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Passing The Torch

What is Activism?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'Activism' as "a doctrine or policy of advocating energetic action", and an 'Activist' as "an advocate of activism". The Random House Dictionary furthers the definition of 'Activism', defining it as an "involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.". Thus one can see Activism as an attempt to change. This could be the changing of a government's laws or a public's attitude. It could be the attempt to change a countries method of disposing of waste, or the attempt to change a public's acceptance of homosexuals. With many people in the world starving, and others being killed in wars between nations and cultures, the world is generally considered to be an unfair place. It is natural, therefore, for people to try and change it to what they would consider to be a better place. The people who try and make this change are activists. There have been activists and activism for as long as there has been society. There is activism from the left side of the political spectrum, and activism from the right. There are activists demanding tighter gun laws, and there are activists demanding the right for any individual to carry a firearm. Every issue in today's society spawns activists of opposing views.  (

Much can be learned at the feet of an activist; those who have walked the walk and talked the talk.  The following are men and women, straight and gay who have been in the trenches of activism, have suffered the wounds and who have enjoyed the libations of success.  They are presented here for you to hear their words and be inspired.  You may consider yourself one person, but one person can inspire many people, or many nations. 

Gay & Lesbian Activism


Barbara Smith

Legendary radical Black lesbian feminist Barbara Smith talks "The Truth That Never Hurts", as she discusses her book of the same title. Making connections between women/queer liberation and the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, Smith traces her development as an activist, and celebrates the idealism, solidarity and passions of younger activists who keep the struggle going.
[View Video]

Cheryl Clarke

Poetess Cheryl Clarke describes how a well-defined community of lesbians gave her the best entrée into the world of lesbian poetry. Along the way, she pays homage to her predecessors and contemporaries, including Phyllis Wheatley, Gwendolyn Brooks and Audre Lorde, and reads from her collection, Experimental Love, published in 1993.
[View Video]



Lisa Moore -- Redbone Press

"Where were all the black lesbians?" Lisa Moore of Redbone Press asks in her video project, "Sassy Be Gone." Through oral histories of black lesbians in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, Moore explores where Black bulldaggers, femmes, studs and women who liked to wear "wife beaters" fit in the black communities of their youth. From Chicago to Kentucky to New York City, Moore listens to the stories of women who helped to make way for contem-porary Black lesbian existence/ movements. She also raises important questions about the dearth of formal historical inquiry into the lesbian presence in famed movements such as the Harlem Renaissance. [Watch Video]

James Baldwin

James Baldwin: Interview with Walter Blum of San Francisco Chronicle, 1979

In an interview conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, James Baldwin discusses his life in the United States and in Europe, his work and the life of Black people in various parts of the world.   Introduction by Angela Davis. 
[Audio: Listen]


The Personal As Political


"We trust you to be famous, to talk for actor is elected."

Brazilian screen legend and human rights activist, Sonia Braga, reflects on her experiences growing up in Brazil and how these have informed her artistry and concern for humanity. She also discusses racism and its different meanings at home and abroad. 
[View Video]

 "Artists are protectors of the truth. Anyone who capitulates in that responsibility has denied their mission."

Renowned entertainer and human rights activist, Harry Belafonte gives a profound and inspiring account of his career and personal growth in the context of the human rights struggle in the 20th Century.
[View Video]


"Not only is it a program that was beautiful and relevant at the time, it is still beautiful and relevant today."

Jamal Joseph discusses his role as a former member of the Black Panther party. Joseph is now a successful screenwriter and Columbia Film School professor. He also works with inner-city youth, helping them find an artistic voice for their anger and a constructive channel in social activism. 
[View Video]

"We weren't pushing Black is beautiful. We just showed it."

At 92 years of age, Katherine Dunham is a living legend and national treasure. In conversation with this dance pioneer and human rights champion is social activist and former Dunham dancer, Julie Belafonte. 
[View Video]

Elaine Brown

A true legacy, Elaine Brown, in 1974, became the first and only woman to lead the Black Panther Party. Ms. Brown's appointment to the position of leadership was a very drastic one for the party, which had been previously and exclusively lead by men. In her autobiographical memoir, "A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story", she recounts her life from the ghettos of North Philadelphia to her leadership in one of the country’s most important and militant civil rights groups.  [View Video]

Maya Angelou

MAYA ANGELOU: interview with the author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and other works of autobiography. Video from the Roland Collection. [View Video]


Malcolm X

Malcolm X: Interview with Herman Blake, Sociology Department, UC Berkeley, - Oct. 11, 1963 [Video]

Watch it with RealPlayer: Clip 1

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Watch it with RealPlayer: Clip 3

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Watch it with RealPlayer: Clip 7


Activism As Art

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith's debut video plunges into the mythically-driven panic for a cure, any cure, for HIV before protease inhibitors. (1994, Chicago)
[View Video]



Phill Wilson

AIDS Activist Phill Wilson Talks About Fighting AIDS and Urban Myths in the African-American Community

Originally conducted by Black Entertainment Television.
[View Video]

Denise Stokes

Living With HIV: Denise Stokes Discusses How She Deals With HIV as a Part of Her Life Without Being Defined By It. [View Video]



Balm In Gilead

BET's "Nightly News" features the
Balm in Gilead's raising HIV/AIDS awareness in Africa.
BET-TV April 2, 2002 11- 12am (2:40)
[View Video]


Hot Topic:


What is "Black," "Black Enough," and "Too Black" in today's America?

Marlon Riggs, one of today's most explosively influential independent filmmakers, died of complications due to AIDS. His final film, BLACK IS...BLACK AIN'T, may also be his most powerful. BLACK IS...BLACK AIN'T is an up-front examination of racism, sexism, and homophobia within the black community itself. Bringing together personal stories, interviews, music, history, and performance, BLACK IS...BLACK AIN'T asks African Americans: What is black, black enough, or too black? Produced and directed by Riggs, BLACK IS...BLACK AIN'T was completed posthumously by his co-producer Nicole Atkinson and co-director/editor Christiane Badgley. A presentation of the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, BLACK IS...BLACK AIN'T is being distributed by California Newsreel.





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