On February 2nd, 2022, Dean Johnson from the school of Arts Science and Humanities held a “We Won’t Be Banned Book Campaign” Johnson gathered Shaw students to read excerpts of Black authors that have appeared on the banned book list. On this same day the Shaw mural entitled “I am Her and He is Me” was defaced, once again. The mural was painted by artist Muslimah Shareef and was part of a citywide public arts project in response to the murder of George Floyd. Shareef chose to paint it just outside the gates of Shaw University’s campus – as a love letter to Shaw. Johnson reflected that the need to host such a campaign and the disrespectful graffiti were not unconnected. Both speak to how white supremacy relentlessly tries to terrify us.
The act of being literate is an act of resistance. That is literally how this project came about. Dean Johnson was reading about various banned books around the same time HBCUs around the nation began to receive bomb threats. As people of African descent, we have been prohibited, banned, shut out, and restricted, all for the purpose of trying to contain and keep us controlled. So, Johnson decided, we just won’t be banned!
The “We Won’t Be Banned Book Campaign” is a modern form of political action. Students took a stand by reading excerpts from a few banned books pulled by Dr. Miller-McCollum, Shaw’s Director of Library Services at the James Cheek Library. Professional quality videography produced by Spyder Web Developers (Ric Swiner, videographer) captured students reading 2–3-minute excerpts, including the book’s title and the author’s full name. Johnson shares that she and other collaborators including Dr. Moore from the Center for Racial and Social Justice wanted something to live beyond the experience.
This digital campaign has an impact beyond sharing the story of censorship. It provided a paradigm shift for students like Natasha Parker, a junior at Shaw, who couldn’t believe her favorite novel “The Hate You Give (T.H.U.G) by Angie Thomas was on the list of banned books. This opportunity was an offering for students to think critically about why anyone would go through great lengths to harshly criticize, limit runs and deny the publishing of some of the most enriching and beloved literature of all time.
“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” A quote from one of Dean Johnsons’ most revered novels, Fahrenheit 451. A 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury where books are outlawed, and “firemen” burn any that are found. Johnson encouraged students that partook in the video protest to do so in honor of taking a stand for their future’ “a future that is free – free to be expressive, to voice their opinions, to create what they believe should be in this world”. Ultimately, she said, “it is up to YOU to protect that right”!
*Check back in March to view the official “We Won’t Be Banned” video campaign