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The Call of Public Scholarship

“Uncivil” podcast host, journalist and activist Chenjerai Kumanyika speaks at Ursinus.

As an internationally acclaimed hip-hop artist, podcast legend, activist, and assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, Kumanyika has had a lifetime of fascinating stories worth talking about.

Kumanyika came to Ursinus to share some of these stories. Although he joked that, “pod-famous is not really famous at all,” his voice is recognizable to thousands of listeners as one of two hosts of the groundbreaking podcast series Uncivil, or to those who have tuned in to one of his recurring guest appearances on Seeing White. His work has been widely featured in outlets such as The New YorkerThe New York TimesVulture and The Financial Times

Uncivil is a history podcast about the Civil War where Kumanyika and his co-host Jack Hitt “ransack America’s past” and question the information taught in school. It tells the untold stories of resistance, corruption, mutiny and more while connecting them to modern day America.

Kumanyika spoke to the Ursinus audience about his activism and his talk addressed challenges and opportunities of public scholarship today, as well as the inspirations, dilemmas and dangers of integrating a commitment to social justice working across the boundaries of scholarship, journalism, activism and art.

“You have to make things,” he said. “Put your body in the struggle and engage. Try to do things publicly.”

He shared an anecdote from a colleague who told him that right now, the most vulnerable people are on the front lines of protests, arguing that it should really be influencers like Kumanyika—and not the vulnerable—on the front lines. He said he took that to heart and attended the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. He discussed the protests as an act of “urban rebellion.”

One of Kumanyika’s recent peaceful protests went viral after he was removed from a venue hosting a rally for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Kumanyika was silently standing in protest while wearing a keffiyeh—a traditional Middle Eastern headdress—when security asked him to leave.

Kumanyika also shared information about his work in journalism, encouraging the audience to “find their inner writer.”

After spending some time talking about his experiences, Kumanyika started a conversation by posing the questions asked to him back to the audience. Discussions centered around compromise, emotional conversations about race in classrooms and writing. —By Mary Lobo ’15