Frederick Douglass Project Impresses Students, Penn State Black Caucus Members During Virtual Showing

Frederick Douglass was and continues to be a fundamental inspiration for civil rights activists and Black Americans.

Douglass was an educator, activist, abolitionist, and public speaker throughout the 1800s. One of his most notable achievements was the publication of his book, “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” which recounted Douglass’ life as a slave. Others were establishing the North Star, an abolitionist paper, and leading the Underground Railroad. Also notably, Douglass served as the Union Army’s recruiter and helped form the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first Black regiments to serve in the Civil War.

The Penn State College of Arts and Architecture organized a virtual reading Wednesday evening in honor of Black History Month titled The Frederick Douglass Project hosted by Emmy-award-winning actor Keith David. David is most famous for his voicework as the narrator for “Jackie Robinson,” “The War,” and “Unforgivable Blackness.”

Additionally, the show was hosted by Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts and Theatre of War Productions, an entertainment organization that specializes in presenting social issues in a town hall style.

There were three acts at the event, consisting of Keith David’s performance, a discussion among panelists, and group dialogue. David gripped the viewers with his strong rendition of Douglass’ words, leading to an intense panel discussion on interpretations of the speech.

“Understanding blackness in all of its forms and settings is the first step in bridging the gaps that fundamentally separate us as people,” said student and Black caucus President Ava Starks. “When we better understand each other, our identities and our history, even the parts that are difficult to discuss, like race, we are doing the work and breaking down systemic justices through engaging in discussions like this.”

The audience was also quite moved by Douglass’ speech, too.

“I understand, yes, there are barriers and the system isn’t built for me and other people like me,” said student Nate Abate. “But, it’s the more we talk about it and have conversations and events such as this here, I feel like the more impact we would be able to have.”

Other professors and authors tuned in for the event. Karen Branan, author of “The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia,” reciprocated this passion for Douglass’ message.

“Frederick Douglass speaks as truly in our time as he did in his time,” said Branan.

Dr. Kathy Bullock also added to the relevance of the speech.

The ultimate goal of the event was to foster compassion and embrace positive action and ultimately, the reception was well received.

“Changing, getting rid of prejudice and discrimination… that’s not the only thing to fix the issues. It’s important that we keep that fire lit within us there is power within numbers, as long as we can push out the main agenda,” said Abate. “It may take another 150 years, 140 years, but it’s something that we should always strive to achieve.”

More Black History Month events can be found here and on Penn State’s Black Caucus’ Instagram.

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About the Author

Marie Moyer

Marie is a fourth-year student majoring in journalism and minoring in sociology. She loves being fiscally irresponsible at local farmers markets, watching niche documentaries on HBO, and going to Penn State hockey games as "self-care." You can reach her on Instagram - @_mariemoyer_ or send her suggestions (and cat photos) via her email - [email protected].

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