photo: Austin Channing-Brown/Twitter
By Dustyn Green
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — St. Bonaventure University held its annual “All Bonaventure Reads” keynote address on Tuesday night, as author Austin Channing-Brown virtually spoke to students about her book.
First-year students were asked to read “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In a World Made for Whiteness” as part of their first-year experiences. Channing-Brown held a “fireside chat-style” question and answer session after her address.
“Each year, the All Bonaventure Reads committee selects a book for the community to read and discuss,” said Dr. Joseph Zimmer, vice president for academic affairs and provost at SBU. “These books usually deal with controversial subjects, so our students can learn to participate in respectful dialogue with others.”
Despite becoming a popular speaker, it is not without a sense of surprise that Brown accepted the honor of speaking to a campus-wide community.
“There are a handful of colleges and universities that (do something similar) and every time I am blown away,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic halted Channing-Brown from visiting the campus in Cattaraugus County, so instead, she visited from a room in her three-bedroom apartment with a rack of her “favorite books about racial justice.”
Channing-Brown has one ideology in her job that she gets excited about seeing in action, no matter how many times she can do so.
“The idea that the experiences of some Black students are going to be affirmed is really exciting to me.”
Although the topics she discusses as part of her career are difficult, she goes back to her days as a college student sitting in an African-American history class to find a strategy on how to educate her audience and that is using the word “friends” when she addresses the issues of race.
That thought comes from this professor, as she said, “being very involved in the lives of Black students.”
“It was a class that if you were a Black student, you had to take it,” Channing-Brown said.
Channing-Brown was pregnant when she was writing the book, and said that there was a “new layer of emotion knowing she was going to bring a little boy into the world.”
Even with the emotional layer there, the power of this turn of events was more powerful than what the words above describe.
“I was writing about an America that I could not protect my son from,” Channing-Brown said. “It made me write with a fierceness that I do not know I would have had if I was not pregnant.”
Channing-Brown’s underlying message was something much deeper than the need to fix racial issues in the United States. She made a case for what it means to be against racism and condemn the actions of those around you.
“If you choose not to do anything for the cause of racial injustice, I am not here to judge you,” Channing-Brown said. “You just do not get to call yourself anti-racist.”