Compelled to Move

Amid a surge of social and political movements that have captured 
the nation's interest, Pepperdine students embarked on an annual experience to learn about the history behind the headlines

March 16, 2018  | 5 min read

“What are you doing for others?”

While a seemingly simple query, Martin Luther King, Jr., describes it as being “life’s most persistent and urgent question.” Dedicating his life to the advancement and equality of the marginalized, King chose to lead by example, becoming the voice of the civil rights movement in the 1960s just as the fight for justice was becoming more widespread among other movements.

During a weekend typically dedicated to honoring the legacy of the civil rights activist, Seaver College students traveled to San Francisco to explore, through a deeply personal, firsthand examination, the historical context and the pioneers that de ned some of the most memorable and impactful social justice movements of modern history. The program emphasized the importance of precedent in framing ongoing social and political issues and developing new strategies for addressing the injustices currently impacting various communities. It also engaged students in an exploration of the actions they can take to serve others.

Pepperdine students in San FranciscoPrior to their journey, students selected to participate in the experiences that most resonated with them from a list of social justice movements with roots in San Francisco, including the green power environmental movement, the LGBTQ social movement, women’s liberation, black power, red power, and the arts movement.

David Humphrey, associate dean of student affairs for diversity and inclusion, assisted in planning the field trip, now in its seventh year. Joined by 16 faculty and staff members, Humphrey was particularly looking forward to the trip to provide participants with a unique space to have critical and intentional discussions about social justice issues of varying kinds.

Peace Ikediuba, a sophomore theatre major with an acting emphasis, was placed in the arts movement group that guided students on a tour of the vibrant murals across San Francisco and explained how they helped bring together various communities throughout the city. The murals ranged in theme, from the pursuit of the American dream to symbols of gentrification, the latter a controversial piece that faced backlash for covering up an existing mural painted by a neighborhood youth arts program. Despite not participating in the black power movement group, her first choice, Ikediuba left with a much deeper appreciation of her power as an artist, as she was able to witness firsthand the impact that art could have in a single community.

“I felt more empowered after attending my specific field trip, especially because I am a theatre major and feel so connected to the arts,” she shares. “Experiencing the beauty and power of art showed me how impactful art and artists can be.”

San Francisco buildingOutside of San Francisco, students who were chosen to participate in the Black Power movement group traveled to the neighboring city of Oakland to meet with former Black Panther Party member Billy X Jennings and visit locations where the party was first created, where prominent party members lived, and where some of the party’s members were shot and killed. Jennings, the party’s official archivist, shared personal anecdotes and his private interactions with leaders of the party.

Sophomores Olivia Robinson, an integrated marketing communication major, and Heavin Hunter, a political science major with a minor in nonprofit management and pre-law, were grateful for the opportunity to learn about the party’s history from someone who was deeply involved throughout its rise and fall. “Getting to see things with our own eyes really put things into perspective because there isn’t a museum that has all that stuff,” Robinson shares. “None of the locations really had signage.”

Despite having substantial knowledge of the civil rights movement and its fight for equality, participating in the half-day Black Panther Party tour far exceeded Hunter’s expectations. She describes it as a “very beautiful experience” and walked away considering the ways in which she can apply the party’s commitment to solidarity, unity, and consistency to future social justice movements and initiatives.

Sophomores participating in the women’s liberation movement explored the Women’s Building in San Francisco, which is decorated with a striking mural that covers most of the building’s exterior and celebrates feminine icons of history and fiction who are united by their shared struggles. Valentine Douglas, a junior  lm studies major and Intercultural Affairs student worker, shares how the movement that originated five decades ago helped pave the way for current social justice movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up that have mobilized new advocates for equality and inclusion.

“We have to recognize that it’s not just this incredible thing that sparked out of nowhere,” he says. “There is a rich history that has led to this moment.”

The front page of a newspaper After spending the day learning about various social justice movements and exploring all that San Francisco has to offer, students reconvened Saturday evening to share what they had learned and reflect upon the day. As Hunter’s peers shared anecdotes from their experiences, she realized how many commonalities existed between the diverse social justice initiatives. “We’re all seeking for our voices to be heard for justice and equality,” she explains. “And through that, we have to make sure that we’re validating others’ movements and their feelings and their concerns and at the same time making progress by remembering history.”

After sharing in small groups, Humphrey led a conversation that challenged students to think about how they could incorporate what they had learned from their movement in their daily lives. For Robinson, this large group discussion was the most powerful. “It is our responsibility to take the knowledge we have back to Pepperdine’s campus with us in order to be good stewards of what we’ve learned and empower others to participate not only in what they believe in, but to fight for the rights of marginalized people and groups in order to create a more united and understanding society,” she shares.

The notion of commonalities echoed in Sunday morning’s convocation service led by Pepperdine associate chaplain Eric Wilson, who touched on the interconnectedness of the movements and the connections between faith, love, unity, peace, and history. During Wilson’s remarks, Robinson was reminded of God’s place in the fight for justice and the importance of involving him more so that “God can make way for our movements to be blessed.”

As the convocation came to a close and students joined faculty and staff in a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, Douglas couldn’t help but muse on the symbolism of moving across the massive structure. “We were encouraged to think about ways in which we are engaging in this movement,” he says. “Now that we have been moved, we must continue to move.”

The urge to “continue to move” compelled students to plan concrete ways in which they can utilize what they learned and apply it to their communities in their return to Malibu. From performing small acts of kindness, to practicing self-care, to conversing with the Pepperdine community, sophomores from this trip plan to create ripples within their community.

Three Pepperdine studentsReminding herself that she is doing it for God, Ikediuba plans to do simple but impactful acts by being kind and helping those in need. “The action doesn’t need to be big,” she shares. “I just hope to serve others and reflect God in everything that [I] do.” 

For Hunter, she hopes to prioritize self-care in order to better serve her community and advocate for the marginalized. Characterizing it as a grassroots approach to social change and social action, she plans to take what she has learned and apply it to her life on campus. “It’s great to spread your roots widely and advocate for all these different causes, but it’s also just as important to spread your roots deeply,” she explains.

Robinson says the trip has helped her feel rejuvenated in her efforts toward fighting for justice. She plans to bring conversations about various social justice issues to the Social Action and Justice Colloquium (SAAJ) Outreach that she launched last year. As a branch of freshman seminar, SAAJ Outreach allows students to take what they have learned from the classroom and apply it to the greater Pepperdine community.

No matter how students hope to effect change, Robinson shares that it should be an ongoing process. “Fighting for justice is not an event,” she says. “It’s a decision and a lifestyle.”