Advancing Social Justice Through Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful vehicle to advance social justice. It is an ancient art, it’s interactive, and offers a means to raise awareness and encourage advocacy. When used to advance social justice, stories, both fact and fiction, enable us to imagine the world in a different way. On Jan. 13, Points of Light and Morehouse College led a conversation with Wil Haygood, acclaimed biographer, Pulitzer finalist, award-winning author and reporter, and Dr. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., New York Times bestselling author and chair of Princeton University’s department of African American studies, to learn how a storied past continues to shape our national identity and common values.

Watch the Conversation On-Demand

Conversation Key-Takeaways

  • Language and books open up the possibility of a different world that we may not have previously experienced. They allow us to think of ourselves in ways not limited by our reality.
  • Stories of individuals and their life experiences become critical to providing us with the resources to deal with a world that is fundamentally unjust.
  • If we tell stories that only tell the inherent goodness of America and obscure the ugliness of who we are, we in some ways condemn ourselves. We have to run toward the fear, because only then are the possibility of being otherwise is made known.
  • When companies move diversity from an additive value to a constitutive value, they can begin to create a culture where all employees feel free to bring the fullness of themselves to the task at hand.
  • Stories of adversity are a part of the fabric of life and can be used to uplift and motivate students to write their own story instead of giving others the ability to do the same.
  • When it comes to creating a better world, we have to define our moon shot. Imagine our lives beyond our current experiences and define clear goals that we can work toward.

Meet the Speakers

Dr. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., New York Times Bestselling Author and Chair of Princeton’s Department of African American Studies

One of the nation’s most prominent scholars, Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr. is an author, political commentator, public intellectual and passionate educator who examines the complex dynamics of the American experience. His writings, including Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, and his most recent, the New York Times bestseller, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for our Own, takes a wide look at Black communities, the difficulties of race in the United States and the challenges we face as a democracy. In his writing and speaking, Glaude is an American critic in the tradition of James Baldwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, confronting history and bringing our nation’s complexities, vulnerabilities and hope into full view. Hope that is, in one of his favorite quotes from W.E.B. Du Bois, “not hopeless, but a bit unhopeful.” 

Glaude is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton. He is also on the Morehouse College Board of Trustees. He frequently appears in the media, as a columnist for TIME Magazine and as an MSNBC contributor on programs like Morning Joe and Deadline Whitehouse with Nicolle Wallace. He regularly appears on Meet the Press on Sundays. Glaude also hosts Princeton’s AAS podcast, a conversation around the field of African American Studies and the Black experience in the 21st century. 

A highly accomplished and respected scholar of religion, Glaude is a former president of the American Academy of Religion. His books on religion and philosophy include An Uncommon Faith: A Pragmatic Approach to the Study of African American Religion, African American Religion: A Very Short Introduction, and Exodus! Religion, Race and Nation in Early 19th Century Black America, which was awarded the Modern Language Association’s William Sanders Scarborough Book Prize. 

Some like to describe Glaude as the quintessential Morehouse man, having left his home in Moss Point, Mississippi at age 16 to begin studies at the HBCU and alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He holds a master’s degree in African American Studies from Temple University and a Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University. 

Glaude is known both for his inspiring oratory and ability to convene conversations that engage fellow citizens from all backgrounds — from young activists to corporate audiences looking for a fresh perspective on DEI. In 2011, he delivered Harvard’s DuBois lectures. His 2015 commencement remarks at Colgate University titled, “Turning Our Backs,” was recognized by the New York Times as one of the best commencement speeches of the year. 

Combining a scholar’s knowledge of history, a political commentator’s take on the latest events, and an activist’s passion for social justice, Glaude challenges all of us to examine our collective American conscience, “not to posit the greatness of America, but to establish the ground upon which to imagine the country anew.”

Wil Haygood, Acclaimed Biographer, Pulitzer Finalist, Award-Winning Author and Reporter

Best-selling author, prize-winning journalist, acclaimed biographer and cultural historian Wil Haygood tells the story of America through the lens of history, politics, sports, race and the lives of change-making African-Americans. Best known as the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Butler and Showdown, his work has chronicled America’s civil rights journey through acclaimed biographies of Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Sammy Davis, Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson and Eugene Allen, the real-life inspiration for Lee Daniels’ award-winning film, The Butler. During the sold-out movie premiere event of the film Marshall, it was with Wil Haygood whom the film’s director Reginald Hudlin wanted to share a stage. 

A storyteller for our times, Haygood has earned high praise for connecting the civil rights movement and its iconic heroes with current events and enduring struggles. Above all, he brings the powerful perspective that this is the history of all Americans, shaping our national identity and common values. His book Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing tells the uplifting story of teams from a poor, black segregated high school that won two state championships in the same year, uniting a racially charged community in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King. The Wall Street Journal, praised Haygood’s juxtapositions of race and class against the historic backdrop of the events of 1968-69, declaring Tigerland “a haunting, unforgettable book.” The book has won the Ohioana Book Award, was runner up for the Dayton International Literary Peace Prize and was a Hooks National Book Award Finalist. Haygood’s latest book, Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World, gives an unprecedented history of Black cinema and a groundbreaking perspective on racism in modern America. Haygood uses the struggles and triumphs of the artists, and the films themselves, as a prism through which to explore Black culture and the civil rights movement. 

Haygood’s talent for looking at events from multiple points of view comes from his background as a journalist. For thirty years, he was a national and foreign correspondent for the Washington Post and Boston Globe, covering events such as Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years, the ascent of President Obama, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and his own experience as the hostage of Somali rebels. While at the Globe, he was honored as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for feature writing. The author of eight books, Haygood continues to capture the attention of the media and some of the leading

entertainment figures of our time. Butler (for which he also served as associate producer) drew Academy Award winners Forest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda and Oprah Winfrey and won numerous awards and nominations. His biography of Sugar Ray Robinson, Sweet Thunder, is being adapted for the screen by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions with Golden Globe winner David Oyelowo (Selma) as Robinson. In Black and White, his biography of Sammy Davis, Jr. is under option to director Lee Daniels. Haygood was also called upon as the go-to biographer of Thurgood Marshall when the biopic MARSHALL drew renewed interest in the life and career of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. 

Born to a poor single mother and raised in the projects, Haygood’s path to Pulitzer recognition, the New York Times bestseller list, Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, and the upper echelons of Hollywood has defied the odds. He became the first in his family to attend college, studying urban studies and English literature while playing on the junior varsity basketball team at Miami University (Ohio). In 2013, he returned to his alma mater as a Boadway Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence in the Department of Media, Journalism & Film. In the fall of 2018, Haygood debuted his book, Tigerland to the Miami University community at their convocation. For his contributions to the university and society, he was presented with the Miami University President’s medal, the highest honor the university awards. Eight other colleges and universities have also honored Haygood with honorary degrees. 

As a speaker, Haygood has been described as “a powerful presence,” “out of this world,” and “hitting exactly the right heart and message.” Not unaccustomed to standing ovations, he leaves audiences inspired, moved and with a deeper, richer understanding of our shared American story.

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