By Franki Mastrone
Toivo Asheeke presented his book, "Arming Black Consciousness: The Azanian Black Nationalist Tradition and South Africa's Armed Struggle" in a lecture in the Social Sciences building on Sept. 28 (Photo by Franki Mastrone)
Toivo Asheeke PhD, former professor of sociology at Purchase, returned to present a lecture as part of the Natural Sciences Studies lecture series. Students welcomed him back with open arms, and excitement for what would certainly be a profound conversation centering his new book, “Arming Black Consciousness: The Azanian Black Nationalist Tradition and South Africa's Armed Struggle.”
Asheeke’s legacy at Purchase College is that of a person who has done a lot for the students of this campus. One former student made it clear that Asheeke has a lasting impact on his students.
“With the information he has given us, he has made me especially vulnerable. But in that vulnerability, he gave me hope and a fire to understand what it is so I can
make it what it is not,” says Osiris Warren, a senior Theatre and Performance Studies major.
During his time here, Asheeke was extremely involved in activism on campus, and was a guiding light for students that wanted to make serious change in this community, his former students say. He spearheaded initiatives such as the installation of the cemetery plaque honoring the enslaved people that once inhabited this campus. He was also an ardent supporter of the reinstating of the Black Student Union in 2021.
“Arming Black Consciousness” discusses the widely unknown history and impact of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa in the 1960s. The Black Consciousness Movement was an anti-apartheid movement that came to fruition after the deeply racist and eventually white-supremacist National Party imprisoned, tortured and murdered leaders of the anti-apartheid African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress following the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960.
“For many Black peoples and for peoples who love justice and freedom across the world…Apartheid became a rallying cry,” stated Asheeke after opening the lecture with the song “Apartheid” by Peter Tosh.
A substantial portion of the lecture on Sept. 28 detailed the impact of different Black Consciousness leaders such as Steve Biko and Mamphela Ramphele, and tied their activism against Apartheid to the energy brought to the movements of today such as the fight against book bans in the southern united states, and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in the state of Florida.
“South Africa was..banning everything…It has a very vicious legacy…and something similar is happening in the US South right now, the banning of critical race theory,”stated Asheeke.
Another major topic of the presentation was the importance of
student protest and uprising during the
Asheeke was a sociology professor at Purchase and now
teaches sociology as well as History and African Studies
at Georgia State University (Photo by Franki Mastrone)
fight against Apartheid. During the Black Consciousness Movement, college students were able to take the knowledge they gained from university, and educate and inform members of their communities back home, because rural areas did not have access to the same educational resources. At multiple points during the lecture, Asheeke mentioned accounts in which student protests have been catalysts to socio-political change, both during Apartheid and in more recent years.
“And so, the argument of black consciousness was saying no..you did not have reparations,” Asheeke said. “You did not have a true reconciliation plan that said no, we can’t talk about peace if the land is still not in our hands…it’s not possible, right? And so the book comes out of that.”
It was clear by the energy in the room that students were deeply moved by Asheeke’s words.
“From his book talk and all of my experience with him, Toivo has an unwavering hope that is contagious. Everywhere he goes he reignites the fire of optimism which he grounds in collective care and political action,” said Kaelin Martin, senior Political Science major, when asked how the lecture and sentiments resonated with them.
“His passion for what he does inspires everyone around him in ways that literally cultivate revolution. This is exactly what makes him a beloved professor, colleague, mentor, and comrade. He believes in the power of collective action. He builds community. He turns ‘me’ into ‘us,’” Martin continued.
Asheeke is now a professor of Sociology, History and African studies at Georgia State University, where he continues to inspire students to take action against injustice through his teaching, activism, and wisdom.