“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
This is a quote from Ida B. Wells who skillfully waged war against injustices by wielding her pen as a tool to battle against injustices and inequities.
Today, Kao Kalia Yang is following in the legacy of Ida B. Wells in her role as a teacher, public speaker, and writer. Yang is the author of the award-winning book, “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” and the book “The Song Poet.” “The Song Poet” has been featured in the National Library Week selection, won the MN Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Yang’s prophetic voice is also heard in the book, “A Good Time for Truth” which explores issues related to race in Minnesota and provides a clarion call for leading social change.
Yang has committed her life’s work to breaking down barriers and building new inroads to justice and freedom. She has built a vision which has drawn thousands from around the world together to build a more justice and inclusive society.
During her recent visit to the University of St. Thomas, she challenged students to pick up the mantle of leadership by using their gifts and talents to make a difference in the world. Her words were poetic as she drew her listeners into a vivid picture of her personal narrative. Within moments, the distance between a speaker and the audience dissipated. The attendees suddenly became a part of her kinship circle as she read excerpts from “The Song Poet.” She described her father who admonished her to always remember that “work is for the greater humanity.” This gave a new significance to her voice which had been buried inside of her for a season when she was a selective mute, choosing not to speak in public. Today, her voice comes forth as a rushing flood in a dry land as she transcends political rhetoric, racial animus, and economic barriers. She lifts her reader and audience to a higher moral ground. She recalls when her voice had new significance: “If I spoked, maybe the winds of humanity would blow.” When she speaks, she compels the words of Amos to come forth- let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
“Use words the way doctors use medicine…to heal” Yang stated. These words reminded the students that they each can draw upon their technical competence to turn the light of truth brightly. It could be the engineering student who uses her analytical skills to create new solutions for environmental sustainability. Or the sociology students who create new models for fostering vibrant communities. Or the student who is studying economics and develops new strategies for creating social enterprises and developing new microlending mechanisms. These are just a few examples of how University of St. Thomas students are advancing the common good. This however is only the beginning of self-discovery and self-actualization. Yang challenged them to also discover their moral compass and lead from the heart. Her closing words were “live powerfully and build a world with more heart.”