Thursday, February 6, 2014

Community Conversation -- W.E.B. DuBois & Service

 Members of the Daemen community discuss service on Jan. 31, 2014

On January 31, 2014, Dr. Angela Diaz, Assistant Professor of History, facilitated a discussion on "The Legacy of Civil Rights: A Conversation about Service from DuBois to King" among members of the Daemen College community. Over 50 students, faculty members, and administrative staff members took part in the discussion, which began with the reading of excerpts from a Commencement address by W.E.B. DuBois to graduates of Fisk University in 1898. The event was co-sponsored by Daemen's History & Political Science Department and the Diversity Action Committee along with the New York State Council for the Humanities as part of the "Community Conversation for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Community Service" series. 

Dr. Diaz (standing) and participants at the beginning of the discussion

Malcolm Hicks, Braxton Stinson, & Emmanuel Regis
Dr. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B) DuBois (1868-1963) was an historian, sociologist, Pan-Africanist, and civil rights activist who helped to found the NAACP and influenced generations of African American civil rights leaders to continue fighting for the betterment of their communities. DuBois was 30 years old when he delivered the address at Fisk, at the cusp of a long and significant career as an academic and activist.
Briana Reid

In his address, DuBois asked his audience of newly-minted college graduates to contemplate the question: "What careers can you follow to realize the ideals and hopes of this day?" He urged them to direct their talents toward work that helped make "a life worth living," that is, to use their education to benefit members of their communities and society at large. 

"And with the life work chosen, remember that it can become, as you will it, drudgery or heroism, prosaic or romantic, brutal or divine," DuBois said. "If you make the object of your life calling food and drink, food and drink, food and drink it will yield you grudgingly--but if above and beyond mere existence you seek to play well your part because it is worth playing--to do your duty because the world thirsts for your service, to perform clean, honest, thorough work, not for cheap applause, but because the work needs to be done, then is all your toil and drudgery transfigured into divine service and joins the mighty lives that have swept beyond time into the everlasting world."  

"I was excited for the Community Conversation and glad to see so many students, faculty, and staff come together to talk openly and honestly about the value of community service," Dr. Diaz said. "Aside from the thoughtful comments and questions what I thought was most revealing was that so many of us from so many different backgrounds could relate to one another despite the fact that we all came from such different communities. Afterward, Dr. Lisa Parshall and I talked about how important it is to understand people from different backgrounds. Understanding the commonalities that you have with another person so seemingly unlike you is a crucial step on the long road toward becoming a global citizen and serving the global community." 

In discussing DuBois' speech and ideas, many students focused upon the needs of their home communities as well as on their experiences with Service Learning while at Daemen, emphasizing individual action and leadership. Francois Acosta, a sophomore Political Science major, said, "I certainly feel that there is a need for open-ended discussions like that on campus. It was interesting to hear other peoples' perspectives on the ever-growing issues within our communities. I was able to gain insight into the meaning of public service, which then reaffirmed my moral duty to give back to others." 

Tyler Vanice, junior History major, took inspiration from the address: "Our generation needs to strive for more community involvement and not wait for the opportunity to arise. People commonly say that 'the world is changing,' but I find that statement not true. We, the people, make the world and make it worth living in. If we don't make the changes and raise awareness of what is happening around us, then no one will." 

By Penny Messinger

**Special thanks to Dr. Serife Tekin, Adriane Williams, & Tyler Vanice for sharing their photos for this story.

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