Noted black women talk youth activism

By Joy Priest

Ericka Huggins, professor of women’s studies at California State University, and Asha Jennings, a prominent Atlanta attorney, paid a visit to UK’s campus Thursday to contribute to a dialogue on activism and the role of young people.

The dialogue was a part of the 17th annual Black Women’s Conference, sponsored by the UK African American Studies and Research Program, entitled “We Have Not Arrived: Activism in the 21st Century.”

Huggins, who is best known as a member of the former Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which she entered at college age, expressed her biggest concerns for America today to be education and the youth.

“I’m not talking about education in the classroom,” Huggins said. “When considering every aspect of our lives, are we educated about it? … No. I’m most concerned about young people today.”

When it comes to activism in America today, Huggins says apathy has set in.

“I think two whole generations of people don’t know anything about this history,” Huggins said. “What about teaching young people what’s going on?”

Huggins, who was the keynote speaker for the Black Women’s Conference, says she believes we live in a country with very systemic illnesses, and that when it comes to class, gender, sexual orientation and citizenship status, we are not healthy.

“I think that women of color tend to be at the bottom rung of the hierarchical ‘minority’ ladder,” Huggins said. “If women of color speak up, then all the other systemic illnesses will have to change.”

Jennings, best known nationally for her activism on the campus of Spelman College in 2005 involving the rapper Nelly, said her participation in the conference was about motivating college students who have always been the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement.

“It’s important whether it’s UK or any other college campus,” Jennings said, “but sometimes in large schools where the minority population is so small, that minority can feel powerless, and I want to encourage them that change can happen.”

In 2005, Jennings demanded that Nelly support the students’ initiative in standing up against negative images of black women. He had planned a bone marrow drive on Spelman’s campus for his sister. Jennings was offended by the portrayal of women in his music video “Tip Drill.”

Jennings said radio and TV raises children today, and she feels it is important for artists to represent a positive educational message, socially.

“Something the media will never write about is that we gave Nelly an option,” Jennings said. “We told him, ‘We care about your sister, we want you to care about ours … the way you’re raising our children is counterproductive.’ He chose to withdraw his money and the drive from our campus.”

Jennings said she was humbled to be on the program with Huggins and to carry on the legacy of her and other legendary activists.

“It feels good for me to let them know that their fight wasn’t in vain,” Jennings said.

Jakobi Williams, Ph.D., a faculty member in the history department at UK and instructor for the course “The Black Panther Party and Beyond,” played a role in bringing Huggins to campus.

Williams said he felt the Black Women’s Conference and the topic of activism was important because black women face a double negative in society today by being black and being a woman.

“You need conferences like this one to recognize the accomplishments of women like (Huggins) who overcome these things daily,” Williams said.