Ryan Chartrand

Angela Davis will headline the Cal Poly Women’s History Month celebration Friday at 7 p.m. in Chumash Auditorium with a speech entitled “Building Communities of Resistance.”

Davis, an advocate for reform in the criminal justice system, will focus on her experiences promoting prison reform and non-violent resistance. Davis has been involved in political activism for over 40 years.

“She’s a pivotal, crucial figure in American history,” said Ruthie Osorio, outreach coordinator for Cal Poly Women’s Programs.

Davis was a member of the Black Panther Party and a part of the civil rights movement. The Alabama native grew up attending segregated schools. After returning from abroad in the early 1960s, she was brought back into the reality of U.S. racial struggles when four girls she knew were killed in her hometown of Birmingham at the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963.

The avid political activist became nationally recognized when she was fired from her teaching position in the philosophy department at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1969, the university terminated her employment because of her membership of the Communist party. After the community loudly voiced its disapproval of the decision, she was rehired.

Davis continued her involvement with the party and later ran twice for vice president on the Communist ticket, in 1980 and 1984.

The activist became even more recognizable in 1970 when her name was listed on Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list. She was the third woman is history ever to be on the list when she was accused of kidnapping, conspiracy and homicide. Davis evaded the bureau for two months before she was arrested in New York and spent 18 months in jail and on trial.

She was acquitted of all charges.

Davis has lectured in all 50 states and published eight books, the most recent of which is entitled “Are Prisons Obsolete?”

“She’s a pretty big deal,” Osorio said.

Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan once said he would make sure Davis could never teach at a University of California school again. In spite of this statement, Davis continues to teach and is a tenured professor in the UC Santa Cruz’s history of consciousness department.

Davis is currently conducting a comparative study of women in prison in the United States, Cuba and the Netherlands.

Davis once said, “You can’t assume that making a difference 20 years ago is going to allow you to sort of live on the laurels of those victories for the rest of your life.”

Armed with steadfast convictions, Davis continues to fearlessly lecture about prison reform and her concern that there is more focus on and funding for the prison system than the education system.

Davis’ speech is open to the public. Admission is free for students and $10 for non-students. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

Cal Poly’s Women’s History Month continues on Saturday with Lunafest, a film festival of short movies made by women from all over the world.

“A lot of it is celebrating the achievements women have made in the past,” said Osorio. “And to keep the energy up for the future.”

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