From left: assistant professor of theatre Darius Williams, filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome and Madeleine Centrella, '18, have a discussion after the screening of newsome's short film "Wake" in Zoellner Arts Center on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. Newsome famously removed the confederate flag from in front of the South Carolina Statehouse in the aftermath of the Charleston church shootings. (Photo courtesy Miles Davis)

Newsome encourages social activism on campus


After the Charleston church shooting in June, activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome scaled a 30-foot flagpole at the South Carolina Statehouse and removed the Confederate flag. She screened her short film “WAKE” during her visit to Lehigh and led a discussion on how race and social activism affect campus climates.

WAKE follows a young women from the South who uses “root work” to find her true love. The film explores Southern Gothic traditions and the incorporation of West African spiritualism in Southern culture. Newsome spoke about the film and her effort to promote equality, and she explained how the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capital bothered her. She noted that it was put up as a direct response to the civil rights movement, and she viewed the flag as an insult to black people.

“It’s not just a flag,” Newsome said. “It’s about ripping down ideology. It’s about ripping down hatred.”

Henry Odi, vice provost for academic diversity, discussed the journey to justice at Lehigh during the event and explained the ongoing effort of the Lehigh community to achieve an equitable community.

“It’s a new time, new season at Lehigh,” Odi said. In the wake of a surge in social activism around the country, Odi urged students to take control of the campus.

James Peterson, English and Africana Studies professor, emphasized the importance of activism on Lehigh’s campus.

“Activism is citizenship,” Peterson said.

During the Q&A session facilitated by theater professor Darius Omar Williams and Madeleine Centrella, ’18, Newsome said individuals must work toward a society of equality by taking action in communities and continuing to fight. She referenced Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and said, “A dream continuously deferred is not a plan of action.”

Newsome’s event at Lehigh was necessary, Ronasia Scott, ’18, said. Scott believes that although Lehigh is aware of the issues with diversity and inclusion, few things are done to improve it. Newsome is an example of how we can take action into our own hands, Scott said.

“She is just like us,” Scott said. “I saw a reflection of myself in her. A friend. An ally. That is something so important to me, and I’m sure among others in the activism community.”

The event is a part of the annual MLK Celebration series where the MLK committee launches a series of programming in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

The MLK committee is lead by co-chairs Tyrone Russell, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion and university chaplain. They develop programming that addresses relevant social justice issues and movements happening around the country.

Every year, the MLK committee awards students, faculty, staff and community members for their commitment to Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision.

The awards this year were given to Scott Grant, ’16; Carolina Hernandez, director of the Office of Community Service; Alan L. Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, Inc.; Kashi Johnson, associate professor of theatre; Esther Lee, president of the Bethlehem Chapter of the NAACP; Edward Morgan, professor of political science and Africana studies; and Vivian Robledo-Shorey, director of Student Services and Minority Affairs for the Bethlehem Area School District.

This year, the MLK committee focused on activism and politics in a post-civil rights age to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

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