I’m not a socialist or feminist and never thought of myself as either of these. Never found myself on a blacklist, the FBIs Most Wanted List or serving or working in a prison, though I never know what may be in store for me. I don’t advocate lesbianism or atheism, but Angela Y. Davis has been associated with all these, and she is my shero.
Davis, for those of you who don’t know, is an academician and social justice activist who became famous in the early 1970s after being accused of instigating a prison uprising to free fellow activist George Jackson. She fled police, eventually was caught and served two years in prison. A grand jury later found her not guilty and she was freed. She was an icon of the Black Power Movement whose super Afro every socially conscious or fashion conscious sister wanted. You may think she’s a strange shero choice for this Evangelical Christian. Maybe some of you think the choice is natural because of my Afrocentric lean. But I didn’t choose this writer for her look or love for black folks. Nor did I choose her because I think she’s brilliant, gutsy or challenging. She’s my shero for being generous and principled, two characteristics I have seen up close and personal.
1) I saw Davis in 1997 at Yari Yari, a black women writers’ conference in New York. She was one of the speakers who was accessible to those who wanted her autograph, ask a question or take a picture (like I did. I caught her in the bathroom and she graciously posed for me.)
2) I got her business card at Yari Yari and emailed her a few years later looking for a copy of a speech a friend told me Davis delivered to another women’s group. I wanted it for a book I was working on. She emailed me back, sending me a copy of the notes she used to deliver the speech. She just asked me not to share them with anyone.
Before Davis became a member of The Black Panther Party, she was an advocate for prisoners, and fought against poverty and racism. In fact, her activism was the reason she joined the Panthers. While in prison, Davis continued her activism among the incarcerated. Her work is not just something relegated to history books but something active today. Her main fight now is against what she calls the “prison industrial complex” or the United States prison system. Both times I heard her lecture, she was passionate about her beliefs for the need to reform the prison system, sticking to her principles and not selling out for a title, position or perceived political power. She has been constant in her stance and I admire that.
Following Davis’ work and principled and generous ways has made me more tenacious in advocating my own views, particularly the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ. So I salute the icon who doesn’t act like she’s one, the one who believes in fair representation for every person, including the oppressed. For these reasons, Dr. Angela Y. Davis is my shero.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith