Award-winning author Angie Thomas speaks about art, activism

Author Angie Thomas speaks to students and community members April 8 in Plachta Auditorium.

Angie Thomas, the award-winning American author of New York Times bestsellers “The Hate U Give” and “On the Come Up,” discussed her personal experiences that inspired her novels on April 8.

Thomas was invited to present “The Hate U Give: Making the Political Personal” for the 2019 Central Michigan University Speaker Series. This year’s series has the theme of wellness and Thomas was chosen to highlight political wellness.

“As we see racism, bigotry and justice rear their ugly heads higher, we need you more than ever,” Thomas said. “We need you involved. We need you to care. We need you to dedicate yourselves to changing the world around you.”

Emmett Till, Tupac and Oscar Grant served as the three men who Thomas used as inspiration for her novels and to find her voice.

At the age of eight, Thomas discovered Till while flipping through an issue of JET magazine, and he stuck with her ever since.

Thomas said that her first time listening to “Keep Your Head Up” by Tupac was her first real connection to art.

“It was powerful to me,” she said. “I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt loved by somebody I never laid eyes on in the flesh.”

After the death of Oscar Grant, Thomas said she was angry. The only way she knew how to deal with that anger was to write.

“I wrote a short story about a boy named Khalil, who was a lot like Oscar, and a girl named Starr who lived in those two different worlds like I did,” Thomas said.

She said that a college professor urged her to turn that short story into a novel. Eventually she did, and it turned into “The Hate U Give.”

“Empathy is far more powerful than sympathy, so I need you to see my color,” Thomas said. “I need you to make yourself aware of the things that affect me as a person of color.”

Thomas discussed that is it important to be understanding and empathetic to the issues that are affecting others.

Twining senior Markie Heideman said he learned from the presentation how to help share the voices of people of color.

“It was a good reminder for me as a white person to understand the different experiences of people of color and how it’s important to not speak on behalf of them but to pass them the mic and to learn for the important stories,” Heideman said.

Thomas said her novels are her way of turning art into activism, as she has seen Tupac and many other rappers do. This was a key point that Woodstock, Illinois junior Alex Garay took away from the presentation. 

“It was really good to remember how art leads to activism,” Garay said. “I know a lot of people who have a lot of passion for different forms of art, whether that be poetry or rap and stuff, remembering the influence that can have among our peers and amongst the world really.”

Thomas said that activism is important, especially for young people. She focused on how young people have more of an influence on the world than they think.

“You affect passion, you drive trends, so why not use that same power to cause change your communities,” Thomas said. “If you change the world around you, you will find yourself changing the world. It’s that simple.”

Although art is Thomas’ form of activism, she stressed that it is not the only form of activism.

“I’m not here to tell you that you’ve got to write books or use your art or even be an artist to be an activist,” Thomas said. “You must define your activism, but most importantly you must be active.”