Women & Children First bookstore hosted a book launch celebration for Southwest Side Chicago native and social justice activist Charlene Carruthers, the founding national director of Black Youth Project 100 ( BYP100 ), Sept. 25 at the University of Chicago's Logan Arts Center.
Carruthers' book, "Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements," is a 21st-century activist guide centered around making Black liberation more radical, queer and feminist.
Activists Miranda Goosby, Keron Blair and Aislinn Pulley opened the event by reading excerpts from Carruthers' book and speaking about the impact her work and words have had on their lives. A video featuring Carruthers telling her story culminated in questions every activist needs to ask themselves: Who am I? Who are your people? What do we want? What are we building? Are we ready to win?
Historian, author, long-time activist and University of Illinois Chicago Social Justice Initiative Professor and Director Barbara Ransby and Chicago-based organizer, Black feminist scholar and incoming BYP100 National Co-Director Janaé Bonsu co-led the panel discussion.
Carruthers spoke about the significance of this event being at the University of Chicago, where "resistance is ongoing."
Ransby had "a unique experience" with Carruthers when they co-taught a class. She did not know what to expect before they worked together, but what she found in Carruthers, she said, was "patience and a commitment to deep thinking."
"This book is Charlene the teacher, Charlene the organizer and Charlene being patient with us on every page to reveal to us what her experience has been doing this work, but also provoking and nudging us on to do better ourselves," added Ransby.
Bonsu sang praised Carruthers, both for being a mentor in the fight for social justice and writing such an informative book. Ransby asked Carruthers about the importance of a quote, "Chicago made me and the world raised me," as well as the significance of local organizing and global solidarity movements.
Carruthers, who attended Sen High School, said that her father introduced her to the world through food, and encouraged her and her siblings to "discover the world" further. Due to that interest in the world around her, one of her majors in college was international studies.
"International studies in many ways is the study of capitalism, imperialism and the military, but I did not hear that from most of my professors," said Carruthers. "A white South African who was involved in the anti-Apartheid movement was the only one of my professors who talked about it that way."
Traveling around the world has changed her views on everything and caused her to interrogate how she thinks about a variety of issues.
Bonsu mentioned that Sept. 25 was National Voter Registration Day, and asked Carruthers her thoughts on some of the progressive electoral victories this year.
Carruthers said Bonsu's question reminded her that the event was also being held on what would have been Laquan McDonald's 21st birthday, and asked everyone to observe a moment of silence to honor his memory. She recounted BYP100 and other grass-roots POC-led organizations' role in amplifying McDonald's story by protesting his death by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Carruthers also spoke about their call for the removal of former Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez by galvanizing young Black voters to educate themselves on the issue and go to the polls in 2015.
"A shout-out to Mayor Rahm Emanuel not running for office again," said Carruthers. "We actually got all threeAlvarez, former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Emanuelout of office."
Focusing on issues is more important than individual candidates because they come and go; among those issues is reparations for those who were torture victims of Jon Burge and other officers, Carruthers said.
"Jon Burge, ding dong the witch is dead," said Carruthers to cheers from the audience.
Other topics included what freedom looks like, the abolition of the prison industrial complex, sexual violence and activists versus organizers and the need for both groups.
Carruthers has worked on grassroots and digital strategy campaigns for Center for Community Change, Women's Media Center, Color Of Change and National People's Action. Carruthers has been featured in numerous national and local publications and news outlets as well as written for The Root, Colorlines and the Boston Review. She is also the recipient of the YWCA's Dr. Dorothy I. Height Award and has been recognized by The Root 100, Ebony Magazine and Chicago Magazine. Additionally, Carruthers has spoken at various institutions including her alma mater Illinois Wesleyan University.
See www.charlenecarruthers.com/ for more information and to order the book.