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Historic Visit

One of the most significant contemporary voices in America is coming to the University of Detroit Mercy next week

By VERSHAY BURKS / VN FEATURES EDITOR
On March 28, 2017

In what is being heralded as a momentous event in Detroit Mercy history, Ta-Nehisi Coates – one of the country’s most prominent voices on the issue of race – will speak Tuesday, April 4, at Calihan Hall.

Thousands of students, staff, faculty and metro-Detroiters are expected for the 6 p.m. talk.

Coates will likely expound on his critically acclaimed book “Between the World and Me.”

Drawing comparisons to James Baldwin’s influential “The Fire Next Time,” Coates’s book is a mixture of memoir, journalism, history and poetry, as well as an attack on white dominance and an exploration of what it means to live in a black body in America.

It takes the form of a letter to his teenage son, Samori.

“Here is what I would like for you to know,” he writes. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”

The event marks Coates’s first major public address in Detroit, and his presence at Detroit Mercy is highly anticipated. The university has not had a figure as nationally significant come speak on campus in at least two decades.

The university has been promoting the appearance for months in ways large and small.

Quotes from “Between the World and Me” have been plastered on walls across the McNichols campus and, since January, faculty members have been meeting to discuss the work of Coates.

Communications professor Joe Abisaid is one of the book club members.

“He’s written a very important book about black identity,” said Abisaid. “He’s commenting on some important issues of the day and he has a perspective I tend to agree with so I’m excited.”

English professor Amanda Hiber has seen Coates speak at U of M, and she uses his award-winning essay “The Case for Reparations” in class.

“He lays out the relevant history and his argument super clearly in a way that a lot of people can understand but it’s also really intelligent and really well researched,” she said. “He’s kind of a perfect person to come and talk to the students.”

History professor Roy Finkenbine played a major role in bringing Coates to Detroit Mercy.

Finkenbine contributed his expertise to Coates’s reparations essay, which later won a George Polk Award.

Their interaction opened the door to the visit.

Coates himself presented the opportunity to Finkenbine.

“He said he would be interested in coming and that he felt some sense of obligation” to appear in Detroit, said Finkenbine.

Finkenbine hopes that Coates will provoke a serious and thoughtful conversation on campus about racism in America.

Philosophy professor David Koukal has similar hopes. He said that America is not a post-racial society and that a discussion of race is necessary, especially given the current political situation in Washington and the things that have been happening in cities throughout the country.

“The benefit is it creates and promotes dialogue,” he said. “It promotes discussion and understanding of different points of view and encourages a broader understanding among the students and faculty and staff of race issues that are still relevant.”

On Tuesday, prior to the Calihan talk, Coates will speak privately with a select group of Detroit Mercy students in the student center ballroom. 

Free tickets to the Ta-Nehisi Coates event are available to Detroit Mercy students and staff. Students may pick up their own tickets – and two complimentary ones – by showing identification at the main office in Calihan Hall in the days before the event. Admission for the general public is $10.

 

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