Angela Davis at Villanova’s Anti-Poverty Symposium


Courtesy of Villanova Law Twitter

Angela Davis spoke over Zoom for the symposium in Villanova’s Law School Building. 

Molly Carrerio, Staff Writer

At 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 22, University President Rev. Peter M Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. stood at the podium of the Charles Widger School of Law to introduce the inaugural Anti-Poverty Symposium. He introduced the symposium as a part of a University-wide initiation against poverty and drew on the University’s core values of Unitas, Veritas and Caritas. Father Peter introduced Paul Tufano ’83 VSB, ’86 CWSL and Christine Tufano ’84 CLAS, ’86 MA, whose generous gift made this event possible. 

Stepping onto the podium, Tufano attributed his and his wife’s initiative to how they grew up, to their experience at Villanova and to his experience in law. Tufano said how he learned quickly that the strength of our democracy is based on how well we respond to those who are underrepresented within it. He said that justice compels us to understand this rage, and that compassion is basic to what we are all about at Villanova. Tufano quoted Augustine, saying, “The more you are concerned about the common good than your own, the more you will know about the progress you have made.” 

Tufano did not deny that there is a math problem to be solved when it comes to how we solve poverty but said that there is enough power in this room and in this country to have a profound impact on the systemic issue. He encouraged the audience to not accept the status quo but to accept that achieving the American Dream is not simply about achieving a level of income. 

Villanova’s anti-poverty fellow Stephanie Sena spoke next. After honoring the many speakers and fellows, Sena vulnerably spoke of her own experience living below the poverty line when her salary did not cover basic life expenses. She said that she and her children would go without food, heat and at times healthcare. Sena is grateful to now live above the poverty line, but she wants a world in which “life, dignity and community are sacred.” Sena argues poverty is man-made and systemic; it is not an inevitable part of life we must live with but a robbery built into our political structure. 

“Poverty is enshrined in law,” she said. 

Sena welcomed keynote speaker Julian Castro, the 16th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Castro argued that this moment in history has been like none which any of us has experienced and that we must draw on this to make significant progress. He drew on the Black Lives Matter Movement as a racial reckoning revealing our latest attempt to grapple with the original sin of this country. He drew on the pandemic, a moment in time which has exposed the vulnerability of all Americans rich and poor. 

One of Castro’s focuses is to treat healthcare, housing and education as a human right. From a policy standpoint, Castro said we need systemic change. His approach is to leave the Reagan era of total distrust of government behind and understand that the government has a role in uplifting a better vision of life. Castro spoke of the necessity of investment in public housing and universal basic income and of the necessity of a change in policy at both a national and local level. He encouraged the audience to support the fair housing act, to support policy, and to elect people who have the courage to make decisions with the interest of all people in mind. The people in poverty are all among us, Castro said, and their fate is the fate of our nation. 

During the Symposium lunch, Angela Davis, American political activist, philosopher, academic, scholar and author, blessed the Villanova community with her presence and wisdom over Zoom. As Davis appeared in a black jacket and purple and orange floral scarf, the crowd cheered. Her confidence, poise and humor radiated from the projector screen as speakers stepped up to present their questions. When called an icon, she humbly responded that she does not see herself as one, but rather as one of many who had the opportunity to engage in struggles in the past and who is lucky to have lived long enough to see the fruits of the labor. She remarked that she sees herself as a witness, not an icon. 

When asked about how Davis views our present moment in history, she responded, “This is a very special conjunctural moment in which a range of conditions have come together. It is a confluence of events that have produced a moment that makes it essential to reflect on the role that racism has played on this country, to reflect on the role of colonialism, of slavery, and on the way these institutions continue to affect our society. We are living the after lives of colonialism and the afterlives of slavery.” 

Davis believes this could be a moment of illumination, a moment of collective awakening of the structure of racism and a moment of desire to create something new. In highlighting the amazing work by visual artists, writers and scholars today in exposing the systems of racism, she said these are the people helping us to see the future. Davis’ advice for young activists is not to lose hope, for just as she has been able to witness the fruits of her own labor, one day they will too. 

Davis spoke of the importance of persistence, of group mobilization and of making our demands heard repeatedly when affecting change. 

“I believe that history unfolds not as a result of the action of a few individuals, but as a result of the collective imagination and as a result of the actions of many,” she said.

When asked about President Biden, Davis did not hold back in saying, “My vote for Biden was a vote to evict fascism from the White House, to prepare the way for new possibilities and new struggles.” 

Davis is well known for her outspoken views on capitalism. Commenting on the COVID-19 pandemic, she quickly but confidently said she would argue that “it is a pandemic produced by capitalism.” When asked about the systems of racism and poverty, Davis said, “I don’t think we can imagine a world without poverty or racism as long as the system of capitalism prevails.” She spoke of what she views as the inseparable link between capitalism and racism and argued that capitalism needs to fall to build a world in which all people flourish. But for now, she said, we must make demands for capitalism that at least alleviate poverty and push back racism. 

Davis encouraged the audience to carefully listen to those with whom they disagree. She said she is not interested in giving people answers, but in encouraging them to truly think deeply and critically for themselves. Before logging off, Davis reminded those in the audience that without hope, we have nothing; while we must do the intellectual work that is serious and realistic, we must combine this with the optimistic sense that a better world is possible. Leaving the room in awe, Davis said, “I am more hopeful today than ever before in my own personal history and I think our role is to further cultivate this hope.”

Various scholars presented throughout the day, drawing on religion, education, life experiences and public service projects. Speakers challenged the audience to poke holes in the traditional narratives and representation of poverty in both mainstream media and academia. A first for the University, the symposium was a glimmer of hope in the work against poverty and for a more flourishing nation.