In his first foray into podcasting, Daniel James, II ’22 explored student activism following this summer’s anti-Black violence in an episode called “Policing, Protesting, and Paying Up 4 Black Lives.”
His WVBR show, “Black Voices on the Hill,” hopes to take on discussions of student leadership, activism and experiences within the Black community at Cornell.
James has been active in student government life since his first semester as a freshman, winning a seat as freshman representative on the School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ student government.
Citing a “passion for public service,” James also works as a mentor for incarcerated youth in the Students for Students organization, serves as vice president of public relations for the Minority ILR Student Organization and is a member of pre-law fraternity Kappa Alpha Pi.
But in his latest endeavor, James wanted to highlight the voices of other activists on campus.
“I know that whether exacting justice on the Supreme Court or being a change agent in city politics, my purpose in this world is to make it a more equitable and just place for everybody,” he said in the introductory trailer of his podcast. “That is why we are bringing you ‘Black Voices on the Hill.’”
The podcast team has already recorded its first five episodes, two of which will feature Cornell in Color founder Lotoya Francis ’22 and Davidson Fellowship Scholar Cosimo Fabrizio ’22.
James discusses the media in Fabrizio’s episode. He believes that the media serves a vital function in political progress — without it, public leaders can’t access their audiences: “During the time of the pandemic, that’s the only place you do see them: in the media,” James said.
With the podcast, he wants to reach a wider audience — his mission is to amplify the stories and experiences of Black people at Cornell and the greater Ithaca area. James teamed up with WVBR, Cornell’s student-run radio station, after they approached him about a podcast opportunity this past mid-summer.
“We talk about racism, police brutality, colorism, sexism, Greek life, leadership, and white elitism in the Ivy League,” James said.
Phoning in from Brooklyn, New York, the first episode featured Sherrell Farmer ’22, fellow ILR student and co-organizer of Cornell Students 4 Black Lives — a coalition that raised $118,636 for Black Lives Matter in June and continues to educate the Cornell community on race and equity.
James and Farmer discussed the frustrating pervasiveness of police brutality across time, institutionalized state violence, protests and the difficulties of COVID-19 for students.
“If the pandemic isn’t killing us, our community, the police are,” James said. “It really is a somber topic. Our generation has been through a lot.”
“How many times can you tell the story, and how many times can you tell it from different angles, and have the same end result? We’re literally still being killed,” Farmer said in the podcast, recounting the repeated traumatic experiences of Black death in the media. “It’s literally heart wrenching.”
Discussing club culture at Cornell, Farmer noted how campus political organizations often silence or tokenize Black members, and she called for them to challenge this culture by holding more conversations with non-Black peers instead of always relying on their Black members’ labor. In order to drive change, she said, equity at the organizational level must be achieved.
James agreed that tokenization is a problem, noting that if students don’t create Black-designated spaces on committees and boards, “We won’t be represented at all.”
James and Farmer dove into defunding the police and divesting prisons. They pushed Cornell to require more progressive action of students, going further than just recommending Ibram X. Kendi’s book, “How to be an Antiracist.”
“We’re trying to make Cornell do more than start a book club,” she said in the podcast. “They need to do more, and they will do more. If you’re going to truly make your model ‘any person, any study,’ your practices need to reflect that, and you need to get to work.”
In future episodes, James hopes to feature more student government leaders, entrepreneurs, athletes and artists. Overall, he wants to investigate stopping police brutality, breaking down white elitist systems and organizing effectively for change.
“We need a way to highlight, amplify, the good and the excellence that is happening even in the midst of a pandemic and police mayhem,” James said.