Slavery to Freedom: February lecture series focuses on inclusive excellence and transformative change


2021 marks the 21st year of the Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series, Slavery to Freedom, which focuses on the history and legacy of African Americans in the United States. The series features new lecturers each year from diverse disciplinary backgrounds—but that’s not all that makes this year’s lectures different.

Usually hosted in the Kellogg Center to accommodate the wider East Lansing community, this year’s series will be held virtually. Though the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine sponsors the series, it was always conceived to be a university-wide dialogue around the history, heritage, struggle and resilience of African Americans in this country, said Dr. Marita Gilbert, the college’s associate dean of diversity and campus inclusion.

MSU students and faculty, professors and students from other higher education institutions, community, lawmakers and legislators, and elementary, junior high, and high school students from the area normally attend the lecture series.

“We engage folks with diverse and intersecting identities; some live, study or work on campus and some join us for specific events,” Gilbert said. “And that's important, because it helps us to not just have the conversation here on campus, but to have it spread out throughout the community.”

This year’s series is also different due to the events of 2020. When Gilbert began her post this summer, she started thinking about what the 2021 series would look like, particularly in the context of current events. The summer also marked the passing of Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rep. John Lewis—two social justice icons who both presented during the series in years past.

“Their lives were dedicated to the fight on the front lines,” Gilbert said. “They continued to push us to think about what equity would really look like and to persist in contributions to bring it to fruition.”

Gilbert wanted the series to be inclusive and have diverse perspectives, and it was important to her that it be an intergenerational dialogue. To that end, each of this year’s lecturers speak to an arc of the history of African Americans’ pursuits of social justice in the United States.

Dr. Monique Morris, who is scheduled to speak on Thursday, February 4, 2021, has been involved in social justice advocacy and scholarship for three decades and is the executive producer and co-writer of the 2019 documentary film “PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.” She’s been a staunch educational advocate, providing an intersectional analysis of what inclusion would really look like in the institution of education, Gilbert said.

“Specifically, she talks about the ways in which Black girls are marginalized in education systems and why it's important to pay attention to that.”

View her Feb 4. discussion here.

Patrisse Cullors is co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, an American artist, activist, and advocate for prison abolition in Los Angeles. Cullors will speak on Thursday, February 11, 2021.

“It was important that we hear from a queer-identified woman who created an entire movement, and for us to be reminded that it was young Black women at the helm,” Gilbert said. “Though we don’t often give them enough credit, they’re the ones putting their bodies and lives on the line, pushing us intellectually and politically to think about the implications of the systemic inequities that have occurred.” 

View her Feb 11. discussion here.

Dr. Cornel West is a distinguished thought leader, critic, speaker and educator on the history and culture of Black people in America. He has authored more than 20 books examining the intersections of race, gender and class in America. West will speak on Thursday, February 25, 2021.

“Dr. West speaks from a prophetic tradition. While engaging in historical analysis and political critique, he almost always roots this conversation in love,” Gilbert noted. “Dr. West’s insights will offer an important conclusion amidst the turmoil of the present moment.”

One way to push for a future that involves transformative change is by producing emerging clinicians who are educated in historical disparities, something MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine aims to do, in part, with this series.

“We want our graduates to know about social disparities of health, but we also want them to know that it didn't just happen today—that there is a historical basis for the things that we're observing now,” Gilbert explained. “We also want them to be forward-thinking, critical, creative thinkers about how to address what we're seeing now, in a solution that transcends today, but that's actually thinking about how it will affect communities in the future.”

Overall, Gilbert hopes the series will be an opportunity for the community to pause and learn, then figure out how what they heard fits into their larger work in the college and across the university.

“As a member of this community, each of us has something to do to promote and sustain inclusive excellence.”