Events Aim to Inspire Fight for Equality

March 11, 2019

For one full week this March, Lifting Up The ROC(k): Resistance and Renewal in the Fight for Social Justice, will bring activists, educators, writers, and performers to St. John Fisher College for a series of events that explore the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass, and through interactive discussions and presentations, will examine racism and inequity in Rochester and the larger society.

Poster promoting the Lifting Up The Roc(k): Resistance and Renewal in the Fight for Social Justice events.

Organized by Dr. Arlette Miller Smith, associate professor and director of the African American Studies program, and assisted by Dr. Jenna Rossi, associate professor and chair of the American Studies Department, the events are inspired by an April 1876 quote by Frederick Douglass: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Both Miller Smith and Rossi said that Lifting Up the ROC(k) is meant to inform attendees about the history of structural racism, inspire curiosity about creative ways to address inequity, and motivate people to act in the fight for social justice.

“The series’ metaphoric use of the word ‘roc(k)’ exposes and lifts up what is hidden or buried underneath—hatred, fear, misinformation, and discrimination; conversely, that exposure frees all of us in the Greater ROC community to, as Douglass advises in the series quote, resist the chains of ignorance, as we renew and reimagine justice,” said Miller Smith.

The events include performances, lectures, and small group discussions from both historical and present-day perspectives, looking at broad, societal issues as well as interpersonal, individual experiences of racism.

“Many people in the general public might not be aware of what structural racism is, or what micro-aggressions are; these events look at leaders in Rochester and beyond, to see what they have done on a large scale, but also explore how we ourselves can be activists in our daily lives to address inequity,” said Rossi.

All events are free and open to the public.

Artist in Residence: Shawn Dunwoody
March 15 through April 15, Patricia O’Keefe Ross Gallery in the Skalny Welcome Center
Called a “visionary” by (585) Magazine, Shawn Dunwoody is an artist, director, designer, and visual consultant perhaps best known for his impact on public art in Rochester. During this month on campus, Dunwoody will transform the O’Keefe Ross Gallery into his own canvas.

History Comes Alive: Frederick & Anna Murray Douglass with Friends
4 to 5:20 p.m. on Monday, March 18, Basil 135
Two dramatic performances re-enact the legacy of Afro-Rochester. Performers include AKWAABA and the Heritage Associates.

Art, Activism, and an American Icon
3:10 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, Basil 135
Presenter Michelle Daniels, an art activist and educator, will discuss the creation of the Douglass Club at Rochester City School District School No. 12 and her critical involvement in the Douglass statue project.

Diving Deep: Uncovering Root Causes of Structural Racism
4 to 5:20 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, Golisano Gateway Midlevel
Members of the Sustained Dialogue Task Force and Sustained Dialogue Student Club will moderate a discussion that touches on how racism looks today, intersections of past and present racial tensions, and encourage participants to share their experiences of both struggle and hope.

Stay in Your Own Back Yard: A Long Table Discussion
6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, Wilson Formal Lounge
Rachel DeGuzman, president and CEO of 21st Century Arts, and Dr. Kathryn Mariner, assistant professor of anthropology and visual and cultural studies, will facilitate and present a discussion around DeGuzman’s use of art and culture to interrogate gentrification and hyper-segregation in Rochester. The presentation is part of DeGuzman’s cultural brand - At the Crossroads: Activating the Intersection of Art and Justice.

Faith and Social Justice Bus Tour
Noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, bus leaves and returns to Lot A
Come travel the paths that Rochesterians have worn in pursuit of social justice, during movements for human dignity and civil rights, over the past two centuries. Revisit sites you may know and discover new ones. From historic churches to underground tunnels, explore the power of faith and the commitment to social justice in our community. To register, email Fr. Kevin Mannara at

AFAM Griot Lecture: There Will Be Fire: Turning Up the Heat on Race
3:10 to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, Basil 135
Tokeya C. Graham, a professor of English and philosophy at Monroe Community College, will deliver an interactive lecture and discussion on James Baldwin’s work, and its interconnections with contemporary race writers.

Lifting Up the ROC(k) events are cosponsored by the African American Studies, English, American Studies, and Sociology Departments; First-Year Program; Visual and Performing Arts Program; School of Arts and Sciences; Office of Campus Ministry; Institute of Civic and Community Engagement; Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Programs; and the Office of the Monroe County Historian. 

For more information, email organizers Dr. Arlette Miller Smith at or Dr. Jenna Rossi at