Adrian Boteanu / Sun Staff Photographer

Reverend Osagyefo Sekou discussed the role of the artist in our communities on Monday.

January 30, 2017

Prominent Activist Lectures on the Impact of Artists

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This post has been updated.

Reverend Osagyefo’s lecture on Monday afternoon at Goldwin Smith Hall quickly became standing room only.

Sekou, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist as well as an author, theologian and musician, spoke on the role of the artist in a postmodern age.

“What is the role of the artist, the task of the artist, in the time of monsters?” he began.

“While monsters spew foul words, the artist does not delight in such talk because demonization does not defeat demagoguery. Artists must be legislators of hope, parliamentarians of possibilities. They remind us that monsters are not new, although they may be unique.”

To Sekou, the current state of U.S. politics — though “monstrous” — indicates much deeper, more systemic issues.

“If ‘he who shall not be named’ can be the repository of everything that is wrong with America, it allows us a kind of escapism,” he said. “For nation states produce monsters. Monsters let us hide from the fact that all nations breed monsters, and nations love monsters — but not its artists. For the artist knows that all nations are morally bankrupt and that all politics are diseased.”

A longtime activist, Sekou was a senior advisor to the 2004 Kucinich Presidential campaign, according to the lecture’s initial press release. After the death of Michael Brown in 2014, Sekou traveled to Ferguson to train hundreds in nonviolent civil disobedience.

In his lecture, Sekou criticized the capitalist system and noted that to many marginalized populations, Trump is in figurative terms, a familiar face.

“To be sure, America is in a crisis,” he said. “What we do understand and what we do know is that we are constantly hearing from people of African descent all over the world that there’s always been a Trump in our communities. It was a police officer, a governor, a mayor, a principal of a school. We’ve always known him. It’s just that we’ve always struggled. Part of being black in America has always been about creating homes of joy.”

In his poetic manner of speaking, Sekou characterized artists as people who provide joy and develop community, “honoring those who have not been honored” and “creating space” for all.

“The best that the artist helps us to understand is that we are all grounded and also part of a struggle,” he said. “White folks’ liberation of their own selves is grounded in the way in which black people become free. So when black people get free, white folks get free in the process.”

Sekou’s band, Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost, largely produces gospel, blues, soul, funk and freedom songs, according to the event’s press release. They will be performing today at 7 p.m. at First Unitarian Society of Ithaca in the Commons.

“If there are any artists in the room, in addition to the existential, linguistic calling to make homes of joy, my challenge to you in this time amongst us is simple,” Sekou concluded. “Make art as though your life depended on it.”