Hundreds of campus and regional community members gathered under the redwoods surrounding the Quarry Amphitheater to watch the former College Ten go down in history, rededicate itself as John R. Lewis College in memory of the legendary civil rights leader.
“Giving a name is a unique act,” Chancellor Cynthia Larive said at the ceremony. “It allows us to honor the past and aspire to the future. We are proud to have the opportunity to live up to the John R. Lewis name. John R. Lewis was an icon in this country’s historic struggle for freedom, equality, democracy and basic human rights for all.”
Crowds gathered in a festive atmosphere under sunny skies to be inspired by powerful speakers and witness to history in the making – and, true to UC Santa Cruz roots and the practice of John R. Lewis , students engaged in the protest and raised their voices at the event, advocating for labor rights, housing, basic needs support and mental health care.
Speakers included a professor emeritus and a sociologist from UCSC John Brown Childs; Reverend Dwight Andrews of the First Congregational Church of Atlanta, who was a friend of Lewis; award-winning poet Terisa Siagatonu (John R. Lewis ’11, community studies); organizer, political strategist and jazz singer LaTosha Brown; civil rights activist Wisdom Cole (Oakes ’15, chemistry); and UC President Michael Drake.
Drake said he had the honor of meeting and spending time with Lewis a few years ago.
“It was a particular joy, and for the university to come together to name this college to serve as a platform for them to remember their name and remember their work as we move forward, I think that is something we’re all very proud of,” Drake said.
support the fight
This ceremony, honoring the first college at UC Santa Cruz to be named after a person of color, took place 57 years after John R. Lewis left for a march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery with 600 people.
Peaceful protesters faced tear gas and beatings from state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and others at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And although Lewis was seriously injured, the march renewed his resolve to fight for racial equity, a mission that sustained him throughout his life.
Lewis became an organizer whose bravery and conviction helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
He then served more than 30 years in the House of Representatives, where he became known as the “conscience of Congress” for his commitment to justice and fairness.
Rolanda Pierre Dixon, a San Jose attorney, and her sister Adrienne Pierre, a retired De Anza College counselor, came to the event to honor Lewis and support the fight for civil rights.
“We just want to keep these things going and understand that we have to honor those who came before us,” said Pierre Dixon. “And…even if the fight continues, these people are putting their lives on the line, and we have to recognize the kind of battle it’s going to take.”
Gamliel Urlanda (Oakes ’21, math) from Santa Cruz and student Ino Salva (Merrill ’23, psychology and critical race and ethnic studies) are part of the student organization Bayanihanwhich, according to Urlanda, is in partnership with the Black Student Union (BSU). They attended the event in support of the BSU.
“Their causes are also our causes,” Urlanda said. “We want to make sure we help each other as people of color on campus.”
Honor and responsibility
The nomination was made possible by a donation from donors who prefer to remain anonymous. The gift established a permanent endowment that will provide resources in perpetuity for programming and other college needs under the direction of the college provost.
It is the first college UCSC has named since 2016, when College Eight was named after pioneering ecologist Rachel Carson, a marine biologist best known for her groundbreaking nonfiction book. Silent spring.
“Having a college [John Lewis’s] name is both an incredible honor and responsibility,” Larive said. “This appointment affirms our deep commitment to helping students become agents of justice, equity, inclusivity and social change, and challenges us to live the spirit of activism embodied by Representative Lewis. ”
The need for this type of activism in the current political climate was reflected in the speakers’ remarks.
“This dedication comes at a tumultuous time for our country,” President Drake said. “We face intense personal, professional and political challenges every day. We are still in the midst of an unrelenting global pandemic. We continue to witness and experience the brutal realities of intolerance, racism and injustice.”
But, Drake said, John Lewis showed us that there can be hope, even in difficult times.
“Now more than ever, we need the spirit of John Lewis, his compassionate worldview, his willingness to do hard, practical work to make freedom, justice and equality real. Our democracy today faces serious and perilous challenges,” said Brown Childs. “…To meet these challenges, let us honor him as an icon, but let us also be inspired by him as a guide in dangerous times.”
Referring to recent laws enacted to restrict voting and reproductive health care, Andrews called the dedication “a powerful moment, a response to all the setbacks that are happening in our country and in our world.”
“I often say we’re in the middle of a pandemic of pandemics,” Andrews continued. “Not just the coronavirus, but the economic virus, the education crisis, the violence crisis that strikes at the very heart of our sense of security and well-being, all of these crises are creating an epidemic of pandemics, all converging at the same time, so we have to be here today.”
LaTosha Brown challenged the audience to imagine an America without racism and said changing the world is not about politics, it’s about humanity.
“How are we going to stand in a space of our humanity where this becomes real?” Brown asked. “One way we can all check ourselves in is to give each other grace and space? What’s wrong with a little grace? What’s wrong with a little grace? space? To give ourselves and others the space to change, learn, grow, evolve.”
The students speak
As part of the program’s call to action, representatives of the Black Student Union spoke, addressing Chancellor Larive and President Drake.
Xaul Starr, also known as X (Stevenson 22, Earth Sciences; minor in Black Studies), president of BSU, and Airielle Silva (John R. Lewis College ’25, Critical Race and Ethnic Studies; minor in Black Studies), BSU’s president of political and cultural affairs, urged campus administrators to respond urgently to the needs and to the demands of black students.
“That’s where the frustration comes in,” Starr said. “The frustration of [un]the promises kept, the long-awaited meetings that never seem to happen, the pile of work, advocacy, toil, tireless nights that befall students to make sure the administration gets the job done. she should do to see her students survive.”
After the event, Chancellor Larive said campus leaders continue to work closely with student leaders to address identified needs within the control of the university and to help advocate for needed changes beyond our campus. .
the old college ten had already distinguished itself as a place where future leaders and activists can immerse themselves in the theory and practice of effective grassroots activism. All incoming students take courses examining the roots of prejudice and violence; learn to reflect critically on privileges, inequalities and forms of resistance; and embrace their shared humanity.
But now the college — one of 10 living and learning communities, or colleges, at UC Santa Cruz that enhance the intellectual and social life of campus — is receiving additional funding to support student programming, publicity and a wave of support.
At the same time, it is positioning itself to attract more of the politically active students it has educated, nurtured and inspired since its founding in 2002, and raised funds to bolster its $5 million anonymous endowment gift.
“Now is the time to not only highlight and enhance the work that College Ten has done over the past 20 years, but also to infuse the values of John R. Lewis into our existing curriculum initiatives” said Sarah Woodside Bury, senior director of student life at College Nine and John R. Lewis, Cowell and Stevenson colleges.