Final Thoughts and Reflection

As the semester comes to a close, I think back to all of the lessons learned throughout the semester. A huge part of the learning experience for me came from the different group facilitations and exercises, and offsite visits to different locations that became learning spaces. Professor Spencer and Professor Provenzano were both great assets to the learning community. I was already familiar with Professor Spencer’s teaching style from last semester, it is one that always resonated with me. Professor Provenzano was an amazing addition to the class, and his presentations on mapping, and the evaluation and creation of programs from a systems approach were invaluable.

This undoubtedly was one of my favorite classes over the past few semesters. Not only because we were offsite, and had a small break away from Ann Arbor’s Large campus (Which at times can seem a bit pretentious), but it was also one of the most diverse courses that I’ve had to date. If only this class reflected the actual diversity within the School of Social Work, and the University as a whole. I consider myself lucky, to have been able to converse with so many great minds, and under such great leadership, during a time when our country is regressing back to a state of intolerance and widespread phobism. But what is most important, is the many ways in which I was challenged mentally, and the expansion of my sphere of understanding when it comes to community and social systems. Indeed, there is much turmoil in our world today, and many of us, including myself, ask where can we start? Well this course helped to illuminate the possibilities in showing me that we can easily begin to effect change right in our own communities. It’s easy to want to go where the attention is, where the focus of the social justice microscope has shifted. But there are atrocities happening every day in our own communities, right under our noses.

I believe that this course also took a very proactive approach, in that we were forced to look at problems, or potential problems, and also look at potential solutions. And I also believe that it has been embedded in our minds that we must always listen to the community that we are looking to service. We must hear her voice, and know her story. This experience, and the knowledge gained from this class will follow me throughout my career as an advocate for social justice.

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Final Project: Transformational Learning Through an African Centered Paradigm

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For my final post I decided to create a service learning project which summarizes the work I have been doing within the criminal justice system. As one who understands the history behind the prison industrial complex, and having lost many friends to the system, this particular initiative was one of major importance to me. The question I grappled with, was how could I begin to advocate for those who are incarcerated. The motivation behind this project was to explore ways in which we have, and could further develop a culturally relevant curriculum, one that would embrace the whole existence. This experience has forced me to expand my understanding of social justice, while simultaneously, challenging my own biases and preconceived notions. Although this project is not in journal format, I have done my best to document the work in chronological order as it occurred. Our target population are incarcerated men, housed within a level 1-4 prison facility, with a maximum capacity of roughly 1400 inmates. The demographic majority of the students we serve are African American men between the ages of 21 and 60, with a few men from other ethnic backgrounds. Therefore, we sought to create a culturally relative educational program geared towards African American men that would encompass the social sciences from an African perspective.

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The initial idea for this project started when the Vice President of Public Programs of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, gave a powerful speech for the prison facility’s Kwanzaa celebration. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response, Macomb’s NAACP Prison Branch President, Deon Dawson reached out to the museum, and requested a follow up program centered on some aspect of the Black experience. At the time, I was an intern with the curatorial staff, working to document some of the museum’s thousands of artifacts. I was approached about transitioning to an intern position in Public Programs, where I eventually found myself spearheading the development of this prison outreach program, in coalition with the NAACP Prison Branch of Macomb County Correctional Facility.

The NAACP Prison Branch consists of roughly around 10 members, each of whom were selected through a rigorous selection and voting process. However, our participants range anywhere from 35 inmates, to nearly 100, depending on the program. My contact since I began this initiative has been Deon Dawson, (AKA Heru Bantu) who has been instrumental in helping to get this program off the ground. Deon is an inmate housed at the facility who seeks to educate, uplift, and inspire the other incarcerated individuals. And so, in collaboration with the Macomb County Correctional Facility, and the Macomb County NAACP Prison Branch, we’ve initiated the first prison community educational outreach program through the Charles H. Wright Museum.

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As I mentioned earlier, this is an educational program. There is a large body of literature that has concluded that education programs within the prison system help to reduce recidivism rates among ex-offenders. There are prison education programs popping up all over the country, many of which are in coalitions with major universities. However, there are very few, if any, that provide an African centered approach to education. Utilizing the rich resources that the museum has to offer, we’ve been able create a new pathway to enlightenment for incarcerated men.

macom 3After all the pushback and setbacks that we got from the prison administration, our program was finally approved in December of 2017.

Steps for Event Proposal:

  1. Brainstorm with Branch President about future programming and topics.
  2. Find a presenter.
  3. Presenter must submit LEIN clearance form
  4. Event proposal form must be created and submitted to the prison administration for approval.
  5. Outline of presentation must be created and submitted to prison administration for proposal.
  6. Syllabus outlining presentation content and readings must be created and submitted to the prison administration for approval.
  7. All materials to be used in the presentation (Articles, books, journals, etc.) must be submitted to the prison administration for approval.
  8. Once all of these steps have been followed, and program has been approved by the administration, presenter is free to move forward with their presentation.

Special Activities Event Proposal Form

Proposal 1

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Examples of Presentation Outlines (Previous Programs)

Lecture One

Lecture 2

Syllabus Example

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Reflection Letters from Incarcerated Students

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Why an African Centered Approach to Education?

Just as there is an African centered approach to Social Work, there is also within education. Since most of what we have been taught is centered around Western history, values, and ways of knowing,  it is imperative that an African centered approach to education be applied within the educational curriculum serving the African American population. “It is understandable that challenges to the European-centered curriculum engender alarm in establishment circles, but an Afrocentric curriculum is not an attempt to destroy Western content. It is an attempt to correct and balance history (Gilliam, 1990). Abena Walker, a poet, performer and former D.C public school teacher states that “An African centered teacher is one who has internalized the value system that is based on cooperative learning, seeing discipline as lovingly helping children develop self-control, who can think and plan holistically, combining subjects through projects and integrating the arts into these projects” (Gilliam, 1990). In relating the Afrocentric paradigm to transformational learning and transformational education, it can be demonstrated that this theory can be used to identify African cultural values that can be incorporated with transformative learning to make it more culturally sensitive. The term cultural sensitive is used here to mean acknowledging and being accommodative of other ways of knowing, value systems, and their understanding of reality (Ntseane, 2011).

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“chain link”

West African Adinkra symbol of unity and human relations A reminder to contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength.

NABSW Code of Ethics

If a sense of community awareness is a precondition to humanitarian acts, then we as Black social workers must use our knowledge of the Black community, our commitments to its self-determination, and our helping skills for the benefit of Black people as we marshal our expertise to improve the quality of life of Black people. Our activities will be guided by our Black consciousness, our determination to protect the security of the Black community, and to serve as advocates to relieve suffering of Black people by any means necessary.

Therefore, as Black social workers we commit ourselves, collectively, to the interests of our Black brethren and as individuals subscribe to the following statements:

  • I regard as my primary obligation the welfare of the Black individual, Black family, and Black community and will  engage in action for improving social  conditions.
  •  I give precedence to this mission over my personal interest.
  • I adopt the concept of a Black extended family and embrace all Black people as my brothers and sisters, making no distinction between their destiny and my own.
  • I hold myself responsible for the quality and extent of service I perform and the quality and extent of service performed by the agency or organization in which I am employed, as it relates to the Black community.
  • I accept the responsibility to protect the Black community against unethical and hypocritical practice by any individual or organizations engaged in social welfare activities.
  • I stand ready to supplement my paid or professional advocacy with voluntary service in the Black public interest.
  • I will consciously use my skills, and my whole being as an instrument for social change, with particular attention directed to the establishment of Black social institutions.

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Final Reflection

The NAACP prison branch is doing some amazing things there at the facility. The branch members act as mentors and educators, and give guidance to the younger brothers within the general population. They seem to be reaching a lot of individuals there on the inside. It is quite a spectacular sight to see. Brother Bantu has been doing a phenomenal job as Branch President. His organization and leadership skills far surpass those of many I know who hold leadership roles within major organizations. And still, surviving under the most oppressive conditions, relatable to slavery itself, these brothers are still kind, they smile, and embrace each other with respect and dignity. Notice the intentional language that I am using to refer to the inmates, that is because we must first see the humanity within these individuals if we are going to be a part of their rehabilitation process. I must add that this program is one that is conceptualized and led by the incarcerated students. What I did not do, was come into this prison with a savior complex. I listened to the needs of the inmates, and executed where they could not reach. However, it is the persistence and the tenacity of those incarcerated students, those who sought to obtain whatever resources they could to continue to educate themselves, and better themselves, that brought this program into existence.

There are some limitations that have come up with this project. For once, all communication is limited to either mail, or email, until the date of the presentation. Also, there is a significant lack of literature available on the impact of African-centered educational practices within the prison system. While there are plenty of works available on the African centered educational paradigm alone, and plenty of literature on the significance of education and its impact on the recidivism rates, little to none exists as an interdisciplinary and systematic approach through an African lens, given to inmates who occupy the deepest and darkest corners of U.S Society. Much attention should be given to the influence that a culturally relative approach has upon any given population. Both quantitative, and qualitative methods should be used as a means to measure the success of such programs, upon a strong theoretical foundation. Hopefully, in the near future, more research will be conducted and used as a frame of reference. I fully intend to start my own research, where I will be able to also include research conducted by the inmates as well. It is important that we continue to emphasize the voices of those who need to be heard, and using whatever platform, and any means necessary to accomplish this social victory.

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Sources

Elias, Dean (1997). “It’s time to change our minds: An introduction to transformative learning“
ReVision, 20(1)
esthermsmth, “Transformative Learning Theory (Mezirow),” in Learning Theories, September 30, 2017, https://www.learning-theories.com/transformative-learning-theory-mezirow.html.

Gilliam, D. (1990, November 19). Afrocentric Education Would Benefit All. ProQuest Historical Newspapers, p. B3.

Ntseane, P. G. (2011). Culturally Sensitive Transformational Learning: Incorporating the Afrocentric Paradigm and African Feminism. Adult Education Quarterly, 307-321.

 

Final Project

In January of 2017, I became an intern at the Charles H. Wright Museum where I began as part of the curatorial staff. This position consisted primarily of the documentation and digitization of the Museum’s priceless artifacts. However, after a few months of working with the curatorial staff, I was approached about an intern position with the Vice President of Public Programs. I eventually found myself helping to developing a prison outreach program in coalition with the NAACP Prison Branch of Macomb County Correctional Facility. This grew out of a request from the inmates who wanted to access to an African centered approach to education for themselves, and some of the other inmates whom they’ve mentored. Our students are predominantly Black, and all males between the ages of 21 and 60.

The NAACP prison branch is doing some amazing things there at the facility, that is the inside organization that we are partnering with to bring about this program. The branch members act as mentors and educators, and give guidance to the younger brothers within the general population. They seem to be reaching alot of brothers there on the inside. It is quite a spectacular sight to see. Brother Bantu is the NAACP Prison Branch President, and also my contact. He has been doing a phenomenal job as Branch President. His organization and leadership skills far surpass those of many in my master’s program. And still, surviving under the most oppressive conditions, relatable to slavery itself, these brothers are still kind, they smile, and embrace each other with respect and dignity. Notice the intentional language that I am using to refer to the inmates, that is because we must first see the humanity within these individuals if we are going to be a part of their rehabilitation process.
Our first program began in January with Dr. David Goldberg of Wayne State. Dr. Goldberg touched in the D.R.U.M movement, General Baker, and other political events pertaining particularly to the city of Detroit. The students loved the presentation. Last month Ollie Dr. Johnson of Wayne State gave an excellent presentation for the Black History Month program, where he spoke on the socioeconomic conditions of Black people in Cuba and Brazil. We had roughly 100 inmates in attendance. My first meeting with the brothers consisted of around 10 members, then grew to roughly around 30. I am anticipating a little more as the Black History Month program reached a larger audience who may be interesting in joining the program.
This year’s black history month celebration at the facility had the largest turnout since they begin having these celebrations a few years ago. I like to think that the museum’s partnership with the NAACP prison branch played a crucial role in increasing inmate participation. Young brothers came and presented on topics they had researched, such as Black Wall Street, and the cultural origins of the swastika symbol as it related to ancient indigenous civilizations. There was also a music performance, where a brother performed a beautiful song critiquing the educational system, and government influence on Black Communities.

Our efforts at the prison so far have been met with great appreciation by the community at the facility, and we hope to continue to grow this relationship as the program continues to flourish. We endeavor to help inspire, educate, and uplift our brothers, those whom have been forgotten by society, and relegated to the peripherals under the most extreme and oppressive conditions. As far as the structure of my final project, it will be a mixture of Powerpoint, Service Learning Project structure, and Traditional Academic Paper outlining my experience with this program within a social work context, highlighting best practice methods using a historical and contemporary lens, highlight the importance of African Centered Education within predominantly Black communities, and how educational practices within the prisons reduce recidivism rates.

Radical Imagination

Earlier this week, our group facilitated a class discussion on the Radical Imagination. In my own mind, the conversation flowed well, and the group worked together in sync. The class was engaged and brought up meaningful responses to the questions that were asked. The feedback from the Professor, and the classmates were positive and constructive. Overall, I felt good about the topic, and good about my groups style of presentation. Furthermore, this is certainly a topic that I would like to explore more in-depth, to further grasp the significance of such a thought and/or action.  Because what exactly is radical imagination? And how is it defined? How is it measured? And who gets to define what is and what is not radical? At first, it might seem easy to assume that this term can be dissected through nothing more than a lens that requires little common sense. I promise it is much more complex than that.

Radical imagination inspires, motivates, and often times gives hope to those who can find no hope themselves. Radical imagination allows us to see the possibilities, and the realities of a world, that many are unable to conceptualize themselves. The imagination is the seed, which can grow into something beautiful, or it can grow into something ugly. That all depends on he we nurture and cultivate that seed. We must continue to use our radical imaginations, and speak truth to power. But rather than reinventing the wheel of the radicalism that we saw in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, how can we encourage the next wave of radical activism. A wave that sees the radicalism of yesterday as a foundation that can be improved upon, something that can evolve such as the culture and society in which we live.  Signing off with a quote from Einstein, in the power of imagination, “”Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” And if Imagination gives birth to evolution, the radical imagination gives birth to revolution.

Activism Through Art

Last semester, my group members and I, focused art activism within Black and Brown communities for our final project. What we learned is that historically, art has been used as a tool of activism, resistance, and empowerment, especially within Black and Brown communities/movements. In a more contemporary sense, art has become a tool of many professions for intervention, recovery, and healing.

“Arts and culture make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities. Arts and culture are powerful tools with which to engage communities in various levels of change. They are a means to public dialogue, contribute to the development of a community’s creative learning, create healthy communities capable of action, provide a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism, and help build community capacity and leadership.” ~ Creative City Network of Canada

It is also important to note that the arts empower, and as stated by Robert L. Lynch, President, Americans for the Arts, “the arts give a voice to the voiceless. The arts help transforms American communities and, as I often say, the result can be a better child, a better town, a better nation and certainly a better world. Let’s champion our arts action heroes, emulate them and make our communities everything we want them to be.”

A time where both art and activism flourished together was during the Harlem Renaissance during the early 1900’s. Harlem became the hub for intellectuals, writers, painters, and musicians. Art was used as a vehicle to combat negative stereotypes and images, to uplift and instill racial pride, and achieve Civil Rights, Fair Labor, and housing.  A strategy Langston Hughes uses is concealing “politics” in “poetry”. Hughes wanted his writing to be recognized as “art” that also depicts social and racial discrimination. Poems such as “If We Must Die” along with “America,” and “Harlem Shadows” were all exposing the angst of working class African-Americans struggling with issues such as alienation, rage and oppression. The Chicano Arts movement transpired from Chicano Civil Rights Movement where Chicano muralism was used to strengthen cultural identity, raise the consciousness of their community, and challenge racism.

Art as a mechanism for healing and change, is now becoming more prevalent within social work practice methods. Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It can be used for counseling by therapists, healing, treatment, rehabilitation, and psychotherapy. Art therapy also helps to channel one’s inner-self in a way that may provide the individual with a deeper understanding of him or herself. And not to my surprise, art therapy is employed in many clinical and non-clinical settings.

 

Black Panther Reflection

Last month, I was blessed with the opportunity to become a part of history. I was invited to see an advanced screening of the American phenomenon, Black Panther. The film which featured a primarily Black cast, was also diverse with respect to nationality, and origin of birth. Never has a film featuring a predominantly Black cast, been given such an enormous budget, especially considering that the director was a young Black male. But the movie was a hit, and has grossed over $400 million worldwide in less than a week from its debut. The success of this movie shatters long held stereotypes in Hollywood, the myths, that movies portraying African culture, and African people, would not fare well domestically, and internationally. The movie has left a lasting impression on its viewers, and has single-handedly, pushed the culture forward.

Since long before the movie was released, there has been much discussion, dialogue, and critique surrounding the film. These conversations have been long overdue and for once, did not arise from a typical movie about slavery, or a role where the character was the sidekick, or the cheesy horror films where the Black person is always the first to die off. Although this movie is for everyone, it is special for people of African descent. It gives us the opportunity to see ourselves through so many different characters in the movie. We see our African selves, but we also see our American selves. We can identify with parts from both the heroes, and the villain, and everyone in between. We see the complexities of being an African people in a land not of our own, played out in the film. We also see some of the cultural similarities, differences, and conflicts between Africans from the continent, and Africans in the diaspora.

The film was a great representation of not only what Africa could have been had it not been ransacked by slavery, colonialism, and internal strife, but it also represents the possibilities of our future. As an Africana Studies major, I was fortunate to learn a lot about Pre-colonial African history, which is purposefully kept out of our schools. I’m fortunate to have been exposed to educators who taught me about the great Kingdoms of Mali, Ghana, and Songhai, of West Africa, And Nubia, Axom, Kush, Ethiopia and Kemet of Eastern and Northern Africa. These civilizations during their peak were the most powerful in the world, yet the history of these Kingdoms is left out, and our knowledge of self begins with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, even though there were thousands of years of uninterrupted history before that. Our history classes make no mention of Mansa Musa, the great African King, whose wealth to this day is unmatched by any human being, and is still considered as the world’s richest man in history. Time magazine reported that Musa was “Richer than anyone could describe”. Mansa Musa ruled the Mali Empire in the 14th century and his land was laden with lucrative natural resources, most notably gold. He was also a successful military leader, having captured 24 cities, according to David C. Conrad’s “Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay.” Musa Keita I came into power in 1312. At the time, much of Europe was struggling and facing declining gold and silver production, while many African kingdoms were thriving. During his famous trip to Mecca, it is said that Musa gave away so much gold to the poor, that it caused mass inflation and devalued the price of gold in all of Northern Africa. While the numbers may vary just slightly, “Mansa Musa’s reportedly 60,000-strong caravan was said to include 1,000 attendants, 100 camels loaded with gold, plenty of the emperor’s own personal musicians, and 500 servants bearing gold staffs, a caravan that stretched as far as the eyes could see”.

 

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This is just one of many remarkable stories in African history, but I use this reference to equate the wealth of Musa to T’CHalla’s, the Black Panther. Hollywood’s portrayal of Black people has too long been skewed, using only the most derogatory images to portray a culturally and ethnically diverse people. I did notice a few different and distinctly African components in the film. Much of the film reminded me of Sundiata’s journey, otherwise known as the Lion King of Mali. This story, which was a real occurrence, highlights the hero’s journey, a journey of a King who finds himself in isolation, and must rise above his adversities, to be given the opportunity to reclaim his rightful place on the thrown. Another African component was the language used in the film, which was modeled after a real African Language. The filmmakers used isiXhosa or Xhosa, one of South Africa’s official languages, part of the Bantu family, to solidify the story’s African authenticity.

African clothing was a significant part of the film, which added to the richness of Wakandan culture. Styles from a variety of groups, including the Maasai, Toureg, Akan, Mursi, and Ndebele, are represented in the film. And the “African diaspora around the world used the film’s opening to showcase their African or African-inspired fashions.” The spiritual part of the film was distinctly African. Ancestral worship, a way to communicate with the ancestors who have passed beyond this plane is an African practice that is thousands of years old. Also, respect to certain deities, different tribes worshiped different deities. The king’s people worshiped Bast, the Panther God, much like ancient African civilization did in the past.

Just like in much of African history, there were occurrences where Black women occupied very high positions of power. They were the heads of Kingdoms, and in some matriarchal societies, royalty was passed down by the women in the family. In the film, the women were the mothers and wives of royalty, the enhancers of technology, the cultivators of the sacred plants, and the fierce warriors who protected the king and the kingdom. They were not slaves, or prostitutes, or any other negative long-held stereotype that Hollywood consistently portrays. The movie showcased many different tribes, who in like traditional African societies, have contributed different skill sets to the kingdom.

“A somewhat nebulous figure, the Queen of Sheba (fl. 10th century BCE)—known also as Bilqis and as Makeda—figures prominently in Judaic, Islamic, and Ethiopian traditions. Her legendary voyage to meet Solomon, King of Israel, has inspired centuries of speculation about her kingdom and influence in the ancient world. Modern-day Ethiopians believe her, as the mother of their first Emperor, Menilek I, to be the ultimate maternal ancestor of the dominant Ethiopian royal dynasty.”

https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/biblical-proper-names-biographies/queen-sheba

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U.S society has typically deemed anything with even the slightest hint of African influence as unacceptable. From the banning of Black women wearing their natural hairstyles in the workplace, and in the military, to the demonization of African American vernacular English, which possesses hints of African speech patterns from various parts of West Africa. It is important to know that most cultural characteristics that have been deemed unacceptable, are usually done so only until white America sees how profitable these attributes are (ie. Jazz music which was once called the devil’s music). These themes, however, were major attributes of the film, and gave it a diverse perspective. Overall, the movie was great! I could write on forever about it. To see young children at the theater watching positive representation of themselves was heartwarming. Usually, as people of color, we are forced to identify with characters who don’t look like us. This film had brilliant writing, and beautiful characters. It is an absolute must see.

 

Week 7

This week’s readings consisted of a variety of different articles and video regarding social change and activism. Grace Lee Boggs is a name that will be remembered throughout history alongside many other great activists and revolutionaries. I began to learn of Grace and her activism in my undergrad through my Africana Studies program. Since I’ve began my placement at the Boggs School of Detroit, I’ve sought a deeper understanding of who she was, and how her social change ideologies shaped her life’s work.

In the video, Grace says that a movement was coming, and spoke of how hope trumps despair. What really resonated with me though, was when she said that “We have to become the leaders we are looking for, in relationship to our local, and daily circumstances. This to me was a profound statement, and reminds me of the old saying, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”. Too often, we look for a leader, someone to guide us in our quest for social justice and equality, however, oftentimes we fail to realize that the quest begins with the self. It is true, those leaders that we wished we had right now, in our communities, our schools, our governments, we must become them. Admittingly, I am guilty of venerating our great leaders of the past to an almost God-like status, and that can be dangerous. Because these extraordinary people, were indeed ordinary people, and we can be just as extraordinary if we pursue our dreams of seeing an equal and just society.

The article Networking Minds, Creating Meaning, Contesting Power, was inspiring. I enjoyed reading about United for Global Change. Just to think that people can unite globally around certain social issues is powerful. Challenging authoritative systems of power and wealth is no easy task. However, a redistribution of power, is both possible and necessary. The article talks about Counter Power, the means by which change agents can challenge the power embedded in the institutions of society for the purpose of claiming representation for their own values and interest. While we all operate within our own self-interest, a morally just, and equal society should be in the interest of everyone, and is one point that we can all organize around.