Hailing from the city of Clemson, South Carolina, Chenjerai Kumanyika, an artist, activist, assistant professor, producer, vocalist and philosopher came to the University of Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 24 to present two public talks.
Kumanyika’s first presentation drew a full house. It was called “Entertainment, Culture, and Activism.”
“I’ve never been to Minnesota. It is gorgeous out here. I am excited to be here to talk to you guys. I really do view this as a conversation. I hope that y’all appreciate my style. I set up conversations so that I can learn,” Kumanyika said.
Kumanyika was given purpose in life early on. His father, Makaza Kumanyika, was a prominent 1960’s civil rights leader. Associated with individuals like Malcolm X and Jesse Gray, Makaza left a legacy of protest.
“He truly inspired me,” Kumanyika said.
Using technology, art and music, Kumanyika has extended his father’s legacy. This was addressed in his second presentation, called “Media Ecology of Protest Spaces.”
“2016 has been a crazy year. It is in times like these that we need to remain optimistic. We’ve gotta find some way to keep our inspiration. I think that art is an essential part of that,” Kumanyika said.
Kumanyika was given his first big break when he joined a rap group called The Spooks.
“Music has the potential to inspire people to do great things. Everyone from the president to the homeless man listens to music. Where are you gonna fit in, in that? Think about the impact of what you do and make it last and change. There are a million people who come and go, but not too many people’s music is remembered,” Kumanyika said.
Eventually, Kumanyika went to college and today he is an assistant professor at Clemson University. There, he teaches a number of courses.
Recently, Kumanyika has been focussing on journalism, podcasts and storytelling.
“I have always been interested in the ways that words can persuade people, as well as the ways that words and music work together to subliminally create people’s experience,” Kumanyika said. Stories have a way of getting through to your heart, before your mind can object,” Kumanyika added.
According to Rebecca De Souza, assistant professor in UMD’s College of Liberal Arts, "Chenjerai Kumanyika is this impossible combination of a human being. He is a scholar, an activist and a musician. We thought that this would be a really good event for students. It is a narrative that we want to tell.”
After ending both presentations, Kumanyika encouraged the audience to tell their own story through music, art, words and so on.
"He doesn’t even charge a fee for speaking at events,” De Souza said. “It is part of his activism.”