“Some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism—we’re gonna fight racism with solidarity.”
So said Fred Hampton, the Chicago Black Panther Party leader whose life centers the 2021 film Judas and the Black Messiah. Amherst, too, has tried to fight racism with solidarity—and this year that happened, in part, through a communal art project called the Solidarity Book Project.
It was the brainchild of Sonya Clark ’89, the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and professor of art and the history of art. And it was catalyzed by a request from President Biddy Martin and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein. They asked Clark to conceive a special art project for Amherst’s Bicentennial.
As she has done in her own art, Clark went bold and interactive: she involved members of the Amherst community (and beyond) to combine self-crafted art with acts of reflection, via the iconic symbol of solidarity—a fist raised in protest and support—which was shaped from a book which shaped the mind of the person who shaped the fist. (See how to sculpt a book in this instructional video.)
Every time someone submitted reflections or sculpted books, the College pledged funds, and now $100,000 has been committed to organizations that support Black and Indigenous communities. Recipients include national organizations like the United Negro College Fund and regional ones like the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. Says Clark of the Solidarity Book Project and its impact on Amherst and the world it inhabits: “As we are making and reflecting, we are also giving.”