Demands for Presence
Redefining Community Engagement/Geographies of Protest
African and African American Studies at UC Davis has persistently sought connections to the black community. This involved engagement outside the oftentimes impenetrable barricades of the university to collaboratively pursue the paradigms of Black culture. In this regard, UCD AAAS was generated from a local groundswell of student-led initiatives for organic intellectual work, of the kind associated with Sacramento City College’s Oak Park School of Afro-American Thought:
With the support of Black faculty and staff as well as community activists, the Sacramento City College BSU was able to wrest an independently operated center from the college administration. It was called the Oak Park School of Afro-American Thought. [...] It offered evening classes in Black Studies for SCC students. The classes were open to the public. Through the Oak Park School the BSU engaged in community outreach and organizing, hosted speakers and seminars, and staged theatrical performances.
As Sac State Ethic Studies Emeritus David Covin points out in his history of Black protest in the region, “That marked an important component of Black politics throughout the ’70s—the capture of a public space by Black people, turning it into a Black space.” This astute observation applied equally to AAAS at Davis. The space of the public university was captured, not gifted, and was done so by extensive intellectual networking with concerned scholars-- inside and outside the academy-- throughout the state.
Indeed, as Covin notes, the threads of inspiration shared between Sacramento and Davis are extensive. He describes how “Many of the BSU members from SCC eventually transferred to Sacramento State or UC Davis (UCD), just eleven miles west of Sacramento. On both campuses the SCC transfers were instrumental in founding and energizing the BSUs.” That drive to move beyond imposed segregation and alienation in institutions permeated into the campus of Davis. Early in 1969, “BSU leaders from area colleges [...] participated in the second day of a three-day session entitled, ‘Black Culture Week’ under way on the Davis campus of the University of California.” United in frustration at the racism and classism they encountered “The Negro representatives agreed the time is now to effect changes. While tactics have diverged since the tumultuous times these students braved, the message of claiming Black space for thought from and for people of African descent remains just as relevant. This is one of the most potent impacts of the Ethnic Studies movement: the ability to claim space for those who care about the plight and philosophy of marginalized people. Only with this space can we serve the people, to carefully and thoroughly analyze the aspects of society that still prevent the Black community flourishing, and more crucially develop novel methods to address these challenges.