Noel A. Cazenave is sure that, were he alive today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would view economic inequality with the critical eye of an unrepentant radical. And, he says, “I’m sure Dr. King would be giving President Obama and his Wall Street supporters fits.”
Cazenave, an associate professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will deliver the keynote address at UConn’s observance of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 16, at 4 p.m. in the Student Union Theater.
The address, titled “The New Face of Activism: Bridging the Past to the Future,” will be delivered jointly with Blandon Casenave, director of digital media research at NBC Universal. (The two, though cousins, spell their last name differently.)
In his remarks, Professor Cazenave will not only explore the legacy of Dr. King, but he will also demystify him. “Dr. King was no saint,” he says, “and the fact that he was able to overcome his imperfections is what made him truly great.”
Considered to be this country’s most influential civil rights activist, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In it, he proclaimed the year 1963 “not an end but a beginning.”
The speech has long been considered one of the defining moments of the American Civil Rights movement, but even this visionary leader could not have anticipated how, a half century later, digital media would emerge as a world-wide communications phenomenon.
A New Age
The ability to communicate instantly across time zones has resulted in moving activism and civil disobedience from an abstract concept to concrete reality for people in all parts of the world, Blandon Casenave says: “With mobile devices, the Internet, and social media applications, the decision of what gets ‘witnessed’ is taken out of the hands of a few and put into the hands of the many.”
Casenave will take the audience through moments of global activism that were captured by digital media, including the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak; the death of a young woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, at the hands of the Iranian police; and a New York City police officer pepper spraying a peaceful female protester during an Occupy Wall Street gathering in lower Manhattan.
“Imagine,” he says, “if Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King had the tools of our digital age on their side.”
Although his age and professional background place Casenave squarely in the midst of the digital revolution, he has also participated at the grassroots level by serving as president of the Black Student Union while an undergraduate at Hunter College and as a founding member of the Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), a ‘citywide radical student activist group’ founded in 1996.
SLAM addresses various social justice issues, particularly those relating to the student body in the City University of New York system (CUNY), which enrolls nearly 50,000 students in 23 institutions of higher education. The group grew out of a movement protesting budget cuts and tuition increases and subsequently gained notoriety by opposing a proficiency exam being given to all CUNY undergraduates. SLAM’s actions were based on the belief that the test was prejudicial to the largely older and ethnically diverse working-class student body. Although it took a decade of activism, the test was eventually dropped.
Monday’s program will be moderated by Willena Kimpson Price, adjunct professor in the Neag School of Education and director of the African American Cultural Center. Others participating in the program include President Susan Herbst, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2nd District), Vice President for Student Affairs John Saddlemire, and several current UConn students who will pay tribute to Dr. King’s memory.
UConn’s Voices of Freedom gospel choir will perform during the program, as will students from Hartford’s Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School choir.
All members of the UConn community and the general public are invited to attend.
For a video of UConn students talking about what activism means to them, click here.