What Sarajanee Octavia Davis provided the University of Virginia during her tenure as president of the Black Student Alliance (2010-2012) was not just an exemplary model of student leadership and academic excellence, but also flesh and blood evidence that the will of the ancestors will prevail…that before time is out WE WILL WIN. Singling out any student—former or current—for praise is always dangerous business, but the Black Fire film/the Black Fire project would not exist if not for her. And Lord knows, these past two years of my life would be qualitatively different.
Long before the Arts-In-Action Grant, long before the filming of “Black Fire,” Sarajanee alerted me to the existence of the administrative files of the Black Student Alliance and help facilitate my access to probably some of the most important and well-kept records of the African American experience at UVA.
Over the course of the next year and a half, we would explore and engage the story of the black student experience at UVA during the 1970. Her exploration culminated in a provocative, cogently argued, and beautifully written thesis (107 pages) on the history of student activism at UVA, Howard, Columbia, and San Francisco State. To read her thesis is to be reminded of not just the singularity of her intellectual voice, but also of the importance of intergenerational transmission of knowledge.
“Never let the spirits die,” so says our dearly departed brother Gil Scott-Heron.
One way in which we carry out his dictate is through critical engagement with the young and never forgetting that the intergenerational transmission of the wisdom of our ancestors and elders is never a one-directional project…
In the weeks leading up to the filming of “Black Fire,” I started every morning with Robert Glasper’s “Always Shine,” which features the brilliant Lupe Fiasco. The song always conjured up thoughts of Vivian Gordon, as well as Sarajanee. In fact, there’s there’s a line in the song that speaks to our “three-the-hard” way rendezvous:
this some deep shit
it’s my me shit
impersonating we shit
vicariously in every rap I speak with
I hope you’re speak it for me
If I’m every speechless
Cause I’mma be you
Even though you’re not here to be with…
Filming “Black Fire” in October was not only physically taxing but it was an emotional chore. When I’d think on the life of Vivian Gordan and all efforts to erase the memory of her presence at UVA, I’d lose it…but then I’d remember that she lived in us, through us, and now with us.
Because of Sarajanee Davis, I was afforded that kind of clarity.
thank you and happy birthday…