Chelsea Wang / Sun Staff Photographer

Students talk about activist Grace Lee Boggs on Tuesday.

November 15, 2018

Reading Event Honors Social Activist Grace Lee Boggs

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On Tuesday, Asian Pacific Americans for Action at Cornell University hosted a reading pop-up on author, social activist, philosopher and feminist Grace Lee Boggs in Klarman Hall.

During the reading event, APAA members read a few prepared excerpts and quotes from Boggs, highlighted why she was important and invited the audience to critically analyze the material by presenting a list of questions about the material being presented.

Boggs was an Asian-American activist who fought for civil rights, women’s rights and labor. According to Grace Lee Boggs Month, a website created by APAA, Boggs participated in the first March on Washington and contributed heavily to the Black Power and union movements.

Boggs championed the values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and agreed with the belief that change should come through peaceful protest rather than forceful action. In her autobiography Living for Change, Boggs writes that a movement starts when people “find hope for improving their daily lives in an action that they can take together.”

According to The New York Times, Boggs moved to Detroit in 1953, where she worked for economic and racial justice. She started food co-ops, created groups for the elderly and wrote columns for a local newspaper called The Michigan Citizen.

APAA member Jeremiah Kim ’19, who is a blogs editor for The Sun, described being inspired by the way Boggs instigated change by “digging in deep and taking responsibility when faced with human rights issues.”

“Boggs was effective because she started organizing the community and becoming a part of the community,” he said.

In contrast, other activists tended to rely on short-term movements fueled by emotional backlash to organize spontaneous protests against specific events.

APAA established Grace Lee Boggs month just last year and prior to that, the club had attempted to help students gain access to more relevant education by calling for the University to increase ethnic studies.

“Education should be used to not only train students for careers, but actually to make them more responsible people. We felt the latter was secondary in priority as compared to training students for careers, or sometimes entirely left out of the conversation,” Kim said.

Eunnuri Yi ’20, member of APAA, said when the organization sent a list of demands to a member of the administration, they didn’t receive the response they were hoping for. This setback inspired the students to take education into their own hands. This led to the establishment of Grace Lee Boggs month, in which APAA members hold public events to share impact and philosophies of  the human rights activist.

“The whole time we were fighting for a more relevant education from the university, it kind of just felt like we were never going to get it. So instead of struggling uselessly against that, we just decided to learn things on our own,” Yi told the Sun.

The idea of taking initiative to spread education falls in line with Boggs’ attitude toward learning. Kim said that club members felt inspired by Boggs because she continued to exercise her knowledge despite being rejected from academia, viewing education as a “continual process of growing beyond the traditional and conventional avenues of having to learn from a certain school or from a specific environment.”

This reading pop-up is just one of many events APAA has planned for Grace Lee Boggs Month. Earlier this month, the organization also hosted screenings of a documentary detailing her life and achievements. On Friday, APAA will be hosting Zinemaking, where attendees will make “a collective zine/coloring book on Grace’s ideas on education, learning, and the future.” Friday’s event will be the final occasion in the series of public events celebrating Boggs.