Acclaimed actor, producer, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover spoke at Fordham on Sept. 9 on the power of remembering victims of slavery, and the value that studying its history can contribute to social change today.
Glover participated in a panel discussion following a screening of the feature film Tula: The Revolt, the story of a 1795 slave uprising in colonial Dutch Curacao, in which Glover also starred.
He emphasized the role of education in shaping a generation that not only understands the lasting impacts of slavery but which is prepared to act to achieve justice for those still oppressed.
“Education defines what information we receive and our capacity to use that information,” Glover said. “Are we simply accepting ourselves as consumers and believing that access to information gives us power?
“It’s how you use the information, whatever information you have access to, that gives you power.”
The event was co-sponsored by the UN’s Remembrance Programme of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the UN Academic Impact (UAI), and Fordham’s School of Professional & Continuing Studies, Department of History, and the School of Law.
The remembrance program was initiated in 2008 to help raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.
Panelist Yuko Miki, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Fordham, said that while film is a powerful tool to help foster understanding of history, viewers should evaluate films with critical eye same as a historian would with any source.
Miki said Tula’s representation of the enslaved people in the Curacao revolt aligns with recent scholarship.
“You see the enslaved people not as people who are just passively working. They’re shown as people with intellectual lives, who understand the law and global politics. And they have a very complex idea of what freedom might mean,” she said.
Panelists commented that slavery is not just a footnote to humankind’s global history but a practice that shaped the many aspects of modern society and its economy.
“We would not have a United States were it not for enslaved people’s labor.
The same is true of any ‘great nation’ you might think of in this world,” said Natasha Lightfoot, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Columbia University.
Glover said the impact of slavery is far from over. While slavery was an integral part of the U.S. economy for far more than 200 years, it was only abolished 150 years ago.
In his role as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Glover has worked with governments in Latin America to bring to light how descendants of victims of slavery continue to suffer disproportionate economic and societal injustices. He said he hopes citizens and political leaders can “reimagine” how a democracy can address those long-reaching injustices.
Helping people connect with the stories of real individuals, like Tula, are vital in creating an environment where advocacy and change can occur, he said.
“As we give more voice to these stories, it allows us to position ourselves in a world where the first argument for the lack of government response, or reparations, is a scarcity of resources,” Glover said.
“As we bring light to these stories, they bring understanding. But understanding cannot flourish unless there is also compassion,” he said.
“Once we understand the connection line, maybe we’ll start the healing process. We have to demand that. We can’t just simply think that we’re beyond this.”