Actor and activist Kendrick Sampson emphasized the importance of self-efficacy, personal conviction and love in social justice activism during the 45th anniversary celebration of Duke’s Center for Multicultural Affairs.
Sampson—who is best-known for his role as Caleb Hapstall on ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder"—encouraged members of the audience to reshape the way they think about unity during the CMA's 17th annual "Unity through Diversity" event on Wednesday.
“Unity doesn’t mean that we all do the same thing at the same time. It doesn’t mean that we all agree necessarily, but we all have the same end goal," he said. "You don’t have to agree with me, you don’t have to agree with my tactics. But you know what—at the end of the day—I’m going to pray on it, and if I decide this is the best way to move forward and I am fighting for you, that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t need anybody to convince me otherwise.”
Sampson shared his experiences with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, which is engaged in long-term protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. During his time with the tribe, Sampson said he participated in a sweat-lodge ceremony.
“The point of it is that the hotter it gets in there, the more you pray,” Sampson said. “The most profound moment for me was during the healing section, when the people started praying for their oppressors. I wanted to rage against those people, but no negative energy is allowed in this space. But what really brought tears to my eyes was that the day before, the police desecrated a sweat lodge and pulled people out and arrested them. Yet these people were forgiving the police.”
He went on to say that the next four years of President Donald Trump's administration will get "hotter" and that people are going to have to be in proximity to people they do not necessarily agree with. Sampson proposed that the Trump presidency may mark the "beginning of intersectionality," with more people standing up for each other and building community.
After he finished sharing his experiences working with social justice movements, an impassioned Sampson called on everyone to repeatedly chant with him, “I am change. I am peace. I am love.” Each iteration was louder and more forceful than the last.
Sampson also encouraged the crowd to become involved in social justice work, explaining that “courage is not the absence of fear,” and that people become stronger when they open up and face their struggles instead of closing themselves off for self-preservation.
CMA Director Linda Capers said she was satisfied with Sampson’s speech and noted that students could learn a lot from the talk. She encouraged students to think of the "University experience" like a laboratory—some things work and some do not—and to be "courageous and resilient."
“Students should take away [from Sampson's talk] self-reliance, because we are all the change we want to see," she said. "It is really important to motivate yourself.”
Senior Lindsey Hallingquest said he found the talk to be relevant as President Richard Brodhead prepares to retire. Issues that were not addressed under Brodhead may now be more of a priority due to the work of student activists.
"I really enjoyed [the talk] because the role of student activism on campus is growing, and it is also shifting with President Price coming in," Hallingquest said.
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The event also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Native American Student Alliance (NASA) and Mi Gente, the Latinx student organization.