Activist and scholar Angela Davis addresses the audience Sunday, during the remote “New Pathways” social justice conference organized by the Lee-based nonprofit Bridge. Criticizing a law enforcement system that she described as a “prison-industrial complex,” and one responsible for the disproportionate incarceration of Black people, Davis offered housing, education and jobs as some paths through which reform could lead to more equitable systems. Photo: Gwendolyn VanSant
Danny Jin | The Berkshire Eagle
As communities begin to contend more seriously with racial injustice, what’s next for those seeking more equitable societies?
That was the question taken up in a social justice conference organized by the Lee-based nonprofit Bridge, which held various events on Zoom from Friday through Monday. Attendees explored methods to work toward social change amid a coronavirus pandemic that disproportionately has hurt Black communities, and a spike in recognition of police violence after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
And, while some celebrated news that Joe Biden will succeed Donald Trump as the nation’s next president, several speakers — many of them were Black women — stressed that a return to the familiar would not be good enough.
“The New Pathways program is about creating a space to internationally acknowledge and build a road that does not lead us back to normal, because normal has been so lethal for so many,” said Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, Bridge’s CEO and founding director. “2020 has brought us a clearer vision that we can’t go back, only forward.”
Activist and scholar Angela Davis echoed that sentiment in a Sunday keynote, addressing nearly 200 people on the Zoom call.
As the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and other anti-racist ideas have moved, Davis said, “from the sidelines of established political discourse to the center,” part of the task is maintaining the radical and transformative intent of those ideas.
Danny Jin | The Berkshire Eagle
Social justice, Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant says, is more a concrete process than an abstract goal.
“The definition of social justice is the shifting of resources for positive social impact,” said VanSant, CEO and founding director of the Lee nonprofit Bridge. “The way we sustain it is that daily practice. It’s not just you write a check, but every family dinner, every encounter, you have to really be in the work and be committed.”
Bridge launched a series of “New Pathways” talks to highlight issues of equity when the coronavirus pandemic first hit. Now, it’s hosting a conference under that banner to explore possibilities for equitable transformation as communities continue to navigate the pandemic, a growing movement in support of Black lives and a tense presidential election.
“I think what I hope people walk away with is inspiration, hope and community because I think people are operating out of fear and anxiety, and it doesn’t really get us where we need to go,” she said. “I really hope it gives people a multitude of ways to get excited. I hope it ignites everybody’s power source to get going in the right direction.”
The “New Pathways” conference boasts a keynote from activist and Black feminist scholar Angela Davis.
“Just thinking about what she stands for, in terms of criminal justice, in terms of recognizing the harms that capitalism has had on Black communities, and as a Black feminist, I’m nothing short of thrilled to have Angela Davis,” VanSant said.
New Pathways Social Justice Conference to feature Angela Davis’ keynote address ‘Examining Race, Class and Gender’
Hannah Van Sickle | Berkshire Edge
Lee — As next week’s presidential election looms on the horizon, the importance of doing one’s part for the benefit of society comes into sharp focus. Just ask Gwendolyn VanSant. “Everyone has their own personal power and civic power; they need to exercise it for the common good [and to create] positive social impact,” the CEO and founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE told The Edge in a recent Zoom interview. This perspective, in large part, is the impetus behind “New Pathways of Empowerment and Transformation: Moving the Dial on Race, Class and Justice Strategies.” The four-day event (Nov. 6-9) curated by VanSant and fellow activists, will focus on continuing the movement for gender, race and economic justice. American scholar and civil rights activist Angela Davis will deliver the keynote address Sunday evening.
“[To avoid] wallowing in whatever the outcome [of the presidential election] brings: that’s my hope and dream for the conference,” said VanSant, calling the online event everything she dreamed it would be without being in-person. “How do we stay strategic? How do we keep movement building? And how do we work toward equity and justice? No matter who our federal leadership is, we have a lot of work to do as individuals and organizations,” VanSant reminds readers.
VanSant created New Pathways — a collection of talks and webinars intended to seed an equitable and resilient future based on justice, healing and transformation — during COVID-19. She saw the series of short, accessible talks with local and national leaders as instrumental in supporting new forms of leadership and organizing both during a period “when the disparities [are] so stark” and in the aftermath. “We can’t go back to the way anything was. We have to create new ways of working together,” VanSant underscored in a nod to the program’s moniker. “And that’s what this conference is: all of us coming together to do this work.”