This is the last blog of Praxis Center, a years-long project of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL) at Kalamazoo College. As Academic Director of the ACSJL, I worked with brilliants to found this resource as an educational and capacity building site where robust social justice theory and informed practice could be engaged through essays, syllabi, audio-visual, and creative social justice tools. As senior editor of Praxis Center, I was fortunate to pull together an amazing team of builders, editors, writers, and artists from Kalamazoo College and throughout the world. Some were students, some were workers, some were scholars, some were members of grassroot social movements, and all were changemakers. This site (sans weekly blogs) will remain online as a web resource, at least for a while.
As the last of founding directors of the ACSJL, I am on my journey towards retirement.
As I leave this position at Kalamazoo College and the Kalamazoo area, I am forever grateful for being able to work on this campus and in the local Kalamazoo community. I, along with great collaborators, also had the opportunity to amplify the work of campus, regional, national and global social justice leaders and movements.
Working for social justice is, by its very nature, radical because injustice is simply everywhere. While we must do all we can to mitigate the harm done by state violence, poverty, environmental degradation, xenophobia, heteropatriarchy, racism and all forms of oppression, the aim of social justice is to eradicate these indignities. To do this work requires that we first understand the systemic root causes of these damages, then work to uproot them and plant new life-affirming roots in whatever way we can.
For those who benefit from the privileges of oppressive systems, this work is hard and is often perceived as heretical. After all, a huge part of upholding systems of oppression involves the silencing of the voices of those most repressed and promoting narratives that normalize and justify exploitative social relations over time. Thus, an audit of inequitable policies and practices at the institutional and governmental level is required when doing the labor of social justice; and what it reveals often startles people as they reckon with their own beliefs and consciousness.
Moreover, for every move towards justice, there is often a reactionary response. For instance, the call for “Black Lives Matter” as a way to question the jurisdictional power of police departments has turned into a right wing narrative of law and order against socialism. The same happened with the end of slavery in the nineteenth century turned into a one-hundred-year period of voter suppression, anti-Black violence and penal labor, known as Jim Crow. Civil rights and affirmative action were attacked by calls of reverse racism and Black laziness, while Roe v. Wade was turned into a movement calling for the right-to-life of the unborn over the lives of women. I could go on. In the words of Sweet Honey and Rock, “Those who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
Social Justice envisioning demands that we fight for something we have yet to see; center and amplify the voices of those who have yet to be heard; make loud noise and trouble to challenge what is. In this way, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership and Praxis Center have done their jobs, and I am proud of what we have done. For those who think we have been too radical, I pity you because history will not be kind.
Radicals are only “too radical” in their own time so that their visions can be embraced, by some now, and by the many in the future. Anti-slavery abolitionists were too radical in their time, women’s rights activists were too radical in their time. Dr. Martin Luther King was too radical in his time. And yet, as Dr. King and Bishop Tutu noted, there is a moral universe, and though that arc is long, it bends toward justice, and we are here to bend it!
Dr. Lisa Brock is the Academic Director and the Acting Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, and the Senior Editor of the Praxis Center.