"[It is] validating to be who you are—even if you had to fight to be who you are," said Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry on attending the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and producing the "Amazon 35 Project."

On Friday, March 4, 2011, eight scholars gathered in Lancaster Lounge to celebrate black women's resistance. "Testify, Witness and Act: Black Women's Resistance" was co-sponsored by gender and women's studies and Africana studies, with support from the Edith Lansing Koon Sills Lecture Fund, the Women's Resource Center and the history department.

Organized chronologically, "Testify, Witness and Act" began with black women's resistance during the period of slavery, continued with social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries and concluded with present-day activism.

Participants included Bowdoin faculty from gender and women's studies and Africana studies, including myself, Casselberry, Brian Purnell and Jennifer Scanlon. Accompanying us were four invited scholars: Aisha Finch (UCLA), Jessica Millward (UC-Irvine), Salamishah Tillet (University of Pennsylvania) and Bettye Collier-Thomas (Temple University), who delivered the keynote.

As Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd and Scanlon noted, the symposium was the second event in what is becoming an annual tradition of collaboration between the gender and women's studies and Africana studies programs.

This was a powerful meeting. We testified to the long-term and willful appropriation of diasporic black female bodies, labor, intellectual energy and political activity.

We witnessed black women's political work, women such as Fermina and Carlota, who participated in the 1843 slave revolt in Cuba; Maria Theresa and Perine Dauphine, two New Orleans free women of color; Maryland businesswoman and freed woman of color Charity Folks; Bedford-Stuyvesant community organizer Elsie Richardson; and March on Washington organizer Anna Arnold Hedgeman.

We honored present-day heroines, such as Salamishah and Scheherazade Tillet, founders of A Long Walk Home, Inc., whose mission is to end violence against women and girls, and our very own Casselberry, who, with the 35th anniversary remake of "Amazon," pushes the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival to honor intentional communities, social justice and coalition politics.

As Millward noted, "their [black women's] very existence is a resistance narrative." And by acknowledging that they lived—that they were neither saints nor sinners, that they felt fear and fatigue and could be cruel, that they experienced violence and often died without rewards—our recounting released the guarded screams of women silenced, abused and ignored.

Collier-Thomas described it as "passing down narratives of resistance," or making sense of lives lived in the context of everyday and structural violence, and transmitting strategies for remaining whole. And the very act of sharing, as Tillet stated, has always been one of "the things black women are doing just to keep themselves alive."

Testifying and witnessing transformed Lancaster Lounge into a place where black women and their allies stood across time and told their stories. In doing so, we added Bowdoin College to a constellation of spaces where black women are recognized and made whole.

That same week, an act of hate and violence occurred in a building on Bowdoin's campus. On Sunday, March 6, I joined some 200 Bowdoin students, faculty and staff in Daggett Lounge to testify, witness and take action. We gathered to hear from the students who saw their home defaced and others who have been called racist and homophobic names, had eggs thrown at them, were threatened in intersections and crosswalks by passing vehicles, and feel violated in their classrooms.

We gathered to let these students know that we believe in them, that they are not crazy, they are not alone and they are not to blame. That Sunday, a silence was broken and a community of students and scholars came together to honor themselves and each other and demand that this hatred not be tolerated here.

Daggett Lounge transformed into a space pregnant with possibility and kinetic with a desire for change. Because Bowdoin College is a validating space—even if you have to fight to be who you are.

As students organize, as faculty and staff facilitate conversation and grow, it is with pleasure and hope I recognize the hard part is to come. As Elsie Richardson said, "We've been studied to death. What we need is brick and mortar."

Our duty in the weeks, months and years going forward is to join conversation with action. In doing so, we learn an important lesson not just from black women's survival over the centuries, but also from other histories, other peoples, other families who themselves faced adversity.

By supporting all of our students and committing to institutional change, we will make sense of the life we live together, heal ourselves and heal our community.

Jessica Marie Johnson is a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Pre-Dissertation Fellow and Lecturer in Africana Studies.