How Does Change Happen?

By Natalie Cooper and Ariana Rowe

The esteemed Hutchin’s Center Honors Award Ceremony, which grants recipients with the W. E.B. Du Bois Medal, is Harvard University’s highest honor in the field of African and African-American studies. The award ceremony is hosted every year at Harvard’s historic Sanders Theater to celebrate excellence within the Black community, and this year, Winsor was invited to attend the event. Winsor students of African descent were given the experience of a lifetime and were able to watch the famous recipients, just a few yards away, receive their awards. This year’s  recipients included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Laverne Cox, Agnes Gund, Raymond J. McGuire, Deval Patrick, Betye Saar, and  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There was a broad range of recipients, with entertainers and politicians alike earning this award to highlight the diverse ways in which people of color can make positive and meaningful contributions to the world. The audience enjoyed musical performances, readings of historical excerpts, introductions, and statements from the recipients. The audience heard calls to action and words of wisdom as the honorees reflected on their success and greater contribution to society. 

In a society plagued with many injustices and news stories that highlight only the suffering of Black people, it is vital to see Black achievement being awarded and heralded. The audience and stage shared an electric power, with a collective sense of appreciation and admiration reverberating around the theater. Furthermore, young black students were able to look up to people who had, against all odds, succeeded tremendously. Among these recipients was even one white woman, whose presence on the stage was a stark contrast to the faces of color around her. The decision to reward allyship on such a prominent stage emphasized the importance of individuals from diverse backgrounds working together for a more unified and just society. This social change requires strides not only from people of color but also from white people who can use their place of privilege to further elevate those around them to an equal and equitable level.

Because being an ally is so critical, we think that inviting white students to this incredible event could be eye-opening and beneficial for encouraging conversations about race and white privilege. While we recognize the key role of allies in making change, we also think it is necessary to allow Black and mixed race students the opportunity of going to the event first. For example, if we are only given a limited amount of tickets, we should prioritize those students who are Black and mixed race. In order to create nuanced conversation about race and acknowledge the achievements of Black people, we as a Winsor community can also do more to educate students who are not able to attend the event about Black excellence within the Winsor community and outside of it.