For me, the defining event of the first day of the conference, leaving aside Patricia Hill Collins’ brilliant, astute, and witty keynote address (about which more to follow) was a quote by Robin D.G. Kelley. The words were incorporated into a presentation on the development of diversity and inclusion plans, delivered by Michelle Meyers and Giavanna Munafo of Meyers & Munafo LLC, which came at the end of the day. Technically, of course, this was not the “first day,” but rather the “pre-conference” day, on which we attended the events dedicated to Women’s Centers. (Which tells us that there are a lot of Women’s Centers around, if not at Presbyterian seminaries!)
Here it is:
“. . . any revolution must begin with thought, with how we imagine a New World, with how we reconstruct our relationships with each other, with unleashing our desire and building a new future on the basis of creativity rather than rationality.” (from Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Robin D.G. Kelley)
(An admission: I couldn’t remember the exact quote, but was able to find this text, which sounds and feels right, online here and also here. The latter site features a number of additional excerpts from Professor Kelley’s 2002 book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, from which the quote was, I know, taken. The upshot of doing this search is that I have now learned something many others already know, that Robin D.G. Kelley is an eminent historian who talks about black power and radical feminism in the same breath as revolution, poetry, utopia, freedom, and love. His several books are now on my “must read” list.)
Michelle Meyers had said, about this quote: it’s important to honor the good work others have done, and in this case also the memory of the source of our work. Why diversity and inclusion? Because of women’s rights — civil rights — freedom — . . . It’s important to remember what we’re doing this for.
To be fair, maybe it was this quote in the context of the entire day of talks, workshops, conversations — all about the work of Women’s Centers, their commonalities (not enough staff or money, or time, and so much to do, so much vision to try to live up to) and differentia, and about their commitments to feminism, and what that means these days.
Still, I know my reaction had something to do with the word: revolution.
It was a delayed reaction. It hit me as I was driving north in I-75 towards my home away from home after the day’s events. It snuck up on me, as I was reviewing the events of the day, thinking about what people had said. Remembering — not so much the beauty of that sentence, although it’s a nice one; or even of the sentiment, although the image of the New World always grabs me in the throat and the gut; but of the way it said “revolution” right out that way, not half-laughing, not ironically, but forthrightly naming it as something to want.
In thinking about that, I realized, it had been a really long time since I had heard anyone talk this way, in these words. It felt like hearing from a long way away, through some kind of distance, a once-familiar and nearly forgotten language, faint, and sweet.
And suddenly I realized, too, how much I had missed that word. Realized how life-giving even that whisper, that memory, that barely perceptible call was. How much is lost in becoming realistic and well-adjusted. How precious, if also painful and burdensome, is that revolutionary dream, vision, motivation, call.
(Another admission: it’s not altogether unusual for me to cry in my car, nor is it unusual for that crying to be about ideas, when they are beautiful or poignant. I suspect I am not alone in this, considering the way cars have become the monastic cells of commuter life.)
I could not help thinking of Acts 2 and the Pentecost, and noticing again how important it must have been for those residents of Jerusalem to hear their mother tongues, “the language of their birth,” spoken on that day. But also, of the importance of memory — the dangerous memory of radical, impossible, possibility. That is, surely, one of the things “revolution” always means: the refusal to forget the dream of a world renewed, imbued with justice, made really livable, the desires for freedom and love met — however impossible that dream might seem at any given moment.
That language, of dangerous memory, of revolution, of the dream of a world where justice and love are real, probably ought always to be spoken by Women’s Centers.
Surely this should make a Women’s Center right at home at a Presbyterian seminary. Isn’t that revolution language the language of the birth of the Church of Jesus Christ, with its dangerous memory of the reality of impossibly new life, and its power to turn the world upside down?