Our Common Future: #StayWoke

For the 2019 Our Common Future Lecture, CASE invited Dr. Elaine Richardson from The Ohio State University’s Department of Teaching and Learning.

Professor Richardson’s exemplary scholarship is complemented by her professional leadership roles and the spearheading of socially oriented initiatives. She has held prominent roles in several committees established by the National Council of Teachers of English, and has won numerous grants leading to the implementation of community-oriented literacy initiatives.

Dr. Richardson’s talk illuminated the language, literacies, communicative and rhetorical practices of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. BLM is an activist movement led by the African-American community that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards people of color.

“The Black Lives Matter movement expands upon traditions to signify pride, resilience and affirmation of all black humanity.”

– Dr. Elaine Richardson

She went on to discuss how language is a tie that binds. It provides solidarity within the community and gives people a sense of personal identity. Richardson used examples on how prominent athletes and black people have steered the conversation in the right direction by performing acts of solidarity.

In December 2014, Lebron James and other NBA players wore shirts that read “I can’t breathe” as a gesture to Eric Garner’s family – the 29-year-old unarmed black man who died in July 2014. Last September (2018) Nike’s groundbreaking new advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick – who kneeled during the playing of the national anthem before games to protest racism, social inequality and police brutality – read “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

“Black Lives Matter uses a productive, communicative approach in mobilizing masses to confront racial injustice,” Richardson said.

The use of social media has amplified the movement by heightening consciousness among black youth and encouraging them to stand up. By using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, it’s made it possibly to create a digital footprint and have online conversations. Most recently, #SayherName has surfaced, representing the black female victims of police brutality and anti-black violence in the United States. Over the years, Dr. Richardson notes the black community has made it clear they will not stand for the continued assault on black life.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has asserted that black lives do matter. All lives will matter when all black lives matter.”

– Dr. Elaine Richardson

Dr. Richardson’s talk also marked the official launch of the Community Literacy Journal, which is housed at FIU and supported by the Department of English and the Writing and Rhetoric Program. The Community Literacy Journal is an interdisciplinary journal that publishes both scholarly work that contributes to theories, methodologies, and research agendas and work by literacy workers, practitioners and community literacy program staff. Dr. Richardson’s article “#StayWoke: The Language and Literacies of the BlackLivesMatter Movement,” co-authored with Alice Ragland, was featured in the Spring 2018 issue. Their essay has also been selected for the Best of the Journals in Rhetoric and Composition 2019 collection, to be published by Parlor Press.