Monday, April 27, 2015

“We’re Taking Back the Rainbow!”

By Emily Wirtz

Now, I know that I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, specifically those of #TheSelmaProject, that I’m from the Youngstown area, which just so happens to be ridden with crime and inequality. This is not to say that everyone from Youngstown falls into this category of anti-activism, but it’s come to my attention that some crazy things have been going on back in my hometown.

Youngstown State University is big on diversity—it is in Youngstown, Ohio—and for the most part, people are okay with that. Youngstown city and YSU are full of wonderful, accepting people…but there are always those who fight progress for the traditional, for the safe, non-progressive “values” that seem to always end up being on the wrong side of history. Must we revisit the Civil Rights Movement? Yes—because we’re still in it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Whiteness and Blackness

By Emily Wirtz

During the month of February, Ashland University’s Center for the Arts hosted a faculty art show in the Coburn Gallery. Dr. Cynthia Petry, the director of the art gallery, created a piece for show entitled “Whiteness and Blackness.” Centered in the gallery, the piece seemed large but simple at first glance. After an up-close look and a discussion with Petry, however, it was clear the piece had a life all its own. In the light of the recent Black History month, MLK Day, Selma, etc., the piece stood out as a bold statement, not simply on the colors of black and white as art, but on the contrast of Blacks and Whites in America. She portrayed in the piece both contemporary situations and those dating back to pre-abolition.

The piece reflected modern racism in a way that throws you back into history and reveals an incredible parallel between the civil rights movement and the racially motivated crime and discrimination of today. “Whiteness and Blackness” included pictures and printouts of news articles and social media posts sewn together and hung from repeated printout portraits of two black adolescents, a male and a female, with whom the artist attended school. She then explained that the girl photographed in the project was one whom she considered her best friend, but lamented that they were only able to be "school friends," as races did not mix at all in the south. She says that she was taught from a very young age what was appropriate and what was not--being friends with a young black girl was not.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Welcome Remarks for ACN's 2015 Conference

By Craig Hovey

Our theme of challenges to nonviolence is meant to encourage a certain amount of introspection. It’s designed to provide a chance for those of us who are committed to nonviolence in one way or another to allow the best accusations and arguments of our critics to engender some reflection and response that’s hopefully not overly quick. To me, this is actually part of the way of nonviolence itself and it is something I have seen most consistently displayed in the work of the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder.

Yoder, who had a long career at the University of Notre Dame, was from this part of Ohio. And even though he was deeply committed to the pacifism of Mennonite Christianity, he understood what he thought of as kind of ecumenical openness to be an expression of his commitment to nonviolence. It’s a form of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and loving one’s enemy to give one’s opponent the benefit of the doubt or to attempt to take her professed position seriously and, in some cases, more seriously than one’s opponent does herself.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Unchained, Unbroken

By Emily Wirtz

Recently, during the final weekend of January, amidst the chaos and costume of Ohayocon, members Ashland Women’s Chorus had the opportunity to travel to the Ohio State University to participate in the CONCEPT: Freedom Choral Festival. To raise awareness and funds for human trafficking and its prevention, OSU hosted the choral festival over a three-day period, consisting of a screening of Very Young Girls, a Women’s Glee club performance, featured speakers, a photography exhibit, “Unchained” fashion show, and CONCEPT: Freedom.


Kristina MacMullen, who also contributed to many other aspects of the program, was centrally the director of the CONCEPT: Freedom Chorus group, putting together a collection of three pieces, sung by multiple groups who had never before sung together in the span of a three-hour morning rehearsal. The pieces, “Untraveled Worlds,” “Will There Really Be a Morning?,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” were all incredibly moving, their subject matter consisting of breaking through bonds and adversity—the overall message of the program.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#TheSelmaProject – Racist Normativity


By Emily Wirtz

Selma—both the movie and the city—has raised a lot of thought-provoking questions, some of which have clear answers: Yes, racism does still exist. Some questions, on the other hand, remain pretty vague: I don’t know, what do we do about it? While I don’t have an answer as to how we go about knocking down racism in its entirety with a single hit, I do have a proposal. We need to talk about it—not just “we” as Americans, but we as Caucasian Americans who somehow still believe we live in a world of equality. We have to stop acting like racism doesn’t exist, or at least like it doesn’t affect us, and we have to start becoming aware. “Well, what the heck does it mean to be aware of it?” Listen, and in time, speak.
              
When I was in high school, I dated a guy for a short period of time—we’ll call him Phil. White, blonde hair, blue eyes, middle-class guy who listened to punk rock and country music. Country music was big. Austintown is barely a twenty minute drive to the Canfield Fair Grounds, which holds the largest county fair in Ohio and always has at least one country artist playing that week, only about 40 minutes from the Dusty Armadillo, Ohio’s leading country bar/club, and about 20 minutes away from Yankee Lake, which hosts Y.L. Truck Night every Friday in the summer. Now, I’m sure I don’t speak for everyone, but truck night was a little off-putting to me when I finally tagged along with Phil. Granted, I don’t at all mind watching a line of drunken people dance to Cotton-Eyed Joe, or the monster truck school bus go mudding, or even the occasional decent-sounding band. What I minded was the incredible number of rebel flags on display. “I don’t think that means what you think it means…” They were everywhere.

Friday, February 6, 2015

#TheSelmaProject – The Movie and the Aftermath

By Emily Wirtz

After Dr. C.T. Vivian’s extraordinary visit, the Ashland community was moved by his passion, stories, and testimonies to the cruelties of racism and segregated persecution. Those on both ends of the activist spectrum—those who criticized Vivian’s bias on racism as well as those inspired to change the presence of racism—spoke out. “Not all white people are racist.” True. “Racism doesn’t really exist anymore.” Doesn’t it? “I’m not privileged because I’m Caucasian.” Are you sure? His discussion clearly brought about a variety of opinions from all ethnic and race groups in the community and here on campus. A week later, a few faculty members and students came together with the Diversity Group and Student Affairs to drive through Sunday’s blizzard and into Selma.

I’d never been to Mansfield’s Cinemark, and I’d thoroughly enjoyed the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event, so “why not?” I dragged my roommates out into the snow, bribing them with promises of popcorn and pizza and a free movie. They joined me, half-enthused by my desire to save the world by watching history unfold on the big screen. I’m glad they came. So, we hoarded into a van of people we didn’t know, bought some popcorn, and sat down for the always-exciting previews. Two minutes into the movie, the roommate to my left was in tears and she to my right was wide-eyed and watching intently as the camera zoomed in on the bodies of four little girls crushed and intertwined in a mound of church remains. Two hours later, we’d had the experience of witnessing MLK, C.T. Vivian, and LBJ make history. I’ve talked about history books and the distance they create—and they do. A factual, emotionless description of such events sometimes makes me question both the heart of the author and that of myself as an unmoved reader, but such is the way of a text book. A dramatic, emotionally-fueled account of America’s painful history, brought to life with real voices, untouchable filmography, and Oprah revokes all questions because a text book is a text book, but the history contained within holds such an incredible amount of pain, pride, failure, and triumph, any American History book editor would be brought to tears.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#TheSelmaProject – The Encounter

By Emily Wirtz

When Dr. C.T. Vivian arrived on Ashland’s campus Monday, January 19, I was both inwardly and outwardly ecstatic simply to witness from a distance this civil rights legend. It’s not very often that one has the opportunity to meet someone from the history books. At first impression, prior to the event, I’d expected an ordeal—some kind of showy, Obama-esque, “look at my battle scars” kind of encounter. What I got on Monday evening was my grandpa. Granted, there was a glaring difference in skin tone between my biological grandfather and this legend standing before me, but all the same, Vivian was much less and yet so much more than I was expecting.

Down-to-earth and socially-aware are not two descriptions I would usually put together. I see the “check your privilege” bloggers who in the most basic sense are holding themselves on a privileged pedestal with an “I’m better than you because I’m socially aware” aura. Then I see the sincere, stay-out-of-the-way people sitting in the back corner of events like these, not because they’re okay with social injustice, but simply because they’re not public orators. Vivian, in a sense, held the best qualities of both—though obviously he was a public speaker. That is why my impression was that he was my grandfather reincarnate. I know that sounds a bit bizarre. In middle school, I did a history fair project on the March of Bataan in WWII, in which my grandpa was a prisoner of war. When I interviewed him about his experiences, an entirely different person I had no idea was there came through. In that moment, my down-to-earth grandpa became a victim, a hero, and a survivor, doing so with the humility with which I was familiar, but with an additional distance—he was a man from my history books. This is what Vivian became. He began as a legend, someone who existed in textbooks and documentaries but who I’d never encounter in a real-life setting. The privilege of meeting him completely shifted that outlook.