Rebecca Walker



By Jamie Munro, The Earlham Word, January 2007


Keynote address emphasizes openness as a necessity in creating societal changes

Junior John Click talks to author and activist Rebecca Walker after her Martin Luther King, Jr. Day speech. In her talk, entitled "Today Is the Tomorrow You Were Promised Yesterday," she asked her audience to remember King's accomplishments, but also continue to work towards an open society.

Activist and author Rebecca Walker addressed Goddard Auditorium on Monday, Jan. 15 as the keynote speaker for the college's Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration.

Walker opened her speech with a call to acknowledge not only King's achievements in the Civil Rights Movement, but also to remember his challenge to create a kinder and more open society. She went on to state that only with this spirit can we fully celebrate King's legacy. "To truly appreciate Martin Luther King, Jr. we must have the openness to create our own dreams, not just his," she said.

Openness and divisiveness were central themes in Walker's speech and in the question and answer session. To place these ideas in a modern context, she emphasized a phrase throughout the speech that she described as her understanding of humanity's contemporary crisis: "The chaotic forces of today are disguised as forward momentum and are tinged with the potential for comprehensive annihilation."

Emphasizing the need for societal change, she articulated her belief that openness is humanity's "most valuable resource." Walker's stress on openness was crucial to her calls for self-transformation as a precondition to societal transformation. Drawing on examples from her life as an activist, Walker explained the dangers of certitude, stating that in her younger years she "never challenged the presumption that [her] very rightness could be divisive." She identified society's obsession with individualism as the "birthplace of divisiveness" and politics as the "cauldron in which it is often brewed."

Walker also touched on her personal feelings regarding race. She is of both African-American and Jewish descent and repeated her calls for openness in difficult discussions of race relations. To explain what she meant by openness in such a situation, Walker referred to a televised conversation between herself and Malik Zulu Shabazz, who delivered a lecture on campus last March. She listened to Shabazz's opinions, which were at odds with her own, and chose in her response to identify with his pain and anger at injustice rather than to simply contradict him.

Walker also reflected on her own life, including her involvement with the Third Wave Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides funds and support for young women in leadership roles. In a 1992 article in Ms. magazine, Walker coined the phrase "Third Wave feminist." She has been an active member of the third wave movement, which has been credited with building a more racially inclusive feminism. In addition, Walker has received awards from many prominent activist organizations and has authored several books on gender and racial identity.

Responses to Walker's speech were overwhelmingly positive. Sophomore Leslie Ann James appreciated Walker's speaking ability and said that she "touched on race in a way that was meaningful to everyone." Adeyemi Doss, senior, also praised Walker's message and agreed that openness in discussion is important to movements of self-empowerment.

Hannah Mayer, a sophomore, described the speech as "soul-rejuvenating," adding that Walker's worldview offered a much-needed alternative to dominant right-left political arguments.

Attendees seemed to agree that Walker appropriately honored the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. They also suggested that Walker's speech evoked a certain thoughtfulness that she hinted at in her examination of self-transformation. Senior Jason Shenk commented on both the depth and consequences of Walker's thoughts, adding that "she's really on to something with the concept of skillful openness."

Walker is the daughter of Alice Walker, a civil rights activist and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Color Purple." Rebecca Walker will release "Baby Love," a memoir on motherhood, in March. More information on Rebecca Walker's life, books, activism, and public appearances can be found at



Rebecca Walker - All Rights Reserved 2007. - Rebecca @ MySpace