. It is actually critical for
achieving those priorities in the first place.” That’s what the Turnaround
Arts Program does. Today we’re joined by Damian
Woetzel, the president the Juilliard School. Mr. Woetzel has given the world
so many gifts in his career as both an arts leader and as
a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and
as a dancer on stages around the globe. Since retiring from his
two-decade career as a dancer, he’s worked as the artistic
director of the Vail Dance Festival, and as an
independent director choreographer and producer. Before joining
Juilliard last year, Woetzel was the director of the
Aspen Institute Arts Program, which aims to further the
value of arts in society. Today Mr. Woetzel is joined
by the incomparable Melody C Barnes, chair of the
Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and
the Opportunity Youth Forum. Barnes’s illustrious
resume includes co-founding MB Squared,
a domestic strategy firm, and serving as a senior
fellow and [INAUDIBLE] visiting professor in world
politics at UVA’s Miller Center. She has also served as
assistant to the president– the one that matters– and director of the White
House Domestic Policy Council from 2009 to 2012. And as if that wasn’t
enough, in a TED Talk of hers that
I found, she talks about having studied piano,
violin, flute, ballet, improv, and painting. Today she is a fierce proponent
of arts education’s potential to change and impact
minds across the nation. Before I hand things
over, I’d love to leave you with a reminder
for Mr. Woetzel, who said, “Creativity is a learning tool. It’s not just decorative
and beautiful, it also helps you learn
and understand things.” And so with that, I say,
happy learning, everyone. And please help me welcome
Damian and Melody to the stage. [APPLAUSE] – Hello. Great to be with you all, and
always to be with you, Melody. – As well with you. Thank you. And if I were good at
any of those things, I would have had a
very different career. – Well, we’re going to take
a little aside right now and say they mention
ballroom dancing, because serious
business over here. Wow, just to hear that quote
from the forever first lady, it takes us to a place of this– on one level, it’s
pure joy, another level it was the pure
underpinnings of work that went on during those years. And just to put people
at ease, because this is a question I’ve heard,
Turnaround Art still exists. Because in the final year
of the Obama administration, it was transferred to
the Kennedy Center, where it lives happily on. And we’ll talk about
what that means. But thinking back,
I keep thinking that we had– there was always
a landscape for arts and culture in this country. There was always a landscape,
that we will discuss– and we’ll look at images. But walking into 2009, there was
something different going on. – Absolutely. There was a new way of
thinking about the way that we were going to
tackle the big challenges. I’m sure we all
remember what was facing the country at that time. And we wanted to do that
using every resource, every asset, the
skills of every citizen to help us tackle those
enormous challenges. – That’s right. And I think that, from an
artist’s point of view– so I grew up about
10 miles from here, went to an elementary
school that handed you a recorder in the
first grade and said, this is a musical instrument. And I lived a life of
incredible artistic privilege, to get to try
things, to constantly have a question of trying
to do something new. And it was also a time
that was the busing era. And so we had, in
my school, students arriving from all
parts of Boston, who joined with us in
these endeavors that were all about possibility. And that’s what I
keep thinking of. And the underpinnings
of what we’re going to talk about here
we’re not just happy and for the good of it all. Yes, the creative part is
all about process and having a chance to think differently,
to ask questions that have a resolution, but it
was also about work, the chance to do the hard work–
like [? Winton ?] talked about this morning– and the opportunity
to have the framework. So I think about
that a lot, when I think about that
period of time that there were a lot of
us doing different types of artistic endeavors. Citizen artists
work, we call it– the idea that being
an artist is equated with being a part of your
society, of your community. But a lot of it was done
in the face of opposition to the structure, as
opposed to enhanced by the structures that existed. – Right. And to put our conversation
and our discussion about Turnaround
Arts in context, we think about education. Going back
historically, we think about the African-American
story in America, that it was, one, a struggle,
but also one of striving and one of excellence. And simultaneously, the American
narrative, the American focus on education was one that
was much more challenging– the policies, the practices. You think about
periods where it was illegal in some places
for African-Americans to learn to read. You think about
the fact that there were places where entire
school districts were shut down to avoid African-American
children and white children going to school together, where
resources weren’t provided, there was underinvestment,
and certainly, disinvestment. And even when we got
to periods of reform, that there was such
monumental resistance. And we are sitting
in a place in a city where we can think about
those images of resistance, and the anger,
and the hostility. And so as all that
was going on, we also created these narratives
and these images in the psyche of
America that are indelibly on our minds
about what was possible– that children can’t
learn, or won’t learn, or didn’t deserve to learn. And all of that was
in the background, as we were walking into
the White House in 2009 and thinking about not
only an economic challenge, but the totality of that
challenge that included how were we going to approach
the challenges facing American education and the
American education system. – Right. And I think that what was in
the water right at that moment had started with the campaign
with an actual arts policy committee as a plank
of the platform, that I was privileged to
be on– [? Sarah ?] was on. And it laid out the idea
that art and artists were not a decorative force, they
were a productive part of society to be subsumed and
part of the onward struggle that we were all putting
our shoulders to. And it validated. And it was the first
time, in that way, that I think that had
ever been done, certainly on a presidential level, in a
serious way, that this actually matters. And central to
that was education. And the goals were all about
providing the opportunity to be a part of the solutions. And so we had that
energy going into 2009, and we sort of built from there. I’m going to say this is what
confronted us in some ways, when we thought about
where we were coming from. That it was, as [? Sarah ?]
also said earlier, not everybody counted. Not everybody
counted in anything. And when we thought
about opportunity, in terms of educational
opportunity, we knew the work that
was there to be done and remains to be done. And we wanted to find our way
to being productive in it. A big part of that– it seemed apparent
right from the start– was who counted
was who was seen. And I remember sitting in the
front row in the east room, and I snapped that photo. And I actually texted
it to [? Sarah, ?] because I knew her work,
as it was developing. And the idea that this was
our amazing president, full of grace, standing, giving
awards for arts and humanities was just everything
about what was possible. – Right. And you look at that, and you
think about the arc of history and all that had happened
between the man behind– the man who was the 44th
president of the United States– and the struggle,
and this new moment of possibility and opportunity. – That’s right. And so much of that, in those
very, very beginning years, in 2009, 2010– what happened was the
president’s committee on arts and humanities– which had existed for
over two decades– suddenly was
populated by artists. And it was a revelation. And we set about trying to
figure out what we could do, where we could have impact. We had working groups
on economic development, working groups on diplomacy,
working groups on education, working groups on the
idea of an artist corps. And within that
time period though, the work of
celebrating all voices was going at a fever pitch. Events that celebrated
our she-ros and heroes. There’s Judith Jamison being
celebrated at the White House by our forever first lady. And it wasn’t just
about the excellence of Judy’s craft as a
dancer, and as a director, and as a leader
for this country, it was about how she was
training and bringing up students. So yeah, we populated the
east room with students from all around the
country to partake in what that meant
to be educated, and to look at someone
like that and realize the possibilities that
were apparent for everyone. – And understand that before– and I still call them
FLOTUS and POTUS– walked into the
White House, they were thinking very
seriously about the role that the arts could play. They wanted to engage artists
and the artist community and a fundamentally
different way. It would be performance, yes,
but not just performance. What could the
artists that walked into the east ring of the White
House tell us about who we are, and how we celebrate ourselves,
and what was possible? That was fundamental from
the very, very beginning. – Well, and as an artist who had
that opportunity to be there, that’s exactly
what it felt like. And it felt like a challenge. In fact, I do remember
the president, the first time we
had an opportunity to meet him as a committee,
he said, bring me something. He said, bring me something. We know you can you can
challenge us to do better. And this is next
slide I subtitled, and it wasn’t just kids dancing. They embodied grace
in the White House in so many ways,
that were informative to the artistic
community, and again, for all voices to be amplified. They continued traditions
of celebrating good work, but with an emphasis
on community programs that developed
opportunities for all voices to develop artistically. I chose a little triptych here. This is the first lady with
the New Ballet Ensemble. That’s Brianna, who was
representing the students, and Katie Smythe, who
created the program in Memphis, Tennessee. I loved this photo of
Brianna on the hallway, looking at the first lady with
Stevie Wonder, and saying, I’m here too. I have this possibility. And then this is a
photo of Brianna, and the gentleman in
the middle there’s a guy named Lil Buck,
who’s a dancer, who I’ve worked with a lot
over the last decade. And a Lil Buck’s a product
of the New Ballet Ensemble. He came out of Memphis. He came to the White
House to celebrate the program that developed him. And I loved that kind of idea
that this was a celebration and that was the background by
which all that work on what are we going to do was being done. – Right. And as you all were thinking
through those issues, the policy staff was thinking
about economic crisis and the economy almost
going over a cliff. We were thinking about what to
do about the financial services industry. We were thinking about
all of these issues, including what the
president had said. You remember that campaign,
he talked from the beginning about the importance
of education– preschool, K12,
higher education, post-secondary education– and the challenges that
face the country, going back to that narrative arc that I
talked about a few minutes ago. And he was saying
to us, how are we going to tackle these issues? Even before we walked
into the White House on that January
day, January 20th, we were working during the
transition to try and craft and to shape policies
that would start to shift what was happening
in schools across the country. So those two things were all
happening at the same time. – Right. And as the time passed forward–
and we’ve seen this image earlier today– intrinsic was the idea
of representation, of representational
justice, that this was a first family in the
White House that was open. The doors were open. And young people can gaze
upon them, and always will, from now on, with
aspiration, but a recognition of their own possibility. – Right. So the country was being
now, from my perspective, pleasantly bombarded
with all of these images of a new first lady
and a new president. And we’ve talked, over the
course of today and yesterday, about the way in– and I think
Carrie Mae Weems was talking about this– the way that some
of those images exacerbated friction, and anger,
and violence in many places. But at the same
time, for others, for these young people
and so many others, this was a chance to
imagine what I could be. What could I be? And for many of them,
they were the only images that they ever had. I remember introducing my
godson and his little brother to the president. His little brother was eight
years old, at the time. He turned to walk
into the Oval Office, and the president was standing
there leaning against the door. And Ryan turned the corner,
and he looked at him. He goes, oh my god. He was eight years old. That was his sense of
aspiration, and possibility, and opportunity rolled
into those three words. – So meanwhile, things
were happening that had– really unprecedented things. This is a photo
of a meeting where we unveiled for the president
a landmark report on arts education. So over those first
2 and 1/2 years, the research was done on
the state of arts education and the state of possibility
that this administration could look at, and try
and make progress on through the
arts for education. You can see Melody– – Different hair. – –standing on the side– – We could do so many
things with our hair. – –and shepherding
this process, where I’m trying to look
real serious down the end. Kerry Washington’s dead center
across from the president– standing there, all of
us, putting our shoulders to the wheel, saying we
want to make a difference, we want art to be a
part of the solution. – And understand for a
second, historically, art sat in the east wing and
policy sat in the west wing, and never the twain shall meet. And the very idea– and I remember a
colleague saying to me, so you’ve got artists working
with you on education policy? I was like, absolutely. The idea of integrating the
power of these communities and all of these big
brains, and expertise, and talent to take
on what, again, I mentioned was one of
the president’s signature priorities– and the fact
that he also said to us, we want to focus on the 5,000
schools in the United States that were the lowest performing
schools, the bottom 5%– in addition to the other
work that we were doing. Those are the schools that
had the most significant rates of disciplinary
action taking place. And we know what that means. Those were the schools
where attendance was often the lowest. Those were the
schools where you had the most significant
numbers of students that were dropping out,
where students were reading significantly below grade
level– significantly below grade level. So how were we going
to work together to turn around those schools? – And the answer was what
you’re seeing, to some degree. There was certainly an element,
in some ways, of Star Search. We were laughing about that. Like the idea that this
was the work was going on. It was about drawing
attention, in that way, to the important work
that was being done. And the strategies that
were being employed all had to do with resources about
new arts teachers, instruments, possibilities for the
students to actually try, just like I was handed a recorder. But more than that,
it was driven by data. It was driven by research in how
these programs could develop. And it started with eight
schools around the country as pilots. And well, you’ll get
to the statistics, but the short answer
was it proved to work. The students themselves
understood something about what it meant
to perform was the way I always look at it. Culminating events were pivotal. There were ideas that
there was an endgame. There was a moment when you had
to stand and actually deliver, and you had to be a part of
something in a real sense and my own experience
in classrooms was always about the
eyes in the students. When their eyes lit
and they finally were able to actually
engage in the possibility that they would
perform, that was the moment when we knew
that we were making success. – And all of that
was consistent. Damian mentioned the data. All of that was consistent
with what we had learned– what we felt, but
what we learned and knew to be true, that we
were developing and supporting a whole host of skills in
students that would allow them to become more proficient at
reading, to attach to schools in a different way–
that stickiness that would bring them there. We knew that what they
would learn in arts programs not only would
help them build confidence and discipline, but
also could help them with math and with science. So there was the performative
piece of this for them that was so
important, and helped to build other skills that
we knew could translate into their ability not only to
learn, but to attach to school and attach to education
in an important way. – That’s right. And it went on in
different ways. This is [? Savoy ?] Elementary. This is Orchard Gardens, not
far from here, in Roxbury. And Orchard Gardens is
an amazing success story of a school, where the principal
fired his security guards and hired more arts teachers. [APPLAUSE] And I can imagine there were
those who shook their heads, and went, this is
not going to work. But it’s a place where
you open the door, and you’re in an oasis of light. What [? Darren ?] said this
morning, we need light. It’s a place of
light, as you can see when you open that door. There’s a Lil Buck. So you saw him earlier,
celebrating where he came from, celebrating his school. And this is him at
a school in Detroit. There he is at Inner-City Arts. First time actually I met Lil
Buck was an Inner-City Arts, to teach those students– me and Yo-Yo and Lil
Buck bringing the light. Lame Deer, Montana, seat of
the northern Cheyenne nation– this definitely goes with some
sort of caption of, please, try this with me. [LAUGHTER] Please. But they also, later
on that same day, were working with
instruments provided to them by the Turnaround Arts program,
preparing for a community event that brought their parents,
brought community tribal leaders together. Because that was
all a part of this, that the idea that it
doesn’t happen in isolation from the community. This is a program that I
wanted to share with you, because it speaks to something
that you just can’t predict. As part of Turnaround
Arts, we were able to bring together
three schools– the Lame Deer, Montana
school, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Orchard
Gardens– to New York to do a project on the High
Line, a photography project, where each student was given
a camera and two hours, in addition to a history
lesson and some other more rigorous work, and sent out
to take photos for two hours. Then they had to come
back and curate that down to a presentation of three to
five pictures, and present– actually very hard, in a
day of digital photography when you take 1,000 photos. So this was a photo done by
[? Sterissa ?] from Lame Deer. And it was followed up
with a poetry project, with [? CC Longknife, ?] who wrote
this poem about that photo. “There’s a dark side looking
at the bright side wanting to be one.” And she later on recited
that at the White House for the first lady. This was the kind
of thing that we couldn’t have even anticipated,
how things build on each other. Once you start, there’s
always a next step, and that was just
thrilling to get to do. That led to the National
Student Poets Program, forever first lady hosting yet
again, with the young poets from around the country. And that led to other
partnership activities with amazing people. Last summer, in Aspen, Ava
meeting with the young poets, and talking with them
about their possibilities. Heroes like Yo-Yo, working
in schools, but also part of an overall ethic, which
led him to the border just a few weeks ago. And to a school in Detroit, the
young Sterling Elliott, who’s now sophomore at Juilliard,
and winner of the Sphinx Competition for excellence
in classical music just this past March. So all of this was a
part of pushing forward, but it had this underpinning– I keep coming back to it– of it
doesn’t happen just on its own. – Right. It was the integration and the
knowledge that we could bring arts together– and citizen
artists working with us– on policy to address these
significant challenges. So Damian mentioned, we
started in eight schools. We were in Iowa, Montana,
New Orleans, Massachusetts. And over time–
because we wanted to better understand what we
were doing and what was working and what didn’t, and to
test the proposition that we so deeply believed in. And over a three or
four-year period, we collected information
based on what we were doing. At the end of that period,
we looked at the results, and what we found was
what we had hoped for– that student were
reading better, they were engaged in math and
performing in math better, that attendance was up, and
also the disciplinary problems were down. And I’m not talking about
small, slight changes. I’m talking about
significant changes. And when you compare
the schools where Turnaround Arts was present,
and those artists were there, to other schools that were
getting additional resources, to other schools in
the district that weren’t getting
those resources, you could see significant
improvement. And that led us
to believe that it was important to scale
what we were doing. And that’s what policy
also allows us to do. So what started out
as eight schools, now we’re serving
57,000 students. We are working in 79
different schools, and we are working in
17 different states and the District of Columbia. But we also recognize–
because at the end of every administration,
things change. We didn’t know who was going
to sit-in the White House next. We really did not know who
was going to be sitting in the White House next. But to prepare for
that, there was also our resolve to find a permanent
home for Turnaround Arts. And that’s when the Kennedy
Center accepted the call, and that is where
Turnaround Arts sits now. And so it is permanent. It’s got a home. It has resources. It has support that
allows for the scaling that I just described,
something that we know works, something
that we know can be such a powerful force
in the life of young people, and to fulfill and to meet
those aspirations that they have for themselves. Whether it is to be like so many
of you in this room who have incredible artistic talent–
or someone who wishes that she did, but keeps trying– or whether they choose to
be scientists, or engineers, or teachers, or
doctors, or lawyers, or whatever it is that
they choose to be. – Yeah. And never happens in a vacuum. It was with partners. I’m thinking about the Ford
Foundation, specifically. Thinking about companies like
Crayola, National Association of Music Merchants all
coming together in the belief that this was work
that actually mattered, that it really was work,
and the rigor factor– that this was hard,
and meant to be hard, and we do it because
of it was hard. It’s the work that matters,
that it wasn’t decorative, was implicit from
the very beginning. And I think that that’s
under undervalued, that idea in society in general. I think that’s led to a
lack of prioritization for the arts as an
educational force, but this was a
step to fight that, and it’s so gratifying
to see that it goes on. – Right. And this idea that,
as you were saying, not just decorative,
when you think about arts and their
place in the White House, and evolution that’s
also taken place there. – Right. So this was John F
Kennedy’s administration welcoming great cellist of the
day, Pablo Casals, to play, which was an archetype of
musical excellence, certainly– for some. – But it was also, as you can
imagine, a pretty elite room. Everybody wasn’t in that room. – That’s right. For some, that’s right. And then you have this, which
was the culminating event, which we did in the White
House at the end of each year, bringing the students
from around the country to compete in the White
House Talent Show, where everybody wins. They performed and
they performed. And they celebrated
with the first lady. And this one’s
captioned, oh my god– – Because– – –because somebody
was arriving. And the value of
that [INAUDIBLE] is just unbelievable. Whatever school I went to
had a seal, President’s Committee on Arts and
Humanity, on their door. Where they go in
and they’re late, it’d be sitting right there. And they’d say, we
have the backing of the President of
the United States for what we’re doing
in this school. And it meant so
much to the idea, but also, again, to the work. It came from this. That’s what launched it. What didn’t happen
didn’t skip this step. Artists like [INAUDIBLE]
Woodard, so many others now who have joined in this. – But not just there– – Not just there. – –but there. – Right there too. And in partnership always
with the schools themselves, with the faculty, providing
professional development tools, providing resources, providing
an annual summer conference to develop the skills and to
share the knowledge, the best practices that were going
into the work year after year after year. I just got my invitation to
the next one that’s coming. – And the coaching that
took place, and the idea– we know teachers
already have so much that they have to
do in a classroom, that this would be
additive, that this would be supportive of the work
that they were already doing in the classroom, and not
seen as or felt as a burden. – That’s right. It literally was
all about, how do we feed into this
possibility for these kids, so that they can really
reach all the way. And that’s our last slide. I’d love to say that
revisiting these images is particularly poignant
in some way, for me, because of the fact
that it lives on. And we know this is going on
right now in those schools– right as we’re
meeting here today, that this work is going on. But also, in the
intervening time, since 2016, I now am the
president of Juilliard– and the idea that that is a
opportunity of width as well, of broadening, of
opportunity and voices. And I want to tell you short
story that [? Sarah ?] came to visit last fall at Juilliard,
and she did a little module for a class I teach
on arts and society, and talked to the students
about Vision and Justice, and the idea, and how it
related to their path. And it is a room of about 40
actors, dancers, and musicians. And watching their recognition
of their own place in it was so important for me to
see how these young artists, who are so driven
in so many ways– to come to Juilliard, you
have to be pretty driven. You’re going on a path. But then to realize
the sheer scope and the scale of
what it was about, to be an artist in society– and later on, one
of the students wrote a story about
her grandmother, who went to Juilliard as a
pianist in the 1940s, and dedicated it to
[? Sarah, ?] to say that this kind of representation
is what we all need to see, the invisible visible. And it inspired so many
people around the school to see that work that
you did, [? Sarah. ?] And it’s just such a
thrill to get to be here, to partake in it, and
to build off of it. And the stories that
matter need to be told. Her name is Julia Warren– Jules Warren– and
her grandmother was also Julia Warren. And that is a part of
Juilliard’s history that we’re going to be
telling more and more. I discovered two weeks
ago that Clarence Jones studied at Juilliard. Do you know who
Clarence Jones was– is? Lawyer for Dr. Martin
Luther King, speech writer. Incredible human and incredible
clarinet player, as well. This is a part of
our history too, that we always have
to show the range, that everybody does count and
everybody does get a chance to participate. – Right. And the reality– and he
is the embodiment of this– but that artists play
such an important role. They are not just wanted,
but desperately needed, if we are to achieve
equity and social justice, and the society, the
globe that we aspire to. – That’s right. And to think of it
as always a process, that its creativity is, in
fact, the key to thinking. We heard earlier about
it’s asking a question. It is asking a better question. It’s saying, what
can we do together that we can’t do alone? And how can we be
creative, in a true sense, in everything we do? That these children deserve
that opportunity, that light– as [? Darren ?] said,
to open that light. – So thank you. Thank you for the
work that you do. [APPLAUSE] – Thank you so much for
your incredibly inspiring conversation. Hi, all. My name is Inaara Shiraz. I am a senior here
at the college, and it is my great
privilege to be joining you all today as one of the many
Vision and Justice student ambassadors. I want to take time to thank
Melody Barnes and Damian Woetzel for engaging in such a
candid and honest conversation about the Turnaround
Arts program, and the intersection
of arts and politics. We have had the chance
to witness the power that is tapped into when
we create space for these conversations that
are not often had elsewhere. At this moment,
as we forge on, I would like the audience
to enjoy a short break of about 15 minutes. We hope to see you
all back very shortly. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] – Good afternoon. Good afternoon. I feel as if this is
a convening that’s resulting in a family
gathering– a family that we didn’t even know we had. There’s an incredible
energy in this room. I’m so honored to be able
to invite onto the stage extraordinary
individuals who will be able to help us
think through what functioned as a real
catalyst, in many ways, for this convening. The Vision and Justice
Project has momentum, in part because
there are questions that we need to address to
understand the nexus of art, race, and justice. And one of those questions
is about how technology is playing a role in all of this. What are the consequences
of seeing injustice disseminated virally as
civic data through images today, because of the
speed of technology? What are the ways in which we
can harness the digital realm to actually work for justice? How do we dislodge the
embedded racial hierarchies that are built into
our technology itself? The camera has
inherent biases that we will hear about from our
colleagues and friends today. Race, technology,
and algorithmic bias is the topic of our next panel. And we’ll hear more
about the questions that we all need to address
from our extraordinary visionary leader, Darren Walker, who’s
president the Ford Foundation, fantastic colleague
Latanya Sweeney, professor of government and technology
in residence here at Harvard, and Joy Buolamwini,
who will begin the panel with a
brief performance, and then will be joined
by her colleagues. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] – Joy Buolamwini. I am a poet of code,
telling stories that make daughters
of diasporas dream and sons of privilege pause. Today it is my honor to
share with you a piece called AI, Ain’t I A Woman?
where I asked Sojourner Truth’s 19th century question
that she raised in 1851 at the first
Women’s Rights Convention to 21st century algorithms, on
the faces of some of the most iconic women in the world. And my mom is here
with me today, so this performance is dedicated
to her, the original artist. [APPLAUSE] My heart smiles as I
bask in their legacies, knowing their lives have
altered many destinies. In her eyes, I see
my mother’s poise. In her face, I glimpse
my aunty’s grace. In this case of deja vu,
a 19th century question comes into view. In a time when Sojourner
Truth asked, ain’t I a woman? Today we pose this
question to new powers, making bets on artificial
intelligence, hope towers. The Amazonians peek through
windows blocking deep blues, as faces increment scarfs. Old burns, new urns, collecting
data, chronicling our past, often forgetting to deal
with gender, race and class. Again, I ask, ain’t I a woman? Face by face, the
answer seem uncertain. Young and old, proud
icons are dismissed. Can machines ever see my
queens as I view them? Can machines ever see our
grandmothers as we knew them? Ida B Wells, data science
pioneer, hanging facts, stacking stats on the
lynching of humanity, teaching truth hidden in
data, each entry and omission a person worthy of respect. Shirley Chisholm, unbought
and [? unbossed, ?] the first black
Congresswoman, but not the first to be
misunderstood by machines well-versed in
data-driven mistakes. Michelle Obama,
unabashed and unafraid to wear her crown of history,
yet her crown seems a mystery. The system’s unsure
of her hair– a wig, a bouffant, a toupee? Maybe not. Are there no words for
our braids and our locks? The sunny skin and relaxed
here make Oprah the first lady. Even for her face,
well-known, some algorithms fault her, echoing sentiments
that strong women are men. We laugh, celebrating the
successes of our sisters with Serena smiles. No label is worthy
of our beauty. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] – That was really good. That was wonderful. – Give it up. Joy Buolamwini. Joy, Latanya. – Darren. – What a joyous occasion this is
to have this black girl magic, this brilliance
enveloped in this room. Dr. Latanya Sweeney
wouldn’t tell you this about herself,
because she’s a woman of great modesty– the first African-American
woman to receive a PhD in computer science at MIT. [APPLAUSE] Joy Buolamwini
would not tell you that the PhD in computer science
that she will shortly receive is an additional credential
stacked on top of that Rhodes scholarship and the room
full of credentials that reflect the ways in which
excellence is personified in our community. Both of you are pioneers
in a space where women like you are
often invisible, are not present in
the room, and yet you have demanded that
the doors be open. And you are giving
insight and shedding light on the pernicious effects
of something most of us believe to be simply unbiased. How could AI, the
promise of a AI is that, at last, we can
have objective measurements, evaluation, systems that
move us from the injustice in the analog world to
justice in the digital world. So can we have justice in
this new digital world? Latanya, when you came
to the Ford Foundation and blew the roof off of the
building with the presentation you did, demonstrating
how the effects of racism manifest in simple exercises
of aggregating names– could you tell us a little
bit about how we see that manifest on the internet? – Sure. Actually, that story started
when I had first arrived here at Harvard, and I was being
interviewed by a reporter. And the reporter wanted to
see an article I had written, so I go and I typed
my name into Google, and up popped the
link to the paper, but also some ads that implied
I had an arrest record. And the reporter said,
forget the article, tell me about the time
you were arrested. And I said, well,
I wasn’t arrested. And he says, then why did
your computer say you were? And so we go back and
forth for a little bit, and I click on the link,
[? end up ?] paying the fee, all just to show that the
company, one, had no arrest record for anyone
named Latanya Sweeney. But that started me
taking two months typing in the names of real
people, trying to understand how this came to be. And I did hundreds of thousands
of searches across the United States, and learned that the
company had actually put down ads on the names of all real
Americans– or real adults, rather– who they believed lived
in the United States. But if your name was given
more often to a black baby than a white baby,
an ad would pop up implying you had
an arrest record. But if your name was given
more often to white babies, it didn’t. And the difference was huge. It was like 80 to 20%
[INAUDIBLE] difference. And discrimination in the
United States isn’t illegal, but we do have protected groups
and in certain situations. And one of those
groups are blacks, and one of those
situations is employment. And the argument that I made was
that, when you apply for a job, someone will look online to see
what information is about you. And this put African-American
and black applicants at a tremendous disadvantage,
because right away, the computer was implying
something about them that often wasn’t true. That turned out to be
exactly what was needed to open, in the
Department of Justice, a civil rights investigation. I’m a computer
scientist by training, and it was the first time any
of us thought in terms of, oh my gosh, this
computer is racist. And how did this come to be? And so that was sort of the
start of a real awakening, that now we see it
engaged in so many ways– that the pursuit
of technology is not exempt from the
same ills that we find in other parts
of our society, and maybe even be
more potent today. – But before you,
this had not happened. So why didn’t some white
guy computer scientist figure this out? – Well, first of all, if he
was searching for his name, he would have gotten
a nice, neutral ad. So he may not have
been sparked by it. So this speaks
directly to the idea of me being who I am
in that situation, and having one of those
black sounding first names. – And so what can we
extrapolate from this? Because I know that some of the
work that you have continued to do has looked at the
predictive analytics that are being used, around
which major decisions are being made that impact people’s
lives far beyond employment. – Yeah. I took time off from Harvard
to be the chief technology officer at the Federal
Trade Commission, and one of the things
that became very clear is how technology was allowing
the very specific types of fraud, very specific ways
to disenfranchise people to really exist. And that was everything from, if
you’re on the internet, what– and so for most households in
the United States, everyone’s most frequently visited
websites are the same first 10. But after number 10,
they deviate greatly, specifically based
on whether or not you have a child, your
income, your education level, your race, and your interests. And the more you get into
a community that you feel is more like you,
the more you trust. And those are the places
where huge frauds happen. And so that was this
interesting relationship we began to learn over
and over again at the FTC, around how people trust
their social networks and so forth in the
internet, and how they can be manipulated against them. That became part of, when
I came back to Harvard, our investigations
with students. I teach a class here called
Tech Science to Save the World, and we began looking
through 2016, how would old ways
in which people were disenfranchised from
voting show up in technology? And the work showed many
discoveries, but one of them was we were the first to show
those 36 voter registration websites and their
vulnerabilities. And this year, we
taught the class, and we were able to point out
a vulnerability in the 2020 census that will go online. These things matter, because
they’re subtle, in the sense that, if somebody
disenfranchises you to vote online, you still
show up at the polling place, except you’re not
in the poll book, so they give you a
provisional ballot. So you think you voted,
but in many states, the vote doesn’t count. Or in the census, a miscount
determines the amount of representatives we have in
the House of Representatives, and therefore, can tilt
the balance of Republicans and Democrats. So these things, in some
ways, tend to be small, but the manifestations
of them are huge. – So Joy, you have started
an organization called the Algorithmic Justice League,
a new civil rights organization for the 21st century. And you have also brought
Amazon, IBM to their knees. It is you who shamed them on
the front pages of The New York Times and media by
calling them out. By calling them out on the
ways in which they were making millions of dollars
selling facial recognition programs and other products
that were actually flawed. And your research demonstrated
that they were flawed, but they didn’t want to hear
that from you, it sounds like. – Well, with the
Algorithmic Justice League, I started it because I was
working on an art project that went awry. And so I’m sure everybody
in this audience has heard of the white
gaze, the male gaze. Well, to that, I
add the coded gaze. And the coded gaze that is a
reflection of the priorities, preferences, and also prejudices
of those who have the power to shape technology. So I was working
on an art project that used face detection. So when I looked at a mirror,
it would say, hello beautiful. Or it’d put a lion on my
face, so I could become Serena Williams, just for fun. I’m at the Media Lab. We do these kinds
of explorations. So as I was working on this
project in a class called Science Fabrication– which is
about visually what might be, and trying to see if you
can manifest it now– I noticed there was a problem. The face detection
software I was using, it worked fine for
my friend’s face, but when it came to my face,
I ran into a little problem. But I got an assist. So literally coding
in a white mask– I mean [? Phenon ?]
already said it, but I didn’t think it would be
so literal when it happened. And so I had the opportunity to
share this on the Ted platform. And in that talk
this is what I talked about launching the Algorithmic
Justice League, because I’m thinking, well, if they
can’t get our faces right, what else could be going wrong? And I also noticed I
had something in common with the Women of Wakanda. And so when the Black
Panther came out, I decided to run their faces. They were either not detected–
some of them were misgendered. But then I decided to test
out age classification, age estimation. So those red columns
you’re seeing are under the age header. It’s verified black don’t crack. But it really
became more serious, in terms of thinking
towards justice, when I read a report
from Georgetown Law, showing one in two adults–
over 130 million people– has their face and a
face recognition network that can be searched by law
enforcement, unwarranted, using technology that hasn’t
been audited for accuracy. This is one of the reasons
why we audited Amazon, because they’re selling to
law enforcement right now. They’re trialing this
technology with the FBI. Now, some people
are also saying, look, not being detected,
that’s not the worst thing. Maybe we got a windfall. But for me, it wasn’t
not being detected, but what happens when
you’re misidentified. So in the UK, where
they’ve actually done performance
metrics, they showed that they had false positive
match rates of over 90%– more than 2,400 innocent
people being falsely matched, and even cases of women
being matched with men. Last week, a teenager– an
African-American teenager is suing Apple for $1
billion, because he’s been misidentified through
some of the facial analysis recognition technology
that’s out there. So because this technology’s
actually in the real world and can change people’s
lives in a material way, that’s why I started the
Algorithmic Justice League, and that’s why I’ve been
challenging large tech companies. – And recent research, which
we were emailing about a couple of weeks ago, truly
bowled me over. So talk about the
results of the research around autonomous vehicles
and people of color. – So you probably
know where this goes. Let me back up really quickly. So my MIT research was called
gender shades, and what I did, along with Dr. [INAUDIBLE]—- and
you see us posing for Bloomberg 50 right there, looking fierce
with our co-founder of Black in AI. What we were showing was that,
if you looked at skin type as a way of evaluating
facial analysis technology, you would find different
kinds of disparities than if you just looked at race. So other researchers
took that idea and said, OK, let’s apply it
to self-driving cars, and let’s look at
pedestrian-tracking technology. So using the similar
kind of methodology that was developed
in gender shades– they tested it on the cars– turns out they’re less accurate
for darker-skinned individuals, when it comes to tracking. So the promises of self-driving
cars, autonomous vehicles– literally not being seen
has real-world consequences. – So wait, let’s just
be really clear– so in this new digital
world, if you are black, you are more likely to be run
over by an autonomous vehicle? – We got to be careful. Extra careful. So that’s why I go in
white face sometimes, just so [INAUDIBLE]– – But that’s the irony, is
that in this new digital world, we may literally have
to wear white face. – Yeah. That is the new irony, sadly. – Well, I would
like to say, I do think computer
science can do better. – Says the PhD from MIT. So tell us how we make
that happen, Dr. Sweeney. – So look, technology design
is really sort of the new policymaker, and these
decisions are being– it’s really a reflection of
people building technology in their own image. AI has always been this
idea of building machines in your likeness. As they’re building AI, what
is like them is being over fitted to the fact that they’re
often white men in their 20s. – And this is something I call
the problem of pale male data sets. – Pale male data sets. – Pale, male, and sometimes
stale– but often male– data sets. OK, so when I was doing the
research for gender shades, I started looking at all of
these data sets of faces, and I looked at data sets that
were used as gold standards. And what came up
time and time again was the over-representation of
lighter-skinned individuals, the over-representation of men,
and the under-representation of women, and especially
women of color. So if you’re thinking
about AI and machine learning as one of the
ascendant approaches, machines are learning from what? Data. So in this case,
data is destiny, and if we have pale
male data sets, were destined to fail
the rest of society– whether it’s on our
streets because we can’t detect different kinds
of individuals, whether it’s in a health setting where people
are trying to detect things like melanoma, or see
if you can infer things like early signs of dementia. So the lack of representation,
I call this power shadows that end up in our data sets
and our evaluation benchmarks, as well. – So Latanya, you were
the CTO at the FTC. What does government
need to do about this? Is there a role for
government in this? In the old analog world,
we had a civil rights act. We had the EEOC. We had a regulatory regime that
protected the public interests. We have yet to define what
the public interest is in this new digital world. – Well, in a lot of
the work that we do, I take the fact that people
fought very hard for– and we saw a lot of that in the scenes
that were shown earlier– for the rights and the
regulations that we have now. As technology rolls
out, it dictates how we are going
to live our lives, by what technology allows us to
do or doesn’t allow us to do. And what people
don’t seem to realize is that every democratic
value is up for grabs by what technology
allows or doesn’t allow. And so it’s been
incredibly important to be able to produce technologists
sort of in the public interest, a group of technologists who are
interested in understanding how to find these unforeseen
consequences to shore up journalism, to shore
up our regulators, and to help us really apply the
laws and regulations we have to technology, and also
to help technologists do their job better. For many people in
high tech, I don’t think this was ever intended. For many of them, it really
is an unintended consequence. So there’s also a call or
a need for technologists to do their job better in the
high tech companies, as well. – But we know that– for example, one of the
reasons I’ve come to know you is because at the
Ford Foundation we have been working on this
new field of public interest technology. Because just as there
needed to be a field created of public
interest law in the 1960s, we need to think about
what the public interest is in this new digital world. And in fact, it’s
the private sector who has determined the bounds
of what is public and private. And we saw in the
Zuckerberg hearings, where we witnessed, I think,
the interaction of capitalism and democracy. And democracy lost, because
there was no one sitting behind those Congress
people, passing them notes, giving them questions
to interrogate the tech executives. Because most of the
capacity in this space is in the private sector. And so one of the
things we have to think about is how do we train a
generation of public interest technologists, like
yourselves, who are going to fight
the fight for justice in this new digital world? So Joy, from your
standpoint, what’s needed most, at this time, to
protect the public interests? – That’s a big question,
and it’s not just one thing. I still believe that, as we’re
talking about public interest technologists and
as we’re thinking about how computer scientists,
how policy makers can shape the future, we
have to also remind ourselves the importance of the
artist and the storytellers. So the work that
I’ve done thus far, I really believe that
part of the reason it’s gained attention is
because of that visual of coding in a white mask. There were FBI experts who did
facial analysis tests before, but they didn’t take the
approach of calling out. I also think that how we’re
trained as computer scientists has to change, so that there
is a sense of responsibility. We had a doctor up here
earlier, who was very courageous in standing up for Flint,
saying, we take an oath. We don’t do that, as
computer sciences. We think we can create the
world, we can break things. And until it’s
actually confronted, we don’t actually have
to make any changes. And so I think
changing how we learn to be computer scientists
will be a huge part of it, but not thinking that computer
scientists or technologists can solve it alone. – So you see the role of
the arts and humanities? So do you see a new
curricular being needed, [INAUDIBLE] places? – Absolutely. And I’d like to talk
about how, let’s say, looking at the social sciences
influenced my own work. So with Gender Shades,
we went through, we made a new data set,
et cetera, and so forth. And what we were able to
show is that the current way we’re taught, thinking
about the curriculum, is to look at data and
information in aggregate. And so if you see the
aggregate performance for some of these
companies, it seemed OK. So then we said,
let’s break it down and let’s look at what the
implications are for gender. And we see gaps. Let’s look at what the
implications are for skin type. And we see gaps. But what I was
able to do was then bring in Kimberly
Crenshaw, and say, there’s something we can
learn, as computer scientists, from what she did with
anti-discrimination law, saying that single-access
analysis is not enough. And so what happens
when you marry that with computer vision? Well, this is what we got. We provided a new
kind of perspective of looking at the data. And here, we see that, for
one group– the pale males– you have 100% performance. And then for another
group, women of color, you have the worst performance. And when we disaggregate that,
we got to error rates as high as 47%. So as a computer scientist
sitting in my body, as somebody who’s
also reading Crenshaw, I’m able to then
provide new insights into what we’re doing with
computer vision and computer science. [APPLAUSE] – Dr. Sweeney,
are you encouraged by what you are seeing in the
classroom here at Harvard? – Oh my gosh. So the Save the World class– students want to do good,
and they want the work that they do to really
matter and change the world. And the class has really
touched the lives a lot of the students. They’ve gone out, they’ve
done amazing things. They’ve gotten
Facebook to fix bugs, they’ve gotten Airbnb to
address price discrimination. They were the first to point out
problems in the Affordable Care Act. The list of accomplishments
that these students have done goes on and on and on. And we do have to thank
the Ford Foundation too, because the Ford Foundation
has given us the funds to allow the students to explore
these unforeseen consequences, wherever they may be. And the students
have just really– they literally mean
save the world. And it’s been phenomenal. It’s made a big difference. I just want to say also that
the space of problems are huge. So they’re from algorithms being
used, not just in our homes, but also determining
what you’re going to see on your
social media feed, to also determining
sentencing and recommendations around recidivism, all
of which show unfairness and bias in them. And so the amount of work
is huge, so some of it is a matter of shoring
up and giving knowledge to those who have the power
to help us make the change. – And Joy, final word. What do you have to say
to this audience of people who are assembled here
because we care about justice in America and in the world? And we don’t all understand
this new technology. In fact, it’s a little
frightening to some of us. Should we be frightened? – We shouldn’t be
working together, so there’s less to fear. And I hope that all
of you will join me in moving towards
algorithmic justice, because we’ve entered the age
of automation overconfident and underprepared. You see, in this
chart behind me, all of the areas in which
automated decision making is starting to enter our lives. So it’s up to us, we
who are here, and also in the livestream, to
be asking questions. If you’re going
for a job interview and they’re using AI to
make a determination, ask what’s going on. Also share your stories. We have bias in the
wild reports that are submitted to the
Algorithmic Justice League, where people are
like, my Snapchat not work– whatever it might be. So I think it’s really
important that people feel they have a voice,
and you don’t feel like, oh, if I’m not a technologist,
if I don’t have PhDs from MIT, I can’t be part of
this conversation. But that’s not true. We need to move towards
participatory AI, where those who
are at the margins are actually centered, when
it comes to decision making around the technology
that’s shaping our lives and shaping society. – Ladies and
gentlemen, give it up for Latanya Sweeney
and Joy Buolamwini. [APPLAUSE] – And Darren. – And Darren. – Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Tommie
Shelby, and I’m the chair of the Department of
African and African-American Studies, and a professor of
philosophy here in Harvard. But before I introduce
the next panel, I just wanted to say
that was an incredibly powerful and informative panel. So thanks so much for that,
and thanks for the wonderful performance from Joy Buolamwini,
which was a great way to start off a quite deep and, in some
ways, scary– but as we say, hopeful– conversation. It’s an honor to introduce the
participants of the next panel. And the thematic
focus of the panel is mass incarceration
and cultural narratives– over-incarceration,
over-criminalization, horrid and inhumane prison conditions,
harsh and merciless sentences, the torture and trauma
of solitary confinement, and the civic death that’s
imposed even after release from prison. These practices are destroying
the lives of many individuals in many communities. Mass incarceration
is, of course, marked by systemic
racial injustice, from policing and prosecution,
to prison administration and reentry. The problem has
rightly and urgently become the object of
organized resistance, both inside and
outside prison walls. Prisons are too often
out of public view, where we can easily
ignore their presence and forget about those
who are confined. So in this domain especially, we
need artists and storytellers, many of whom are or were
incarcerated themselves, to bring the prison
system out of the shadows and to shine a light on the
many injustices, the burdened, forgotten, and unseen. Such work is also
essential, of course, for holding law
enforcement and legislators accountable for how they
administer crime control practices and how they treat
those in their custodial care. And so to help us think
through these complex issues and of the role of art and
cultural counter narratives in addressing them, we have
a truly distinguished group of individuals. Moderating the panel
will be Danielle Allen. Allen is the James Bryant
Conant University professor here at Harvard University, and
also the director of Harvard’s Edmund J Safra
Center for Ethics. She’s a wide-ranging
political theorist, who is published in
democratic theory, and political sociology, and
history of political thought, both ancient and modern. She’s author of many
influential books, including Our Declaration,
a Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of
Equality– published in 2014– Education and Equality, and
most recently, and perhaps most pertinent for
this panel’s theme, is the amazing
book, Cuz, the Life and Times of Michael A.
Allen is a MacArthur Fellow, and an elected member of the
American Philosophical Society and of the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences. Elizabeth Hinton is the John
L Loeb associate professor of the social sciences in
the Departments of History and African and African-American
Studies here at Harvard. Hinton’s research focuses on
the persistence of poverty and racial inequality in
20th century United States. She is the author of
the award-winning, and really, field-defining
book, From the War on Poverty to the War
on Crime, the Making of Mass Incarceration
in America. She is quite a
passionate defender of the rights of prisoners
and of the formerly incarcerated to get an education
and get access to education. Hinton’s his numerous op-eds
can be found in such venues as The Boston Review, The Los
Angeles Times, The Nation, The New York Times,
and Time Magazine. She is a Ford Foundation Fellow,
and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow, as well. And Bryan Stevenson,
who, of course, will be addressing us tonight
in his keynote lecture, and will get a
proper introduction from the incomparable
Elizabeth Alexander– but here, I’ll be brief. Stevenson is the founder
and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative,
EJI, in Montgomery, Alabama. And under his leadership, EJI
has one major legal challenges eliminating unfair sentences,
exonerating the innocent from– innocent death row
prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated
and the mentally ill, and aiding children
prosecuted as adults. In fact, he recently won a
historic ruling, as many of you know, in the US Supreme
Court, banning mandatory life without parole sentences
for children 17 or younger. [APPLAUSE] He’s a graduate of
Harvard Law School, and has been awarded some 34
honorary degrees– maybe more, since I’ve written that. And he is the author of the
award-winning and deeply moving New York Times
bestseller, Just Mercy. In April 2013, EJI
opened a new museum– the Legacy Museum,
From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration– built on the site of a
former slave warehouse in downtown Montgomery. This is a companion to
the national memorial to victims of lynching, the
extraordinary National Memorial for Peace and Justice. So without further
ado, please join me in welcoming to the stage
Danielle Allen, Elizabeth Hinton, and Bryan Stevenson. [APPLAUSE] – It is such an honor to be
with everybody here today. My sister friend
Elizabeth, Bryan– there’s a small list of
people of whom I say– I just feel grateful
to have been alive when this man walked the earth. [APPLAUSE] But it’s also the case
that, as Hank Willis Thomas said earlier, that one
of the beautiful things about this conversation today
is the discovery that we’ve all been working together. Some of us knew that about
some of the rest of us, but now we all know
it about each other, and that is an incredibly
powerful thing. So we’re going to do more
of that working together in this conversation. We’re switching from that
remarkable, unsettling tale of control to another
story of control. Narrative is at the
core of all of this, and few people are more eloquent
on the subject than the two people I’m sitting here with. I’m going to start with one
small digression into deep history though– for
our country, anyway– because it came up earlier this
morning, and because I think we’re going to get to
history in this conversation. The Declaration of
Independence came up, and Sarah started with
that terrific re-rendering of the famous image
of the signing. So I wanted to add
one additional image to your archive
of re-renderings, because there’s a little story
that goes with it about just how deep the
narrative problems go, and in what small, minute
new ways they show up. So I wrote this book that
Professor Shelby alluded to, Our Declaration of Independence. And it says our for a reason,
because I’m putting myself there in the story. And the book was
born on a night class that I taught on the
south side of Chicago for low-income adults, where
we read the Declaration of Independence together. And of all the text we read,
it was the most powerful for all of us,
because we sat there listening to the
grievances about the King, and thinking about
the city of Chicago. And it’s not hard to
have a list of grievances about the city of
Chicago, and have a recognition of the
relationship between language of rights and freedom,
diagnosing your circumstances, and looking forward to a course
of action to achieve change. My students were all
there, because they were seeking change in their lives. And they got that text. And I wrote that book for them. And that is everywhere through
every single page of that book. [APPLAUSE] But when I got my
cover design, it was that engraving of
all the 56 white signers of the Declaration. I was like, people– I said our Declaration,
not their Declaration. So we’ve had all these
incredible artists on the stage today, and designers, these
beautiful visionaries. I am not such a person, so
the best I could do was say, you got to add a
photo of my students on top of that other photo. First, I just said, add
a photo of my students, and it came back
below the signers. So I said, no, no, no. This is our Declaration. And my students, they’re
in that picture reading, writing, talking,
deliberating, deciding about the future of their
community and their city. We’re doing exactly the
same things that people in the picture below. But I had to make this case. 2014, [INAUDIBLE] designer
read my book, and still, I had to push the old
pictures out of their mind– literally push the old
pictures out of their mind. That’s what we’re
talking about here today. I want to start with very
simple questions for both my colleagues,
and then we’ll get into the deeper,
harder work of why it is we need
narrative work to end the problem of
mass incarceration. So my simple story is we all– sorry, I’ll come back to
that one in a second– we all know Bryan’s
remarkable monument. And you can say so many
important things about it, but right now, I only
want you to tell us– and here’s one more picture up
here for you to think about– what, visually,
this means to you. What do you feel when you
look at your monument? – I went to Berlin, and I went
to the Brandenburg Square, where they have the
Holocaust Memorial, and what struck me about it
is that there are no words. They actually trust
people to enter that place with a narrative
about the Holocaust that will allow them to have
an emotional and meaningful experience with these
very abstract figures. When we built our
memorial, we knew we couldn’t do that,
because in this country, we don’t actually
have a narrative that talks about this era of
racial terrorism and lynching. We knew we had to
contextualize it. We had to create a path. And so the first thing
you see is a sculpture of enslaved people in chains
standing with dignity, but standing and suffering. And the most remarkable
thing, for me, is how many people
have said, I’ve been in this country
my whole life– I’ve never seen a
sculpture on slavery that tries to depict the
brutality of enslavement and the humanity
of those enslaved. And then we narrate
this journey, and then we get
into the memorial. And what we want people to see
are these brown structures, first at eye level, very human– you can read the names. And then we get to the second
quarter, the floor drops, and they begin to rise. And then you get to the third
quarter, and they’re above you. And that’s the thing about
lynching and racial terror. The people who perpetrated
that violence could have buried the bodies and probably
killed even more people that we would never know
about, but they actually wanted to do the opposite. They wanted to lift them up. They wanted to torment,
and taunt, and terrorize communities of color. That’s why we don’t
talk about thousands of victims of lynchings. We talk about millions
of victims of lynchings, because every person of color
was terrorized and menaced by that violence. And so we want to
replicate those dynamics, because we don’t think
people should have a safe place to stand, when they’re
confronting something like racial terrorism,
lynching in this country that went unaddressed for 100 years. And then the last
thing we show people is the park, where we have
the replicas of the monument. And we have a sculpture
of three women– the monument in the memorial
is actually in the neighborhood where black women
organized in the 1950s to make the Montgomery bus
boycott this catalyst that pushed this nation
into civil rights. We have that
statute, and then we have Hank Willis Thomas’s as
powerful a statute at the end. But in the park, we have
a replica of each of them, because we’re calling every one
of these counties to action. We want every county in America
where a lynching took place to claim the replica
of these monuments, take it back to their county,
and begin this process of truth and reconciliation locally. – I’m going to come back to that
point about action in a minute, but I first want to talk to
Elizabeth about her book cover, and ask you to share
the story of this and how it connects to
your own understanding of your role as a
historian, again, trying to push
those old stories, old pictures out
of people’s minds. – I became a historian in
order to change narratives. I grew up in the 1980s,
and really came of age in the 1990s, at the height
of the impact of crack in low-income, and particularly
African-American communities, and the rhetoric
about gun violence that was going on in
the ’80s and ’90s. And I saw directly
the ways in which drug addiction and
violence played out among members of my own family,
and knew that the narratives going on at this time– the super predator
narratives, the idea that black people were
innately criminal and violent, weren’t true. And so I’ve always been
passionate about these issues and seeking to
change these issues through historical understanding
and research, which is partly how I came to the research
at the center of this book. The cover depicts a moment from
the Newark Uprising in 1967. So this was one of
the largest incidents of collective urban
violence and unrest that the United States
witnessed in the 1960s, coming a week before the
uprising in Detroit, Michigan which required the
deployment of federal troops. And in Newark, contrary
to many of the narratives that are told about
these incidents of collective violence
and community violence, most of the people of
the hundreds of people who lost their lives
during these incidents in 1960s, the vast
majority were, of course, black residents at
the hands of police. During the Newark
uprising, there was a lot of police
sniping, a lot of shooting going on in the air. And the cover actually depicts
what we would see regard today as a drive-by shooting. This is an early drive-by
shooting by police officers. Drive-bys are characterized
by the use of relatively massive manpower in
a vehicle moving, and just kind of shooting at
a stationary target or a crowd of people. And this gets us to kind
of rethink our narratives about violence–
who is a victim, who has a monopoly on violence,
when is violence justified? When we look at this
cover, we don’t necessarily see it as a drive-by shooting
but in fact, that’s what it is, in 1967. In the 1980s and ’90s,
when drive-by shootings became far too common in
low-income neighborhoods of color, these
things are discussed as if they’re the natural
outgrowth of pathology in these communities, instead
of a historically distinct manifestation of a convergence
of policy decisions, disinvestments, and historical
inequalities playing out in this moment in the
late 20th century. – So the power on this stage is
phenomenal, the power invested in changing narratives. And the other thing that’s
beautiful about the chance to have this
conversation is to name the nature of the work, which is
this effort to connect changing narratives to concrete changes
in policy and people’s actions, in embodied experiences. Bryan has said one of
the most profound things I know of on this subject, of
where narrative and action come together. He says, of his work
with death row clients, “I became aware that
the rights framework, the insistence on
the rule of law, it was still going
to be constrained by the meta-narratives that
push judges to stop at a certain point– the environment
outside the courts. That’s what pushed me
to think more critically about narrative– not just
within a brief, within a case, within an action,
but more broadly.” Rights only go so far. They are limited by narrative. It’s that coming together
is the key thing. So to really drive
home the point about what we’re
trying to push over, I wanted to share an image
of a correctional center from downtown Chicago. So this one is not out of sight. To the contrary, this one
is solidified with beauty. You may not think
it’s beautiful, but it’s intended
to be a beautiful, as a piece of architecture. Now the [INAUDIBLE] come up
here and tell me how wrong I am to say that. But it’s designed by a very
famous architect, Harry Weese. It’s an example of
Chicago modernism, and one of its later
iterations, as I understand. Again, Sarah will educate
me afterwards, I’m sure. And it is this incredibly
minimalist form– a triangle with these tiny slit windows. It’s a sculptural
object helping everybody feel proud about incarceration. And as David did
say, and Theaster, when we build the environment,
it fixes those narratives. So the narrative
work that you’re trying to end mass
incarceration is about making this building so
ugly we want to tear it down. OK, how are going to do that? Bryan, what’s next? What do we need to do? – Well, we have to reveal
the pain, and the suffering, and the inhumanity that’s
going on within the building. And if we don’t see
the people inside, if we don’t know that people
are being locked down, if we don’t know that there
might be 10 and 11-year-old children in there– because
Illinois doesn’t have a minimum age for trying a
child as an adult– who are being tormented– if we don’t know
about the suffering, then we’re not going
to actually see what’s wrong with the building. And for me, that’s
the great challenge that we face is to
tear down the facade, so that you can actually see the
inequality and injustice that’s happening inside. And that was the
point that I was trying to make earlier
with that quote you read. The law won’t help us. It won’t help us. We’re going to need art, and
narrative, and exploration, and powerful books, like
Professor Hinton’s to kind of pull away some of these things. When this became clear to me– just quick little mini thing– 1972, the Supreme Court
strikes down the death penalty because they conclude it’s
being applied arbitrarily. To the Legal Defense
Fund, the death penalty was a civil rights issue. They knew that 87% the people
executed for the crime of rape in this country were black men
accused of raping white women. 100% of the people executed
for that offense [INAUDIBLE] involving victims
who were white, even though women of color were
three times more likely to be the victims of
sexual assault. Court says it’s arbitrary,
unpredictable. Most people thought that was
the end of the death penalty. The south revolts, says, no,
we need the death penalty, because a court
didn’t say it was cruel and unusual punishment. They come back with
these new statutes. The court in 1976
upholds it, saying, we can’t conclude that these
new statutes won’t work any better than the old ones. Then comes
[? McClusky– ?] and this is why, when I
talked to audiences, I feel like you can’t
understand what we’re dealing with in
the justice sector until you understand this case,
where lawyers went to prove that the modern death penalty
operated in a racially discriminatory manner. They looked at every
homicide in Georgia over an eight-year time period. They came up with
powerful data– 11 times more likely to
get the death penalty if the victim’s than if the
victim’s black, 22 times more likely to get the death penalty
if the defendant is black and the victim’s white. They took the data to
the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court
accepted their evidence, and nonetheless, concluded
that Georgia’s death penalty was constitutional. And it’s the
rationale that really ought to break your heart. The first thing
they said was, if we deal with racial disparities
in the death penalty, it’s going to be
just a matter of time before we start seeing
these disparities and arguments about these
disparities for drug crimes, and property crimes,
and misdemeanor crimes. And Justice [? Brennan ?]
wrote in his dissent that it was a quote,
“fear of too much justice” that allowed the court to
rule the way they ruled. But it was the
second thing that I have to tell you
was the thing that radicalized my relationship,
as a young lawyer. The court said,
a certain quantum of discrimination, a
certain amount of bias, a certain level of
racial discrimination is, in our opinion, inevitable. That’s the word they use to
characterize this result. And having argued cases
before the Supreme Court, I’ve stand there, and I have to
read equal justice under law. There is no way
you can reconcile a doctrine of inevitability
with his commitment to equal justice under law. And as I began to kind of see
that manifest itself, what scared me, what shocked
me was this realization I had about 10 years ago. I’m a product of Brown. I grew up in a community
where black kids had to go to the colored schools. We didn’t have high schools
for black kids in my community. Lawyers came into
our community, made them open up to public schools. That’s what attracted
me about law, is they had the power to
get people to do things that the democratic process wouldn’t. But about 10 years
ago, I realized that we couldn’t win Brown
versus Board of Education today. I don’t think we could. We would not win Brown today. We don’t have a court that’s
committed to equal justice sufficiently to help a
disfavored and disenfranchised group have their
rights respected against the political will
of all of these masses. This court would not do it. And the reason why
they won’t do it is because we’ve lost
that narrative struggle. And so for me, it’s unmasking
what’s inside the building. It’s actually exposing, telling
the stories of inequality and injustice in a way where we
cannot reconcile our commitment to equality and justice
with these disparities, with this heartbreak,
with this pain. I tell people that
reading [? McClusky ?] was probably one of the
hardest things I’ve ever done. And I say that
with some history. When you represent
people on death row, you have difficult,
difficult challenges. And I represented
a man some years ago who didn’t have a lawyer. We tried to stop his execution. We weren’t able to. And it was the first
time I went down to be with somebody who
was about to be executed, and I never will forget
the conversation we had. This is when they still
electrocuted people. And I was back there,
and when I got there, they shaved the
hair off of his body to make him more efficient,
when the electricity would pass through him. And he was really
unnerved by that. But then he started
telling me about his day. And what he said is that,
Bryan, all day long, people have been saying,
what can I do to help you? They came to me this
morning and said, what do you want for breakfast? What you want for lunch? What do you want for dinner? He said, every 15 minutes,
somebody was saying, what can I do to help you? Can I get you the phone? Can I get you the stamps? Can I get you the letter? And I never will forget him
saying– he said, Bryan, it’s been such a strange day. He said, more people
have asked me what can I do to help you in the
last 14 hours of my life than they ever did in the
first 19 years of my life. And holding that man’s hands, I
couldn’t help but think, yeah, where were worthy
when you were three and you were being
physically abused? Where were they when you were
seven, and your mom died? Where were they
when you were 11, and you’re experimenting
with drugs? Where were they when you came
back from Vietnam traumatized? And with those questions
resonating in my mind, they pulled that man
away, strapped him to an electric chair,
and executed him. But as hard as
that was, it wasn’t as hard as reading a decision
from the United States Supreme Court talking about the
inevitability of racial bias in the administration
of the death penalty. And our society
allowed it to happen, and that’s why the artist and
the narratives and historians have had to get busy. And that’s what excites me
about being on the stage with the two of
you, because that’s what you’re trying to expose. [APPLAUSE] – [INAUDIBLE] ask
Bryan a follow-up? I’m so glad that you
brought our attention to the [? McCluskey ?]
case, because as I read it, and I teach it in my
Mass Incarceration, a Historical Perspective course,
and I discuss it in my book– this was the moment
when it became impossible to prove racism in
the criminal justice system. And it also coincides
with the year, of course, when the 100 to
1 crack sentencing in 1986, when the disparity is introduced
[? in ?] Anti-Drug Abuse Act in Congress, and passed
by the federal government. So what I’m hearing you
say is that that decision made you more cynical about
the ability of the law to change narratives. Did it cause you to kind of
shift gears in your strategy? – I’d say it made me understand
the limits of the law in ways that I hadn’t been– I was a very young lawyer,
and I was so struck with the power of the lawyers
under Brown to do these things. And it’s still true
that we need the law. Ending life without
parole for children is not something we could do
with the political process. Marriage equality
isn’t something we could do with the
political process. So we still need
it, but I realized that we’re going to need our
artists, and our historians, and our storytellers, and our
researchers to begin working on this narrative
struggle, to change the consciousness of
those decision makers, of those justices,
so that they would be too ashamed to talk
about the inevitability of discrimination. And unfortunately,
there’s an absence of shame at the United
States Supreme Court. [APPLAUSE] – I want to pick up on
that theme of shame– where it exists and
where it doesn’t. exist. It’s like it exists in
all the wrong places. Doesn’t exist where
it should exist, and exists in all wrong places. So I’m thinking about
this building, again. And you drew us straight to
the specifics of Illinois– an 11-year-old could be in there
facing the worst of penalties. And I don’t have a single story
I could pin on this building. I’m thinking of Hank’s
billboards again. I can’t tell anybody’s
story that might be attached to this building. When I wrote Cuz, the
story my baby cousin whom we lost to the
criminal justice system– a 12-year sentence on his
first arrest for an attempted carjacking, and released
from prison after 11 years. Killed three years later by
somebody he’d met in prison. So at any rate, when
I wrote that book, I went around the
country talking about it. It was hard to talk about. And I had a friend
who said to me, well, Danielle, just remember
you’re a story catcher. Because you’re there, yes–
you’re telling your story, but what you’re
going to discover is that when you go
there, everybody else is going to give you their story. And that’s exactly what I found. And I thought of myself
as like a butterfly net– go around the world
as a butterfly net, letting stories come to me. But the incredible thing about
that, the real powerful lesson of it was how many stories
there are and how few we hear. And this is a completely
obvious point, if you think about
it for two seconds, because 2.25 million
people are incarcerated, and they all have people
they’re connected to. So then that’s every
year for the last decade plus, et cetera. So you just add up
with numbers and you realize that there are millions
and millions of stories, that I now think of as
butterflies floating out there in the world, that
we don’t hear. So I wanted to ask this question
we need to hear the stories, why don’t we hear the stories? Is it shame? Are there other forces working? Elizabeth, you
work really, really hard to get the stories
of incarcerated people onto public stages like this. You did that a year ago. You had incredible voices
here on this stage. Can you tell us what
you think about why we don’t hear all the
stories we should hear, and what we can do about it? – Well, I think, in general–
and this has to do with the core of the issues that
we’ve been talking about for the past few days. Who gets to be seen
as a human being? Who counts? Who’s a citizen? Whose lives matter? And throughout our
history, that has not been poor people and that
has not been people of color. And the stigma that is
attached to criminality, and certainly incarceration,
the invisibility– I think that the point you
made here is really important. This is in the
middle of Chicago, but most of our prisons
are in places far, far away from here,
removed from society, the people inside barred from
everyday human interaction that’s so crucial, and I
think that the division’s in our society, in general. And a lot of that has
to do with narrative. A lot of that has to
do with representation. But prevent us–
create an atmosphere of fear, where we’re unable
to see our fellow human beings as human beings. Of course, this is wrapped
up in an our long history. Of course, this is wrapped up
in this idea of inevitability of criminality among people
of color as being inevitable. That’s something that I found
and uncovered in my research, and justified a the escalation
of police and incarceration at all levels of government. But I think a lot
of it just– it has to do so much with whose
voices get to be included and the divisions among us. I remain inspired by the
abolitionist movement, and the ways in
which it really took getting the voices of
enslaved Africans out there to generate
awareness about the issue. And I think that’s something
that, since I’ve been doing this work, has really changed. And many of the formerly
incarcerated people who are really at the forefront
of criminal justice reform movements, they would say,
those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. And so much of it is
about is we rethink approaches to problems of
inequality and punishment is how to amplify those voices,
and help get those voices front and center in our discussions. – And so as you
do work on getting the voices of
incarcerated people out and collaborating
with efforts that they’re leading and building,
can you tell us about one of the things that
makes you most hopeful? Where do you see the
most positive work happening right now? – It’s been amazing
to me, even since I’ve been at Harvard, the ways in
which thinking on this issue has changed, the ways in which
these voices are becoming part of our discussions
about these issues. Since I’ve been here in the
past two years, I’ve been– I’ve had the privilege
and the honor to sit here at Sanders
Theatre, but in other venues around campus with formerly
incarcerated people. I think that, as
people are aware– become aware of the
issue, become aware of the kind of arbitrary laws– and Tommy mentioned this
in his introduction– and the extremely
harsh sentencing that has been attached to misdemeanor
crimes, the problems of drug abuse, that we are
thinking on this has really [? begin ?] to change. Of course, the kind of important
forces of popular narrative shifting has contributed
to this change in collective
consciousness, greatly from Michelle Alexander’s A New
Jim Crow book to Ava Duvernay’s documentary, The 13th. I think that the
more that we can begin to present these issues
and a completely different way to a popular audience,
as Bryan just said, we will begin to plant the seeds
that will help shift the world views on these issues
to realize that things like drive-by shootings
in certain communities aren’t natural, that gun
violence is unacceptable, that the systematic removal
of entire groups of people from communities
into faraway cages shouldn’t happen in
the Land of the Free. – So this is a good
point of connection. One of the things we’re getting
is that there’s all this taken for granted stuff, and that’s– this here’s another form of
invisibility being brought into visibility– the taken
for granted being brought into visibility so it could
stop taking it for granted, and put a new picture
in that place. Bryan. – Yeah, and I just think–
just to echo what Elizabeth is saying, because I think it’s
really important how there is this relationship between
power and vulnerability, and who can shape
narrative and who can’t. Because the truth is that our
history, when you’re enslaved, you have to focus on freedom. And what happened to
African-Americans, we had to be entirely
focused on being free. And then when we got
free, we weren’t safe, so then we had to
focus on security. And then we got secure– more secure. We didn’t have any rights, and
so we had to focus on rights. And what we keep
forgetting in this country is that we’re in
the early days of a post-enslavement, post-terror,
post-apartheid history. We’re just getting out
of this horrific era. [APPLAUSE] And for a long time, I
think our foreparents thought that narrative
struggle was a luxury. And because of that, we
[? didn’t ?] engage in it. And so the North
won the Civil War, but the South won
the narrative war. They were never required to
repudiate racial inequality and white supremacy. [APPLAUSE] And the week we got the federal
government to intervene, to stop mob lynching, but the
lynchers won the narrative war. They didn’t have
to ever apologize. – I agree with you
completely that the South won the narrative, but the one
place I going to push back is on the account you
gave of our forefathers. – No, it’s not as if– listen, I wasn’t
doing narrative work for the first 20
years of my career, so I’m not just suggesting– look, as Frederick
Douglass was out there, he was doing all
about narrative. I’m just saying
that collectively– – And our friend Dubois too. – Yeah. – Because I want
to say his phrase. That was my real reason
for pushing back on you, is because I wanted to say
that Dubois pushed us all to be co-creators in
the kingdom of culture. – There have always– – I just wanted to
say that out loud. – There have always been– – Take that away– co-creators in the
kingdom of culture. That’s what we’re talking about. – There have always
been those people. I guess what I’m trying
to say is that now, we’re living at a time where we
can take over Sanders Theatre– this just didn’t
happen in the 1980s, when I was a law student– and we can have a program
that somebody like Sarah Lewis is organizing, and all of this– we have access and opportunity. And the question I’m just
going to keep insisting is that we engage and we use it. When I wrote my
book Just Mercy, I had the great fortune of
working with Chris Jackson, an amazing black editor who– and I have this
voice in my head– it’s this uncle I grew up
with– and he was always saying, they’re not going
to let you do that. And y’all know those
kind of voices. And I said, oh, I’m
going to college– they’re not going to
let you go to college. Then I said, I’m going
to Harvard– they’re not going to let you go to Harvard. I’ve been hearing
him my whole life. It’s like, we’re going to
open a museum on slavery– they’re not going
to let you do that. And I was writing Just Mercy,
and I could hear him saying, they’re not going to let
you say that in that book. But Chris was a kind
of editor who said, not only we’re going to let you
do it, we want you to do it. And now, we have
these black artists, and we have these
black activists, and we have historians,
and teachers. And the challenge
is are we going to use our narrative
power and focus it on things like
mass incarceration, and focus it on things
like algorithmic bias, and focus it on things like
bigotry, and exclusion? Because that’s the tension. – Right. – Because there’s another
way to take your resources– to take your Harvard degree,
to teach in this space, and look the other way
when people are being excluded and pushed aside. And I’ve seen it, so
I’m not making that up. [APPLAUSE] And my point is, in the
tradition of Douglass, in the tradition of Dubois, in
the tradition of Ida B Wells, in the tradition of
all those matriarchs who shaped me, when
I got to Montgomery– Amelia Boynton Robinson,
these kind of people. Johnnie Carr, when I
moved to Montgomery, she told us we would
get dressed up, knowing they were going to beat
us until we were almost dead. And I put on my best clothes
and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That was the kind of
statement I wanted to make. And when you’re in the
presence of people like that, you appreciate the
power of narrative. I just hope we use our
skills, and resources, and our platforms, and
focus in on the things that help the poor, the
vulnerable, the marginalized, the excluded– not just
the celebrated, not just the privileged. And we have celebration
and privilege in the African-American
community too. I think that’s the challenge
that I’m talking about. – I agree. [APPLAUSE] – So this campus is having some
important conversations right now, and so I cannot not
pick the brains of two of the smartest people on the
subject of mass incarceration on the subject of
prison divestment. [APPLAUSE] So we’ve got 20 minutes
left, and I want you guys to help us think this through. Let’s think it through. – So I was actually just having
a conversation about this right before I came to the stage
with President [INAUDIBLE].. And I think the issue is– the narrative change is
a means towards an end, and the end is how are we
going to invest our resources? To me, the question is
really about investments. What my research shows,
and what we really have decided to do since
the civil rights movement is respond to problems
of inequality, unemployment, and
failing schools, and violence with
police, and surveillance, and incarceration. And that has not worked. That has not helped
keep communities safer. Inequality is widening. And so we need a different
set of investments. In the era of
deindustrialization, when domestic manufacturing
leaves, the industry of the late 20th and 21st
century is the prison industry, is law enforcement,
is surveillance. And this has not worked. So to me, the
question– and this seems to be in the back
of our conversations over the past two days–
is really how can we change narratives in order to
think about getting resources to people who have been
systematically denied resources historically since slavery? This is one of the
reasons why I think– why I’m so inspired by Bryan’s. Because I think the first
step in so much of this, in terms of changing
our world view, is really having a
reckoning with our history, and really reckoning
with slavery. [APPLAUSE] – Bryan. – That’s certainly my view. I think part of what
I value in your work– and I just want to say this–
is that we make the connections. Because what’s interesting to
me about what [? happened ?] after emancipation– and this is what
Skip’s documentary does so brilliantly–
is that we actually use crime and criminality to
maintain that status as feared and rejected. We just replaced the
word slave with criminal, which is how we created
convict leasing. And that most people don’t know
anything about convict leasing is part of the problem. Because we didn’t recognize–
we haven’t responded the way we’re supposed to
respond when we saw that rate of incarceration
going up in the 1970s and ’80s, and so that history, I do
think, is really important. I think there’s power in that. When you were
talking earlier about how we don’t know
the names of people who were in these spaces– if you asked most Americans to
name one African-American that was lynched between
1877 and 1950, they can’t give
you a single name. And that absence
of consciousness is part of that problem. So I do think that
the money question is critical to the
justice question. We went from $6 billion in
spending on jails and prisons in 1980 to over $80 billion. That’s a conservative
estimate– $80 billion. Last year in California,
they were putting kids in juvenile facilities that were
spending almost $200,000 a year for each juvenile they put
in the juvenile detention facility. And if you imagine what mothers,
and grandmothers, and cousins, and fathers, and brothers
could do if somebody gave them a quarter of that. Said, here’s $50,000
to help your child deal with the challenges
in your community. We’re going to give it to you
every year for the next 10 years. [APPLAUSE] For me, it’s not hard
to see why that wouldn’t be a healthier
investment in justice, and that’s why I don’t have
any space for defending, or justifying, or rationalizing
investing in prisons, or investing in police,
or investing [INAUDIBLE] [APPLAUSE] – I will add to that. I think one of the most
important things for us all to register too, as we think
about the policy environment of criminal justice, is that– I think this is true
and fair to say– you’ll tell me if it’s not– but I think it may be the case– and I just qualified
my own statement– that the most
important thing that’s happened for criminal justice
reform in this country in the last 15 years
is the Great Recession, because those budget crises
forced Texas and California to change direction. We don’t want to use a
recession to get justice, but I think it does
drive home the point that you have to
take resources– to commit to taking resources
out of criminal justice, and reinvesting those
resources in other areas if you want to see a
fundamental change. And I would put one other
interesting narrative change on the table for
people to think about. We forget that economics
is full of narratives. [INAUDIBLE] next time, economics
got to be on the stage too, OK? And we’ve got talk
about their narratives. And so there’s this terrific
economist at Stanford who has thought about
university budgets, and she makes the argument that
every single part of university budget should be an
investment in the thing you’re doing– research in education. Now, that’s interesting,
because if you trying to think
about the investment underneath the
penumbra of that idea, you have to ask
yourself when are my investments over here
undermining my investments over here? And if I’m investing
lots of money in trying to recruit a really
broad swath of students, and if my pool of
African-American males is drying up because
over here, I’m investing in the stuff
that dries up that pool, it doesn’t make sense. So [INAUDIBLE] an
economist [? there. ?] [APPLAUSE] I want you to note. All right, I’ve got
to push back though. I’m change– – OK, please. – –rules. But how is this issue different
from any other political issue that might be on the table,
that a university might be asked to stop investing in? And then where does it end? And how can we make any sense– so yes, apartheid and
tobacco, we understand that. [INAUDIBLE] clear bright lines. But this is not a bright line. I disagree. – Do you want to– [LAUGHTER] – I do think that
the university– that if we’re going
to solve this problem of mass incarceration, it’s
going to take all of us. Everybody in this room is
complicit in this problem in some way. And it’s not going
to be undone by and it’s not going to happen by
the goodness of policymakers’ heart. It’s going to take all of us
to rethink our priorities. I think that the institutions
of higher education can address this
issue in two ways– we educate people, so we can– and a lot of my inspiration
in this thinking has come from your work on
education and inequality, Danielle. We have a responsibility
to educate. And people who are in prison– the most like the
greatest predictor of future incarceration is not
race, but is tied to education. If you’re a white man without
a high school diploma, you are much more likely to
go to prison than a black man with a high school diploma. So the people in prison
are the most systematically undereducated people
in our society. And I think that, in
this sense, incarceration presents us an opportunity
to provide educational access to people who have not
had that, for a number of different structural
reasons throughout their lives. So as institutions
of education, I think that we can help expand
educational opportunities. And then, of course, as
institutions of research, we can bring scholars working
with incarcerated populations and communities to
address these problems. I think more than what the
investments of the university– we can make different
kinds of investments and decide to step up to
address some of these issues. And I think it’s not
just universities that need to do that. If we want to not be home
to the largest prison system in the planet,
it’s going to take– – And history. – –and history, it’s going
to take universities doing it. It’s going to take the banks. JP Morgan Chase just divested
from private prisons. It’s going to take
institutions rethinking what their priorities are. And this is not a problem
that any one sector or any single policy is going
to completely solve on its own. – I also think it’s
just really important to talk about the morality. We talk about veritas
here at this university. That’s truth. And it’s not true
if it’s aligned with things that are immoral,
and unjust, and oppressive. And I think we should
aspire to be moral. Let’s face it, slavery was
profitable to slave owners and those who exploited
human beings in the way that they did. They always had an
economic justification for abusing people. The six million people who
fled the American South during the first half
of the 27th century allowed the terrorists who
terrorized them from the lands that they owned to profit from
their fear and insecurity. There was something profitable
about keeping black people from voting. You could actually pass laws
that empowered wealthy elites throughout that time. It’s never sufficient to
say, is the economic return for this investment
going to be positive if we make the investment? There’s another question
you have to ask, and that, is it right? And it’s not right. It’s just not. [APPLAUSE] I studied at the law school, I
studied at the Kennedy School. I think I was taught that you’re
supposed to ask the question, is it right? We’ve got the highest rate of
incarceration in the world– 6 million people on
probation and parole, 70 million people in this
country with criminal arrest histories– which means
that they can’t get job, sometimes and can’t get loans– women rate of
incarceration going through the roof, 70% of
whom are single parents with minor children at home. It’s not right. And so I think the question is– after you ask is it right, and
I think the answer is obvious– are we going to leave? Does truth mean leadership? Does veritas mean leadership? I think it does. And this institution has
led in extraordinary ways. I want to pat it on the back. There were civil
rights acts that came out of this institution– WEB Dubois, that you mentioned. We have led when the need
for leadership has arisen, and I just think this is
one of those times when we need leadership. – I will give you an
example of leadership. Whenever I am in
this space, I always like to point out that
there pale male over there wrote the first abolitionist
pamphlet in the colonies in the 1760s. So I was also thinking, when we
looked at Hank Willis Thomas’s presentation, and he took All
Lives Matter and turned it to All Lies Matter, you drop one
more L, you get Allies Matter. Allies matter. And this place can lead,
and knows how to lead. – Yes, when it wants to. – Yes, I agree. Now, OK, so you’ve helped us– [APPLAUSE] – I just have to say,
I liked that, Danielle. You just slid that one right
in there, but I’m feeling it. I like it. – [INAUDIBLE] Anyway, you’ve
helped us with one issue. I would like to get your help
with another issue, which picks up– connects us back
to but the previous panel. Because we are at a point where
criminal justice and technology intersect, and the issue
of algorithmic justice could not be more important in
the criminal justice sector. And yet we saw a
couple of sides there with the risk assessment for
people with arrest records and so forth. So Elizabeth and I are
both in conversations, talking to people about
reentry, how to facilitate, increase reentry, and so forth. Everybody wants to rely on
algorithmic decision making to support this. We know exactly
the way in which it reproduces underlying patterns
of racial disparities, and so forth. So here we are again, yet
another place where the quantum discrimination– in this
case, quite literal quantum– algorithmically-defined
discrimination is baked into the process,
is normalized, is accepted. How do we break that? – I think we have to
start by acknowledging there are no shortcuts. It’s taken us 50,
60 years to build this kind of infrastructure
of over-incarceration that we’re living in. And I think people keep
looking for quick fixes, look for these kind
of drive-by solutions. And I just think we have
to push back against that. There’s a whole hierarchy
of values and norms that have supported and
sustained over-incarceration, policing, menacing of
communities of color, and we have to take those apart. And I think we should
be very, very skeptical when somebody says,
oh, if we do this, the problem will be solved. Predictions around
human behavior are inherently problematic in
the criminal justice space. I do this with kids. I represent a lot of children. And if you look at
the lives of some of my clients, and the
abuse, and the trauma, and the suffering that
they have lived through– I tell the story about a
14-year-old I represented, who was living in a house
where his mom was the target of a lot of domestic violence. The mother’s boyfriend
would start drinking, and then he’d get violent. The man came home one day,
punched the boy’s mother. She fell on the floor. She was unconscious
and bleeding. The little boy tried
to help his mom. He couldn’t get her to revive. He thought his mom was dead. The man went into a
bedroom, the little boy went into the bedroom. He was going to call the
police, but he remembered he had a handgun– the man did– in the drawer. Pulled out the gun, walked over
to where the man was sleeping, pointed the gun
at the man’s head. And the man was snoring. When the man stopped
snoring and jumped, the little boy jumped,
and he ended up shooting the man in the
head, killing him– tragic. Tiny little boy,
under 5 feet tall, under 100 pounds,
14 years of age. He was probably the
kind of kid that might have been tried
as a juvenile– no prior juvenile adjudications, no
prior criminal histories– except for the fact that the
man that he shot and killed, his mother’s boyfriend, that
man was a deputy sheriff. And because it was
a deputy sheriff, the prosecutor insisted
that this child be tried as an adult.
So the judge [INAUDIBLE] stand trial as an adult, and
they put him in an adult jail. And he’d been there three days. I went to the jail to see him. When he came out, he
was just terrified. And I asked him questions. He wouldn’t answer any of my
questions I put my pen down, I walked around the table, I got
close to him, I said, come on, you got to talk to me. I can’t help if you
don’t talk to me. He wouldn’t say a word, and I
couldn’t figure out what to do. So at some point, I
just leaned on him. And when I leaned on
him, he leaned back. And when he leaned back,
I put my arm around him, and he began crying. And then he started
talking to me about what had happened at the jail. And he told me in
the first night, several men had hurt him. Then he told me
on the next night, several people had raped him. Then he told me the
night before, I’d gotten– there were so
many people had hurt him, he couldn’t remember
how many there had been. And I held that little boy
while he cried hysterically for almost an hour. And I said, look, I’m going
to get you out of here. You stay right here. And when I tried to
leave, the little boy grabbed me by the arm and
said, please, please don’t go. Don’t go. I said, no, it’s OK. I’m going to get
you out of here. And I left the jail, and
of course, the question I had in my mind– who’s
responsible for this? And the answer is we are. But the point of
this history is, if you tried to assess what
the likelihood of recovery and success for
that young man is, we don’t have the data
necessary to actually predict what happens. We got that little boy out
of that place that day. Some amazing people,
these beautiful mothers and grandmothers, kind
of people I grew up with, wrapped their arms
around this little boy. And we got him out,
and he did this thing that he hadn’t done before. He actually felt safe. And that little boy graduated
from high school, then he graduated from college,
then he got a master’s degree in engineering. And now, he has this
beautiful family of two children,
this wonderful wife. He calls me every
month and he says, Mr. [? Brown, ?] I just want
you to know I’m doing OK. And for me, if you don’t have
that narrative in your head, you can’t actually
create the data set you need to do the
kind of predictive work that some of these folks
are saying they can do. And that’s why we should do
what we can with what we have. But there’s a whole
lot about redemption. There’s a whole
lot about recovery. There’s a whole lot
about restoration. There’s a whole lot about
love in the African-American community and other
communities of color, that defies any kind of
restriction, constraint, or definition. [APPLAUSE] It does. And until we understand
that, we should stop thinking that we can
predict who’s going to fail and who’s not going to fail. – Yeah. – The question itself
is the wrong question, because you can take
that data and say that what it’s showing you
is the degree of difficulty, and Joy, this is for you,
degree of difficulty. Because what that means because,
if you take it that way, then what it’s helping you
answer is the question of, what help does
this person needs? – Exactly. – If your question is, how
can I help this person, you can actually
use the same data, and you’ll get a completely
different policy results. So for me, that
means it does go back to this conjunction of morality
with narratives, that you get– and that issue beautiful
questions, it’s how can I help? Why did we lose that question? So final thoughts, Elizabeth. – Well, just on
that note, it makes me think of one of
the organizations that I’m most inspired by right. Now it’s an organization
called Advance Peace, and it was started by a
man named Devone Boggan, and it’s operating–
it’s beginning to expand, and it’s operating right now
and in Richmond, California and Stockton,
California, where I’ve been doing a lot of
research the past few years, and in Sacramento. And this is an approach to
mentoring mostly young men, young men of color, who are at
risk of shooting somebody else, dying of gun violence,
or going to prison. And when these young men make
mistakes are in the program, and the counselors who
are involved are formerly incarcerated, and many of
them are former gang members, the philosophy is we don’t–
they’re not kicked out of the program. If they’re making mistakes,
that means they need more love. And so I think
what they’re trying to do is change
narratives and give love to people who need love,
and using that as a response instead of, you’re messing
up, so let’s lock you away in a cage. So I think that we need
to infuse these narratives with a love of one another,
and a different kind of set of understandings and
approaches to responding to what I see as the
most pressing problems that we’re facing right
now, as a society. – And final thought, Bryan? – Well, I’m just grateful
that there are people– there are historians,
like Elizabeth Hinton, who are trying to tell the
story in a new way that pushes us to see past those barriers. There are economists
and political theorists like you, unmasking the
way in a lot of ways, these structures and
systems have conspired to create these conditions. I’m energized by this
event, by this conference. And I’m just so
grateful to Sarah for bringing together
these amazing people who use their talent and ability. Because ultimately, that’s
what allows us to be inspired. And I don’t think
we’re going to be able to overcome
mass incarceration without some inspiration. I tell people this
all the time, you have to be willing
to believe things you haven’t seen to create justice. There’s no other way to do it. I talk about my
grandmother a lot. My grandmother was
this amazing person had this ability to
inspire you to believe things you haven’t seen. And I think that’s what we
have to do collectively. And when it comes
to people coming out of jails and prisons, when
it comes to people who’ve been incarcerated, [INAUDIBLE]
comes to their family members who have been burdened
by that, I just want to put a plug-in for
finding ways to embrace these communities and people. When I was a little
boy, my grandmother did this thing where she
started coming up to me and she’d give me these hugs. And she’d squeeze
me so tightly, I thought she was
trying to hurt me. And then she’d ask me an
hour later, she’d say, Bryan, do you still feel
me hugging you? And if I said no, she
would jump on me again. And so by the time I was 10,
my grandmother had trained me. She had taught me. And every time I would
see her, I’d say, mama, I always feel you hugging me. And she’d smile
the smile– but I didn’t understand what she was
doing until I was much, much, much older. She worked as a
domestic her whole life. And when she got into her 90s,
she fell and she broke her hip, and then she was
diagnosed with cancer. And I was in college,
and she was dying. And I went to go see her. She was on her deathbed,
and it was so hard for me. I was just pouring my heart
out, just pouring my heart, I was holding her hand. Her eyes were closed. I wasn’t even sure
she could hear me. And then it was time for me to
leave, and I stood up to leave, and then my grandmother
opened her eyes, and she squeezed my hand. And then she looked at
me, and the last thing she said to me–
she said, Bryan, do you still feel
me hugging you? And then she said, I’m always
going to be hugging you. And I say that to my
clients and we collectively have to say it to people
who have fallen down and who are vulnerable. Because I think
that affirmation, that witness is the
way we restore dignity. It’s the way we affirm humanity. And when our artists,
and our talented people, and our gifted people,
and educated people, all of these folks find ways to
get closer to this community has been stigmatized and
demonized, and we embrace them, we do something really
important to create a new kind of architecture,
a new kind of infrastructure for a future that I think
is going to really depend on, yes, our best knowledge,
our best insight, our best technology, our best
judgment, but also our best generosity, our best
gift, our best love to help people recover from
something so devastating as what we’re living
through right now. – So love overrules. – Yes. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you guys. Thank you. – I do want to take a minute
to think about what we’ve just seen, which was incredible. And while I’m doing
that, I’ll just give an announcement, as you
settle back into your seats. I’m Vincent Brown. I teach here in the
History Department and the Department of African
and African American studies. And I wanted to let you
know that whether you are coming back to Sanders
for the evening session or making your way home
after enjoying the morning and afternoon with
us, we hope you’ll attend the grand opening
of Gordon Parks, Selections from the Dean Collection
at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and
African American Art at the Hutchins Center. That exhibition showcases
a part of the collection of Kasseem Dean and
Alicia Keys, who hold the largest private
assemblage of works by Gordon Parks, spanning
the entirety of his career. The reception, like the gallery,
is free and open to the public, and will run until 7:30 tonight,
located at 102 Mount Auburn Street in Harvard Square. And the exhibition will
run through July 19th, but we hope you’ll
attend the opening of it tonight, inspired by the many
thought provoking moments we’ve shared today and yesterday. So this has really
been something else. That last panel, but really
the entire last day and a half has been informative,
empowering, and at least for me, deeply moving– and I
know for many of you, as well. I want to add my voice
to the chorus of praise for Sarah Lewis, whose vision
brought us all together. [APPLAUSE] So it’s been a
long day, but it’s been such an amazing event that
I don’t really want it to end. And happily, there is
more to come this evening. But it’s fallen on me
now to try and offer some concluding remarks. I couldn’t possibly summarize
what we’ve experienced together this last day and a
half, so I won’t try. But let me instead
offer a variation on the themes of this
convening, a comment meant to be more of a
provocation than a conclusion. And here I’m going to
break the rules a bit, and end with something
of a seminar discussion, if you’ll forgive me, Sarah. One of the things I’ve most
enjoyed about this gathering is the way it has
turned our attention to the two senses of vision– to look and to imagine– and asked us to employ both
in our estimation of justice. Can we imagine
justice by seeing it? How would we recognize
it if we did? In their own ways, each of
the panels and performances has taught us the
need to imagine what justice might look like,
or sound like, or move like– to envision
ourselves in justice, as young [? Amanda ?]
[? Gorman ?] said. But what would that
justice even be? Equal citizenship
under state law? A confident sense of belonging? To what, and with whom? So much of our
discussion has revolved around the simple right
to live and thrive, and to see that right manifested
and reflected in the world around us. But racism is so blinding. And here my own work
leads me to think about things in a way that
might, at first, seem peculiar. I’m not an artist
or an art historian. I’m primarily a historian
of slavery and war. I’ve recently written a
book about the largest slave rebellion in the 18th century
British Empire, Tacky’s Revolt in Jamaica, which
convulsed Britain’s most profitable and important
colony in 1760. Writing that book has
taught me to think of the relationship
between slavery, racism, and war in ways that I think
are relevant to our discussion– though perhaps in a
roundabout manner, so I hope you’ll bear with me. We generally
acknowledge that racism emerges from the
history of slavery, but seldom consider that slavery
had its roots in conquest, and the desire to perpetuate
the fruits of conquest through the violent
domination of the conquered. The former slave
abolitionist and war veteran [? Gustavo Vassa, ?]
who many of you know is [INAUDIBLE],, from
his late 18th century autobiography, famously
defined slavery itself as a perpetual state of war. This was not war in
the conventional sense between distinct armies directed
by the rulers of states. Rather, mastery was, by nature,
a forceful collective assault. The racism that
attended, supported, and outlived Atlantic slavery
is a species of war, as well. So I want to suggest that
among slavery’s most important legacies is the fact that
racism’s primary evil is less the dehumanization
of black people than it is anti-black
militarism. Its most dangerous
manifestation is not exclusion, but the will to domination that
treats black people not just as outsiders, but as enemies. Sarah Lewis talked about how
pictures could be weapons. I want to think
about what it would mean to take that literally. When she asked me to
participate in this event, my first thought was to
remember that I had once been the target of a kind
of racist portraiture. While living in my hometown,
San Diego, in 1990, I was thought to match the
artist composite sketch of a serial rapist and murderer,
the so-called Claremont Killer. The picture accompanied
a description– a black or Latino male, 5 foot
8 inches to 6 foot 2 inches, age 18 to 35. The police had me down to
the station for fingerprints and a DNA test,
along with nearly 800 other black and brown men
that looked nothing like me. As it turns out, this
was the first DNA dragnet in US history– the artist sketch,
the wanted poster, targeted a population
of hundreds. This is not the kind
of portrait we usually think about when we
talk about culture. At this convening, we’ve
mostly considered culture as the expressive works
of the imagination. When I consider the work of
that wanted poster though, a target for an
enemy population, I think more of
culture as a system of meaning organized by our
sensory perception, the words and images that
tell us what makes sense, what to care about, what
to fear, or who we should hate. The portion of a
black man as a target does a similar kind of
work then to a flag, organizing a sense of
belonging and purpose and marking distinction
between citizen and alien. A wanted portrait marks
a target in the way facial recognition
software does, or digital imaging
more generally, which has become vital to the
conduct of modern warfare. Now, I may be personally
primed to think this way. I grew up in San
Diego, California, one of the most potent
military garrisons in the history of the world. Born at the height
of the Vietnam War, raised during the
Cold War, and entering adulthood during the Gulf
War, I witnessed a flowering of American militarism,
and have never been convinced that all our
battlefields were overseas. As we near the end of the second
decade of continuous terror wars, I cannot say that I
have ever truly known peace, even though I’ve
never been a soldier. Recently, after a conversation
with the current US president, former President Jimmy Carter
told a church congregation in Plains, Georgia
that the United States is the most warlike nation
in the history of the world. This country, he said, has
only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history. What does it mean to talk
about justice, belonging, and inclusion in a country that
has been perpetually at war abroad, even as the conquest
and domination of those outside the circle of
protection at home endures? [INAUDIBLE] was absolutely
correct yesterday to note that the history
of citizenship in the US embodies a racial narrative,
but it is therefore also a militarized concept. How else can we
understand the history of violence, constant
and relentless violence, that Carrie Mae Weems mourns
in her devastating Grace Notes? Why else would there
have been an escalation of the killing of young black
men during the Obama years? How else could a
state government get away with poisoning
an American city? Doesn’t our culture
of war help to explain how a black man can reach for
a wallet, and a cop can see– literally see him pulling a gun? This is the image
that art must disarm, if we are ever to envision
ourselves in justice. Counter narratives– whether in
pictures, music, performance, design, writing, or the creative
improvisations of everyday life– can set a mood of peace, out
of which a system of peace can be built, as called for
by one of America’s most strident anti-war activists,
Martin Luther King Jr. Racial injustice around
the world, poverty, war– when humankind solves
these three great problems, Dr. King said, we will have
learned the practical art of living in harmony. As Dean Larry Bobo
reminded us yesterday, we are not yet saved. And there can be no truly
redemptive movement for justice without a movement to change
our warlike culture, the system of meaning that demands that we
conquer and dominate and kill. No peace, no justice. Is profoundly illuminating
convening has made that clear to me, so I
want to give a final thanks to Sarah Lewis, our
hosts and our sponsors, and to all of you. This has been a truly
transformative event, and I’m confident that
it carries forward the work of envisioning
justice for all. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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