May 17 commemorates the anniversary of the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board, which needs no introduction. In celebration of the landmark case, Ta-Nehisi Coates, journalist and bestselling author of stories such as “Between the World and Me,” as well as Marvel Comics characters Black Panther and Captain America, is visiting Washburn. It is hard to explain how lucky Topeka is to have Coates speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25 at Lee Arena. All are free to attend and everyone is encouraged to visit.
Director of University Diversity and Inclusion Danielle Dempsey-Swopes as well as Enimini Ekong, Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services of the Brown v. Board Historic Site, as well as Superintendent for the Nicodemus National Historic Site were incredibly gracious enough to discuss Coates as well as the event.
Referring to his author credits of his two Marvel runs he headlines, Dempsey-Swopes discussed his publications.
“He happens to be an African-american man, and has written three other books: ‘We were eight years in power,’ it is about the Obama administration, its impact on American Society, and its impact on how we thought about racism privilege in America as well as authoring ‘Between the World and Me,’ and this is a really interesting book. He is writing to his son about the hazards and hardships of what it means to be a black man in America, and how that’s different for a black man than it is for other people in America. He is just an incredible author and individual.”
Dempsey-Swopes said her good friends at the Brown v. Board site said they want to bring him here, and they asked if we would be interested in having him on campus and help support it.
“I said absolutely,” Dempsey-Swopes said. “He was really coming for an event in Kansas City, and so the Kansas City Public Libraries and a few other organizations were bringing him to Kansas City. Whenever we find out someone of his caliber is going to be anywhere close to Topeka, we try to think about hey, would they be willing to stop in Topeka.”
Enimini Ekong then spoke about Coates and the reasons and process of getting him to Topeka in detail.
“Many would say here that he is a thought leader on issues of race, and who collates issues of race,” Ekong said. “Sixty-five years go, race determined where you went to school, what car you rode in. Now, 65 years later, we want to do a hard check as a society and reflect and discuss that history that still permeates society today. I think the 65th is an opportunity to ask, are we okay with what we are looking at?’”
Discussing the process of recruiting Coates, Ekong emphasized that when they sought out Coates it was very difficult.
“Many know what he has to offer is unfiltered, and was a journalist in Baltimore with the whole Freddie gray incident. Having him be here would 1, put us at the center of racial dialogue like in 1964, and also give us an opportunity to discuss whether we are not comfortable and still seeking the platform to start talking about issues of race in our country,” Ekong said.
As Dempsey-Swopes said, this was a collaborative group effort. A lot of this was orchestrated by the Library Foundation. They put together a collaborative effort to bring him both to Kansas and Topeka.
“Collaboration has always been our best practice to save resources and you can share them a lot with the states. The aim has been to put him before communities of interest. He is coming strictly to talk about the anniversary. A lot of it is us and him talking about the work he has done and how he is a product of the court case,” Dempsey-Swopes said.
As well as to celebrate and share with Washburn what his thoughts are about where we are as a country, such as have we gotten better, have we done better as a country to share with us what he thinks and how he sees the anniversary.
Ekong also explicitly encouraged Washburn students as well as community members, and anyone in the surrounding area and even bordering states to come to the event with their hope that Coates will answer questions from the audience.
Overall, it cannot be emphasized how special and once-in-a-lifetime it is to have a man of his experience visit Topeka and the campus.