Bringing a Youthful Voice Into the Conversation
In this week’s blog, previous McCarthy Fellow in San Francisco, Natalya Bomani, reflects on her experience moderating a discussion between Provost Chinyere Oparah and Dr. Cornel West. Read her thoughts before, during, and after this important conversation over reparations took place.
8:00 am—today was the big day.
I jolted out of bed in a scurry to find my sacred affirmations notebook, a dire effort to give myself the necessary assurance to meet one of the most renowned intellectual Black leaders my politics-obsessed dad has boasted about since I can remember. “You will be okay and you were chosen for a reason” are the words I repeated to myself as I firmly gripped the spine of the notebook before reciting my list of questions and speech for what seemed to be not merely enough time. It hadn’t dawned upon me that I was soon to meet Dr. Cornel West until the clock quickly struck 3:00 pm, waking me from a meditative state, just 1 hour before pre-rehearsal with professor Harrison and professor Hahn Tapper.
6:00 pm—it was finally time to meet Dr. West at the Davies Forum pre-reception. My nerves eased as Dr. West and I’s hands linked and eyes fixated on each other, alas I was in the presence of one the warmest and gentlest souls I had ever come across. While he embraced me like I was his own daughter, I immediately thought to myself “Okay, you have got this.” The pre-reception brought collective laughter, snaps, sighs, and many “mhms” as Dr. West talked about the inner gangster that lies within each of us, the essentiality of self-evolution, the philosophy of death and dying, the radical imagination of Malcolm X, James Baldwin and bell hooks, and how community will enable Black students like myself to survive within white supremacist institutions.
My brain was captivated by every word, fixated by his every movement for it was as if I was bearing witness to magic dazzle the room. I was in awe of his prophetic view of the world, his unrelenting willingness to bring community solidarity and the uplift of working class people to the fore of why social justice is imperative for our collective well-being and progress. It was then I realized that the USF community would be graced with a one of kind wisdom from one of the greatest living Black radical thinkers.
Walking to the event, arms linked around Provost Chinyere as she told me “We will be talking like we are family at the dinner table,” gave me the comfort needed to bring my youthful voice into the conversation, the reassurance that I had the knowledge to moderate. It was at that moment I knew our conversation was going to be magnificent, that we would explore the need for reparations as kindred spirits.
7:00pm—the moment had arrived. Dr. West, Provost Chinyere, and I sat down together before the USF community from different generational standpoints just like we were a family at the kitchen table. With a profound philosophical and spiritual lens, Dr. West rooted the need for reparations in uncovering the truth of our nation’s evil anti-Black history so as to make us collectively stronger as a nation. I was amazed at the way in which he emphasized that this would not be an easy process, but one of pain and struggle for it is difficult to critically examine from within. Provost Chinyere exposed how this critical examination was about doing what we are morally called to do. From further talking about how religion can help us see the need for reparations as it is a site for us to come together and connect with our humanity, to how reparations necessitates we refund, redistribute and repair the Black community by reallocating money from the prison industrial complex to funding, say, college tuition for Black students, I felt as if reparations were a nearing possibly–something dominant society has the capacity to make a reality if they have the courage to do so.
Most profoundly Dr. West and Provost Chinyere said that reparations for Black Americans could only become a reality if we have the courage to love and foster solidarity with one another as a community, that such were what defined hope for the future.
I am still at a loss for words to truly encapsulate how beautiful it was to be present that evening. It was truly mesmerizing to be able to engage in one of the most heartfelt and essential intergenerational conversations of my time alongside two brilliant Black leaders. And for that I am forever grateful.