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Students find inspiration from racial justice changemakers

December 7, 2022

In October 2022, students from the Ford School and members of the greater University of Michigan community gathered together to hear “Racial Justice Changemakers”—social justice leaders, artists, and advocates—share their diverse journeys into activism through the Center of Racial Justice (CRJ)’s Masterclass in Activism event. Through this event, students learned how to leverage different skill sets to positively impact communities of color. 

“Our Masterclass in Activism event was a perfect encapsulation of the power and impact of bringing together individuals from diverse perspectives and disciplinary homes who are motivated and dedicated to bolstering racial justice. We look forward to creating future opportunities for our community to engage our CRJ changemakers,” said Dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes, director for the Center of Racial Justice. 

Panelists included Niketa Brar, founder of Chicago United for Equity; performance artist Holly Bass; and Gabrielle Wyatt, the founder of The Highland Project. As a collective, these Racial Justice Changemakers are individuals who meaningfully leverage their expertise, talents, and platforms to advance racial equity in local, national, and international contexts. 

Nikita Brar (left) and Gabrielle Wyatt (right) speak on their activism experience.
Nikita Brar (left) and Gabrielle Wyatt (right) speak on their activism experience.

Among the audience were students in the Ford School’s discussion-based Racial Foundations of Public Policy course.

“Seeing such incredible women of color tackle such daunting social justice related questions was incredibly inspiring,” said Kailana Flora Dejoie (BA, ‘23). “I feel like I often forget why I'm at this university in the first place in the midst of this constant capitalist-productivity driven environment, so seeing aspirations similar to mine being materialized for people who look like me really helped to remind me of my purpose. It was such a privilege to be in their presence.” 

“What I found inspiring about this event was the vulnerability and strength of all the presenters, as well as the wisdom they shared about the meaning of activism versus organizing or cultural work,” said Alyssa Donovan (BA, ‘23). “The mere ability to hear from people who are pursuing careers that align with my passions and desires—in a way that I previously felt may be unattainable for me—was incredibly impactful and motivating for me to witness.”

In keeping with the center’s vision for the Masterclass in Activism initiative, which started in 2021, this event was a unique opportunity to bring together and hear from noted activists and thought leaders who have made significant marks on the policy landscape. Previously, the Center for Racial Justice hosted Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Professor Dorothy Roberts for the respective Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 Masterclass in Activism events. 

Holly Bass speaking to students after the Masterclass in Activism event (Fall 2022).
Holly Bass speaking to students after the Masterclass in Activism event (Fall 2022).