Lighten Up

Analyst and Activist

Since coming to Kalamazoo College in 2011 Lisa Brock has served a dual role. As academic director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, she helps “teachers” (which includes professors, certainly, but also all persons involved in a student’s learning experience at K) think about the ways academic content and social justice can work together. From this work will grow new courses and new programs infused with scholarly rigor and social justice principles. As a result, K students will develop and cultivate throughout their lives the critical thinking skills, the leadership acumen, and the inclination to help build a better world for all. Brock also is an associate professor of history, and her favorite class to teach focuses on Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. She has taught courses on this subject for many years, even before the fall of apartheid and Mandela’s release from Robben Island (1990). Her work in social justice and history reinforce one another. An education so infused with social justice that the learner seeks to make a better world may sound utopian. But Brock the historian, and Brock the activist, knows it is possible. BeLight is delighted to help you get to know Lisa Brock in its February 2015 “Lighten Up” interview.

What is the best song ever recorded?

I love Billie Holiday, the pain in her voice makes every song memorable, but the best ever recorded is Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

I don’t recall its title, but my mom used to read me a story about a man who dropped his glasses in black ink, put them back on, and proceeded to move about the world even though he couldn’t see. Maybe it was called “The Man With Ink Glasses.”

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

I hope to hear ‘Here are your folk.’ And there, waiting for me, would be my mom and grandparents, my sister and uncles.

What’s your favorite word?

Analysis.

What’s your least favorite word?

Illness.

What turns you on?

Social justice.

What turns you off?

Profiteering.

What sound do you love?

Children laughing.

What sound do you hate?

A person yelling at another person.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

A composer. I liked writing songs and enjoyed my music theory classes in college.

What profession would you not like to participate in?

I’d never want to be a bureaucrat buried in the bowels of a corporation.

What’s been a great moment in your liberal arts learning?

Reading people like Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon when I was an undergraduate.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?

Zora Neale Hurston, a writer during the Harlem Renaissance and author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. She also was an accomplished anthropologist, despite having her work marginalized because she was a woman. She studied with Franz Boas. Alice Walker played a role in the re-discovery of this fascinating writer and feminist hero.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

My parents married young enough to ensure a great deal of grandparent hovering, so I remember enjoying lots of love from my extended family. I took that for granted and was shocked when my first college roommate, who had a very different childhood experience than mine, once told me that she didn’t like her mother. I lost sleep over that. The other thing that surprises me is how childhood is like a snapshot, so temporal. All old photos whisper impermanence. But when we’re children we often think things will always stay the same. Maybe that’s the memory from childhood that still surprises me: that I once could have thought that way.

What is your favorite curse word?

M—– F—–

What is your favorite hobby?

I’m an avid reader and a big fan of mysteries. Lately I’ve taken up listening to mystery novels as audio books. Unfortunately I often fall asleep, and the audio continues for up to an hour, which means I’m quite lost when I resume listening.

What is your favorite comedy movie?

The British version of Death at a Funeral.

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?

There are two, and both are positive. One was the campaign and election of Harold Washington as mayor of Chicago. I worked on his campaign. And the other was the culmination of the anti-apartheid campaign (I was an activist in that movement as well) with the release of Nelson Mandela on February 11, 1990. Millions of people around the world “gathered” to be part of that moment. I remember many friends came together at my house at 3 a.m. in Chicago. We were making breakfast, talking excitedly, anticipating that great hopeful moment.