NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks will deliver the 21st annual W.E.B. Du Bois Lecture tonight at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Brooks says he wants to encourage millennials to transform their activism into scholarship, like Du Bois did 150 years ago.
NAACP President Cornell William Brooks says W.E.B Du Bois’s legacy is especially important for college students to understand given today's political climate.
“I’d love for these students to leave the auditorium with not only a deep appreciation for the scholar activism of W.E.B. Du Bois, but to leave this occasion with the commitment to being a scholar activist,” Brooks said.
Brooks was invited to speak at Simon's Rock for the event that celebrates Great Barrington native, civil rights activist, and NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois.
Brooks says it’s fitting for him talk with students and the community about issues crucial for Du Bois and for the country’s democracy today. Attendees will be students at the campus’ Early College, which accepts students who are ready to enter college after 10th or 11th grade.
“If we can inspire a generation to take up the mantle in their time, in their way— so in other words, in the midst of this Twitter-age civil rights movement, we have activists who are not only good at demonstrating in the streets but also writing and analyzing in the library.”
Du Bois was born in Great Barrington in 1868 and lived there until he moved to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Fisk University, a historically black college. As the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard, Du Bois later founded the NAACP. He died in 1963 – the same night as the March on Washington.
Simon's Rock Provost Ian Bickford says Brooks has been an important voice in renewing Du Bois's legacy in the fight for social justice and economic equality.
“The fact that the early college movement was founded here 50 years ago and Du Bois was born here 150 years ago seem like disconnected events, but in fact I think they are dovetailing. And that’s because we believe early college is the educational innovation with the greatest promise to fulfill Du Bois’s vision for equity and equality in education for all students, and especially students who have been excluded because of race and because of systemic poverty. And we believe that President Books is a present-day champion of the same values. ”
Since 2014, Brooks — a civil rights attorney, social justice advocate and ordained minister — has led the NAACP in working on civil rights, including education reform, criminal justice reform, and voting rights.
Berkshire County’s NAACP Chapter President Dennis Powell says the association as a whole has increased its membership and social media followers have increased annually by more than 25 and 20 percent, respectively since the start of Brook’s presidency. He says he sees the same numbers – especially from millennials – locally.
“The NAACP is really visible, vocal, effective and growing under his leadership. That’s what keeps me out and gives me the drive and determination. And while we cannot be present at most of his marches, and walks and whatnot, we can – and he has let it be known that, you know – we can do a lot within our local communities.”
Berkshire NAACP has called attention to institutional racism and the school-to-prison pipeline, which Powell says entraps many people of color in the Berkshires.
Brooks says that’s the message he wants to convey to students at Simon’s Rock. He calls them the next generation of leaders who can create real social and legislative change.
“It’s not enough for us to watch on our Twitter feeds, or on YouTube, or on Periscope, or on Instagram, the activism, the civil disobedience of this generation.”
Brooks says college students need to fuse their creativity with their intellect.
“We have to inform it, guide it with intellectual rigor. I think that what we have seen over the course of the last few years is unprecedented activism in the streets. We need the activism in the streets, we need litigation in the courts, we also need scholarship coming out of our, our college campuses. All of these things go together.”
The lecture will be live streamed here. It starts at 7 at Simon’s Rock.