I'm no longer accepting the things I cannot change...I'm changing the things I cannot accept.~ Angela Davis
When Afrikana Film Fest put tickets for Angela Davis' Evening with an Icon appearance on sale, I was second in line to get mine. No surprise, it sold out in a hot minute, so they added tickets for a separate viewing room. That sold out even faster.
Doors were scheduled to open at 7 tonight for the main event and when I arrived at the VMFA at 6:20, the line was already through the atrium and almost back to the Best Cafe.
Luckily, I'd brought a book.
Once we finally made it into the auditorium, I snagged a seat in the fifth row to watch the slide show of photographs from past Afrikana events, spotting myself in four different pictures.
I am nothing if not a creature of habit.
As hordes of later arrivals streamed in, it wasn't long before the seat next to me was appropriated by a woman who promptly introduced herself as Sharon from New Jersey.
Turns out she'd come to Richmond for the same reason I had: a move for her husband's job. Like me, when the marriage ended, she stayed in Richmond and he'd moved away. We were instant friends united in our excitement over seeing Angela Davis tonight.
Things kicked off with the VMFA's photography curator showing us 3 recent photo acquisitions by Stephen Shames, two of Angela in the '70s and one of a young boy in an Angela Davis t-shirt around the same time. All are part of the museum's concerted effort to acquire a significant collection of Civil Rights era photography.
Next came the 2013 documentary, "Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners," a brilliant means of bringing everyone at the event up to speed on why this woman is such a key figure in American history.
Only tonight did I learn that she'd been hired as a philosophy professor at UCLA and that her first lecture on the philosophy of Frederick Douglass had attracted 2,000 attendees. That Governor Ronald Reagan wanted her barred from teaching at any California university.
The archival footage - of protests, her lectures, her trial and press conferences - gave a bird's eye view of so much of what was happening to her back then.
All of which, I might add, she did with both a magnificent Afro and mini-skirts and without a bra. Ah, the '70s.
But of course, the real magic happened when her name was announced and she walked out to a standing ovation. The funny part was, she sat down onstage before the woman introducing her could read her bio, so Davis walked back offstage so she could read it, occasionally hovering within view of the adoring crowd until resuming her seat.
And while she still has the Afro, tonight it was pants not a mini-skirt. That said, the woman doesn't look all that different at 73 than she did at 33.
From there, the moderator would toss out topics and Davis would address the question, take tangents, drop pearls of wisdom and ruminate on the past, present and future.
Asked about what young people should be doing today, she said it was awkward telling people what to do. "We didn't ask our elders what to do," she said. "We wanted to find our own way because we were more in touch with what was going on in those days than our elders were."
Now that would be an interesting topic to take up. Is that still the case today?
"Students are always at the forefront of revolutionary activity and we have to encourage that!"
A fair amount of time was given over to the current political clime, with Davis referencing "the day before the Women's March...or Inauguration day, if you care to refer to it that way."
Of Trump she lamented, "This is the future we really dreaded. It's turning the clock back. Make America great again means make America a white supremacy again, that's what it's code for."
She saw Islamic-phobia as being built on centuries of black oppression and said we should be worried about any group 45 is marginalizing.
"We have to resist and prevent Donald Trump's Project from reaching realization because on that depends the future of the country." Can I get an amen?
There was much to hear her opinions on: the crisis in the prison system, global capitalism and its effects on jobs in this country and the role of global feminism, a subject for which she stood to speak. There she mined Hillary's "glass ceiling" metaphor, reminding us that it means a woman is already at the top if she's near shattering it.
"No movement happens without women, " Davis reminded the mostly female crowd, "Women do all the work because they're the organizers." Truth.
She told all the men in the room to stand and applaud the women for the work that we do. Some looked sheepish about it, others enthusiastic.
Saying she was no expert on anything since she'd been fired from her first job at UCLA ("By Ronald Reagan!"), she said, "One of the great things about longevity is you get to ride the shifts in history."
That was a reference to going back to UCLA (who now use posters of her as a selling point for the school) only to hear the university board give their interpretation of the '70s firing which in no way lined up with hers.
At least she can laugh about it now.
For the final question, she was asked about where we go from here.
"Everyone has to embrace something they can passionately engage in and not just right now. How can we create sustainable activism?"
Personally, I was thinking a large swath of American idiots just elected the most motivating force impossible for activism and community engagement, but Angela sees the bigger picture.
"Imagining the future involves doing activist work for a very long time. It requires a commitment to social justice," she said toward the end. "Donald Trump will be just a drop in the bucket."
A woman's place is in the struggle. How lucky I was to hear it from the horse's mouth.