(Photo by Shiloah Coley)
On Wednesday, November 15th, I had the opportunity to attend the first P.O.W.E.R. Collective meeting in the Black Cultural Center.
The P.O.W.E.R. Collective is a group of students (graduate and undergraduate), faculty, and community members who collaborate on a horizontal working field to engage in community based projects that are action-based and offer support through participatory research and different methods that are conductive to supporting communities of color and encourage community members to participate.
Their mission statement reads: “Our mission is to produce, support, and disseminate critical scholarship and community action projects led by students, community members, and professional of color at UW-Madison and throughout the state of Wisconsin.”
I sat down with one of the co-founders, Ife Williams, to talk about the P.O.W.E.R. Collective. As a third-year doctoral student in the School of Human Ecology (SOHE) – Civil Society and Community Research program, everyone in her cohort is encouraged to be a scholar activist. However, most of the research being done was not with or for communities of color. Majority of the research was being done by white researchers. Ife and some of her fellow cohort members who are persons of color began to mobilize and meet last Spring to try to tackle this issue. The initial group of co-creators in addition to Ife include: Bakari Wallace and Ethen Pollard. Eventually, graduate students Michael Davis and Becca Dower were brought in as well. They set out to re-claim the narrative. Essentially, hoping to give people of color the opportunity to do research with communities of color and reverse the research that had been done to the detriment of POCs.
In their poster, you will notice that they are making a call to activists, scholars, and artists. So what role can art have in this? Art can serve as a medium that is critical to social movements and can be used to stimulate political protest while including experiences of individuals, collectives, and communities. When Ife talks about the role that art has, it is not limited to the visual form, but instead extends beyond to anyway that POCs choose to express culture and meaning. Ife emphasized that this is particularly crucial for communities of color because “…the ways in which our histories and stories have been documented, under-documented, incorrectly documented, and shifted… it’s so important for us to be telling our stories…” Art is just one way for us to be communicating those stories to a broader audience and hopefully can be used as a device to help bridge the gap between communities of color in the neighborhoods around UW campus and communities of color on this campus.
What Projects will P.O.W.E.R. be tackling first?
The first project is currently in the works. They are working with youth from Freedom Inc., a community organization here in Madison, on their No Cops in School Campaign. The campaign is trying to get cops out of the Madison school districts. Currently, the Madison school district has a contract with the Madison police so that there are cops in schools at all times. P.O.W.E.R. hopes to try to build community support around the students and will work directly with those who are putting together an alternative plan to the cops in schools. The collective plans on doing a two to three-hour workshop with the young people leading the campaign to help them create an alternative system and formally present their proposal.
The next project is developed around their three pillars: critical research, community engagement, and radical advancement. They intend on putting together a series of workshops for the Spring that engage all three pillars in different ways but primarily focus on the idea of radical advancement by addressing community organizing and anti-blackness.
I asked Ife what she would say to the student who is timid when they hear the term radical advancement. She initially responded, “Well, my first initial thought is that if radical scares you then maybe you should step back.” She went on to address that the word radical is often times over-used and in the context of the P.O.W.E.R. Collective it means deconstructing the way that we think of research and having a critical understanding of the history of research. Radical advancement includes professional development. While learning basic skills like writing a cover letter and formatting a resume are important, so is learning how to tackle anti-blackness by addressing how we conduct anti-racist work and are not contributing to anti-blackness while being able to show up professionally to communities of color. After tackling the question, Ife came to this conclusion, “I would just say try it. Feel it out. Don’t be afraid. See what it means to engage in research, scholarship, activism and art radically and then see if you’re open to it”.
The next meeting is Thursday, November 30th at 1pm in Nancy Nicholas Hall Room 1199 (SOHE building)
Feel free to reach out to the P.O.W.E.R. Collective at: firstname.lastname@example.org