Yara Shahidi and Joey Bada$$ discuss the power of education at Cuse For Good Panel

Shahidi and Bada$$ discuss the power of education

The panel was for 'Cuse for Good: Social Justice, a three-part event that explores social justice movements within the country.
Published: February 18, 2018

Actress Yara Shahidi and rapper Joey Bada$$ were part of a panel that discussed the power of education, the role of youth and other topics at Syracuse University on Saturday. The panel was the first piece of a three-part event, ‘Cuse for Good: Social Justice, that has been marked as a day of conversation and celebration by the organizers.

With social justice being the theme, the panel explored issues surrounding social justice movements in the country. The conversation was given a local flavor with the presence of Angie Pati, SU senior and Student Association vice president, and Bill Werde, director of the Bandier Program at SU. Don Sawyer, chief diversity officer at Quinnipiac University, moderated the panel. Sawyer earned his masters from SU.

Shahidi, who rose to fame after starring in the popular ABC sitcom Black-ish, made a distinction early on between equity and equality when talking about social justice. Summing up the thoughts of an activist she was inspired by, she said that social justice is a fight for equity and that we all get what we need to thrive.

Werde, answering the same question from Sawyer about how they perceived social justice, said the concept had two branches. The external movement is the struggle for equity that Shahidi articulated.

The internal movement, on the other hand, should be a continuous evaluation of ourselves, and challenging ourselves to identify and work on our biases and blind spots, he said.

Werde expanded on his assessment by pointing out a flaw in the discourse of social justice. The grand thought of social justice as correcting all the evil in the world, he said, fails to acknowledge the problem of institutional shortcomings.

He spoke at length about his experiences working in the music industry when he was the editorial director of Billboard. He said that part of his social awakening came from becoming aware of, and questioning the lack of representation in decision-making positions in the industry.

The impact of education, and especially critical thinking, was a recurring point throughout the conversation. Shahidi recognized James Baldwin as a source of inspiration growing up. She said it was vital that kids identify and read authors who they resonate with and get inspired by.

Sawyer stressed the importance of critical thinking and the ability to think for oneself. He derided the test-taking culture that has become a core component of the K-12 education system. He urged the audience to see education as a public good and criticized institutions that exploited the surrounding local communities for their self-interests.

The SU alumnus went on to rebuke institutions that used poor cities, like Syracuse, as “data plantations,” where students end their involvement with the community after “finishing their PhDs”, he said. This sentiment was also shared by Werde and Pati, who named community engagement as one of the three biggest issues facing the university.

The event wasn’t all talk, as three local schools were presented with checks from the ticket proceeds of the panel and concert, as well as the Black Panther premiere that was held by Orange After Dark on Thursday night.

Thienan Huynh from the Van Duyn Elementary School said that concepts of social justice should be cultivated at an early age. Being an elementary school educator, she said that we should be “fostering this idea that they [students] are the change.”

The three schools to receive the donations were Van Duyn Elementary School, Grant Middle School and Fowler High School.

The event was organized jointly by the Student Association, University Union (UU), and the National Pan-­Hellenic Council (NPHC). Andrew Fowler, NPHC president, said during his welcome speech that UU and NPHC had an idea last semester to host an event that would be more than a concert.

“How can we make people leave with a valuable lesson?” Fowler said he wondered. Speaking after the event, he expressed hope in continuing a series of such events. He said that the three organizations could collaborate for an annual event with different themes. ‘Cuse for Good: Social Justice’ could be ‘Cuse for Good: Education,’ he said.