A Message to the IA Community: Let’s Come Together to Call Out White Supremacy and Build a Beloved Community

By Imagining America | August 23, 2017

We write this letter in our first month as faculty director and chair of the National Advisory Board of Imagining America. In the wake of Nazi marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, and hate-filled responses by white supremacists, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our members, campus leaders, scholars, students and cultural organizers against all forms of racism, bigotry, white supremacy, hate and violence. As an organization committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, we believe that it is important to name and act against hate.

One cannot promote democratic community engaged teaching and learning without taking responsibility for ignorance and hate that has deep roots within our society. As your collective work has shown, the methodologies of the arts, design and humanities provide powerful tools for us in these times. They offer dynamic ways to come together in an exploration of our individual and collective assumptions, so that we might reckon with how our own histories have contributed to both structures of oppression and movements for social justice. These approaches to teaching and learning also help us to unleash our radical imaginations towards building a better future for all of us.

We thus call upon our inspiring network to activate the IA community to strengthen and share your bold practice as community engaged scholars and practitioners. We are here to support you and welcome new ideas for mobilizing our various organizing platforms and resources, from the annual conference to our research initiatives and communication vehicles, to the PAGE fellows program and the journal PUBLIC.

The creativity, courage and brilliant hearts and minds within the IA network have shown us that it is not only possible, but necessary, to build supportive spaces of dialogue and reimagining during the most difficult times. David Hoffman at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has shown how important it is to devote significant time to nurturing human connections between staff, students, faculty and communities to foster deeply meaningful lives and work within university centers. Harry Boyte of Augsburg College, Carlton Turner of Alternate Roots and Carol Bebelle of Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans have taught us what it means to live and work daily as critical, yet hopeful, creative practitioners who care about a broader collective well-being and social transformation. From youth navigating unequal schooling systems to seniors struggling with dementia, the works of Vajra Watson of UC Davis and Sacramento Area Youth Speaks and Anne Basting, MacArthur Genius awardee and IA’s inaugural Randy Martin Spirit awardee, demonstrate the universal creative capacity to find joy and imagine alternative futures in extremely difficult contexts. IA’s Performing Our Future partnership with Appalshop/Roadside Theater in Eastern Kentucky reveals the bold power of deconstructing cultural narratives and reimagining a prosperous future for all Appalachians. The graduate fellows, research initiatives and regional organizing projects are all exciting spaces of hope to critically analyze what we see around us, and to dream up the world we want.

There are countless examples of beautiful work taking place within the IA network and from our new home at UC Davis, and the greater Central Valley. We look forward to learning from all of you at the annual conference in October.

There is no more important time than now to boldly re-imagine America. In this work, the participatory, narrative, and creative methodologies of the humanities, arts, and design have an important role to play. As Audre Lorde reminds us:

Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams towards survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

We hope you can join us in letting the light in at Imagining America’s annual conference in Davis, California, from October 12 to 14.

In community,


Erica Kohl-Arenas, Faculty Director
Lisa Lee, Chair, National Advisory Board
IA Staff