“From the Ashes” welcomes Rebecca Walker

Walker discussed writing, activism and intersectionality in her Zoom discussion on Oct. 28.

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Author and activist Rebecca Walker spoke to the Muhlenberg community over Zoom. Photo by Ally Duvak '22.

Muhlenberg’s “From the Ashes of Relentless Racial Crises: Creating a New United States of America” speaker series welcomed a new guest on Oct. 28. Rebecca Walker is a writer, feminist and activist as well as a consultant for several Fortune 500 companies. She is also one of TIME magazine’s “Most Influential Leaders of our Generation” and one of the founders of the Third Wave Fund, which works to build resources for youth-led gender justice activism. “From the Ashes” co-directors Emanuela Kucik, Ph.D, assistant professor of English & Africana studies, and Purvi Parikh, Ph.D, assistant professor of religion studies, led the discussion with Walker which was then followed by a question and answer session with Muhlenberg students and staff. 

Kucik mentioned during the introductory discussion that she and Walker were both featured in a conversation this summer hosted by The Holocaust Center for Humanity. “[A]s I listened to her describe the role that storytelling had played in her own life as an author, I was captivated by the thoughtfulness with which she described all of the ways that storytelling had allowed her to think about her identities as Black and Jewish. As she spoke about her intersecting identities, I realized that she would be an excellent speaker for theFrom the Ashes’ series, which focuses on interracial solidarity and cross-cultural conversations as methods for dismantling racism.”

The discussion mainly centered on Walker’s autobiography “Black, White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self,” published in 2002. In response to a question about why she chose to write the book, Walker stated that she “desperately needed, for myself, a book that was not a tragedy, a book that could innovate on the multiracial narrative, could advance it from this tragic story to a kind of magic story so I could save my own life and create a new way of life that was not destined for misery. I needed to do that for myself but also for my cohort, my friends, my community… I felt that we all needed a new story.”

Walker went on to say that these differences and variations in our individual identities can help us be more empathetic and compassionate people overall. “There is a deep need for us to understand how to skillfully use our differences, our different identities and different masks and deeply felt beliefs and traditions. That has to be balanced with this profound sense of openness and deep sense of being. This balance is what allows us to work with other people,” Walker stated. “When we come from the place that’s transcendent of the performances, you realize that we are all hurting, we are all wanting to be happy, we are all deserving of justice, we are all beautiful, really. If we can’t help each other and support each other in being and become the beautiful human beings that we are, we are going to slowly lose our humanity. The big idea is getting in touch with our profound humanity, that’s what allows us to cultivate it…  That is how we are going to preserve ourselves as a species.”

“There is a deep need for us to understand how to skillfully use our differences, our different identities and different masks and deeply felt beliefs and traditions. That has to be balanced with this profound sense of openness and deep sense of being. This balance is what allows us to work with other people.”

Rebecca Walker

In Walker’s opinion, this intersectionality and empathy extends to activism as well. “Don’t tell me you’re a feminist if you’re not dealing with racism,” Walker stated plainly. “Don’t tell me you’re a feminist if you’re not dealing with homophobia, with the class divide, with white supremacy. Also, if you are a man who is dealing with toxic masculinity, if you are a man who is standing with this work: you can call yourself a feminist.” 

Despite the high stakes of discussions around identity, intersectionality and justice Walker encourages us to still “find a way of being that is more buoyant and joyful and appreciative of our unique ability to shine even in the darkest moments. Let’s lean into the beauty no matter what.” 

The event was well-received by those in attendance – the question and answer session ran over time and led to enthusiastic discussion. “I wholeheartedly thought the event and its message was worthwhile,” said Grace Alvarado ‘23. “I loved hearing Rebecca [Walker] talk about how her identities, activism and writing all interconnect and feed into each other. It was an amazing discussion, and I just loved listening to her answers about all different topics that were brought up, especially ones that connected to the modern age in the Q&A section.”

“The series has been a particularly meaningful and empowering experience for students from marginalized backgrounds and a call for our entire community to work across our different and beautiful identities to show up for one another and create positive change in the world.”

Purvi Parikh, Ph.D

Kucik expressed similar sentiments. “We have received many, many positive messages of support from students, faculty, staff, administrators and other guests, all of whom have told us that the series has created inclusive spaces of solidarity and community,” she stated following the event. “Many people have told us that they have learned a lot from the events; students have told us they have felt seen by many of the topics; and people have shared that they are deeply excited to continue attending the events. We received a lot of positive feedback about this event specifically, and many people told us that they were impressed with the depth and breadth of Rebecca [Walker]’s responses. Many of my students said that they had never been to an event that discussed the intersections of Black and Jewish identities, and they wanted to get her memoir to learn even more about those intersections.”

As far as the “From the Ashes” series as a whole, Parikh stated it has been progressing wonderfully, with many positive reactions from the Muhlenberg community.  According to her, “The series has been a particularly meaningful and empowering experience for students from marginalized backgrounds and a call for our entire community to work across our different and beautiful identities to show up for one another and create positive change in the world.”

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