Faculty Highlights

Power and Politics

Black Power 50

Komozi Woodard (history) was just 16 years old when he first encountered members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the home of anti-war activist Eric Mann. “I ended up joining SNCC by going to that meeting with Eric in 1966,” Woodard says, “and the rest was history.”

Woodard’s interest in the Black Power movement has never waned. Black Power 50 (New Press, 2016), his companion book to an exhibit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, makes the case that Black Power goes much deeper and broader than the Black Panthers. “Black Power didn’t start with the Black Panthers,” Woodard says, “and it didn’t end with the Black Panthers.”

“Black Power didn’t start with the Black Panthers,” Woodard says, “and it didn’t end with the Black Panthers.”

Woodard’s examination of the movement starts with Malcolm X and the Black Arts movement, which produced artists and poets such as Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka. One of Woodard’s greatest contributions is revealing the integral role that women played in the movement—women such as Kathleen Cleaver, the SNCC organizer-turned-law-professor, and Denise Oliver, a member of both the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican nationalist group.

“I just found all these women—a crowded field of women around Malcolm X—who had been excluded from the story of Malcolm X and Black Power,” he says.

As for applying history to today’s political climate, Woodard is more optimistic than you might expect. The history of Black Power, he says, “opens up the eyes of young people to what they’re capable of doing without a lot of money.”

Patience and Perseverance

Damani Baker ’96 (right), with his sister and a friend, during carnival in Grenada, 1983. Photo courtesy of Damani Baker ’96

The House on Coco Road, the latest film by Damani Baker ’96 (filmmaking and moving image arts), offers students a lesson on the benefits of patience.

In the early 1980s, Baker’s mother moved Damani and his sister from California to Grenada to help lead the island nation’s growing social democracy movement. But their stay was cut short by the 1983 American invasion of the Caribbean nation.

Baker returned to Grenada after grad school to gather material for a film about what he calls the “first English-speaking revolution in the Western Hemisphere with a leadership predominantly of African descent.” He came home with more than 60 hours of footage—“priceless footage from former revolutionaries,” Baker says. There was just one problem. “It didn’t tell the story that I think I wanted to tell.”

So Baker put the project aside for 14 years, until he discovered hours of Super 8 film in his mother’s basement in California. The home movies documented his great-grandmother’s life raising 10 kids in rural Louisiana in the 1950s, his grandparents’ migration to Los Angeles, and his mother’s early years. Baker says the family movies provided “the missing piece” to his Grenada story.

The House on Coco Road, which premiered last year at the Los Angeles Film Festival, weaves Baker’s family history into the broader history of the island nation. “It all fell into place,” Baker says. “It’s almost a relief that a combination of patience and perseverance led to the very intimate and vulnerable film that it is.”