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Bentley alumna Edith Joachimpillai and professor Mary Marcel pose with a copy of their new book, "This Era of Black Activism," in the Bentley Library.
Bentley alumna Edith Joachimpillai '12 (left) and professor Mary Marcel pose with their new book, “This Era of Black Activism,” in the Bentley Library. (Photo by Maddie Schroeder)

During a 1965 commencement address at Oberlin College in Ohio — the first institute of higher education in the U.S. to admit Black students — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared his unwavering belief that Black Americans would prevail in the struggle for racial equity. “We shall overcome,” he told those assembled, “because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  

This same sentiment lies at the heart of “This Era of Black Activism,” a collection of scholarly essays edited by Bentley’s Mary Marcel, an associate professor of Information Design and Corporate Communication, and Edith Joachimpillai ’12, an Economics-Finance major and former research analyst for The Brookings Institution, a renowned American think tank dedicated to improving public policy, both of whom also contributed their own chapters.

Cover of "This Era of Black Activism," featuring an image of a Black Lives Matter protest. In the foreground, a young Black woman stands with her fist raised into the air.The book explores the diverse but interconnected social justice movements championed by Black activists from 2000 to the present, including protests highlighting widespread police brutality (#BlackLivesMatter) and sexual violence (#MeToo), and demonstrates how these recent efforts are the latest evolution in a long-standing struggle for equality dating back to 1868, when the passage of the 14th Amendment granted full citizenship to formerly enslaved people. Other essays examine how racial justice efforts today build upon and beyond those of the Civil Rights Movement, how COVID-19 highlighted significant health inequities resulting from structural racism and how social media provides a transformative space for educating, inspiring and empowering Black activists.  

“With this book, we really wanted to showcase the depth and breadth of Black Americans’ struggle for racial justice and how activism within that community has changed within the last 20 years,” Marcel explains. Unlike the movements of the 1960s, which were led primarily by male members of the clergy, today’s efforts prominently feature women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, she notes, and “have taken many forms: protests, online spaces, changes to law and public policy, and corporate responses. Our goal is to bring together research and reflections that show the reach of racism across social, political, economic, public and personal spaces, so that readers can begin to appreciate that Black activism, especially in this era, is never about only one issue or one strategy.”  

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Notably, Marcel and Joachimpillai aren’t the only members of the Bentley community who contributed to the publication. Three current faculty members — Anne Rawls, professor of Sociology, and David Stamps and Ziyuan (Jason) Zhou, both assistant professors of Information Design and Corporate Communication — and two Bentley alumni — Moussa Hassoun ’14, assistant general counsel for New York City’s Maimonides Medical Center, and Melissa Hector ’11, director of equitable and strategic initiatives for the Boston Public Health Commission — each contributed chapters reflecting their specific areas of expertise. Two recent Bentley graduates, Liz DePhillipis ’23 and Joey Huang MSA ’23, as well as current student Rohan Rao ’25 supported Marcel and Joachimpillai as research assistants, and the entire project was made possible by a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded grant administered via Bentley’s Valente Center for Arts & Sciences.  

Ultimately, Marcel notes proudly, seven of the publication’s 15 chapters “reflect the hearts, minds and souls of our Bentley community”; the remaining essays are penned by preeminent race and gender studies scholars from well-known institutions across the country, including Boston University, Texas A&M and the University of Alabama.  

For Joachimpillai, the “Bentley DNA” is reflected in a different way. “I wouldn’t have been able to successfully complete a project like this were it not for my Bentley experience,” she says. “I was lucky to have wonderful professors who helped me hone my critical thinking skills, showing me how to not just gather information but take what I’ve learned and transform it into something useful.” 

She notes that the intimate size of the campus community also made it easy for her to connect with like-minded peers and form genuine and lasting friendships — relationships that directly and positively influenced the book’s trajectory. For example, Joachimpillai met Hector, who had been her peer orientation leader, immediately after arriving at Bentley, and befriended Hassoun when both represented the university in the prestigious Hult Prize competition, in which teams of college students from around the world solve pressing global challenges through social entrepreneurship.

With this book, we showcase the depth and breadth of Black Americans’ struggle for racial justice and explore how activism within that community has changed within the last 20 years.
Mary Marcel
Associate Professor, Information Design and Corporate Communication

Joachimpillai and Marcel are hopeful their book can foster a similar sense of community among its readers; after all, they note, activism depends upon our ability to acknowledge our shared humanity and work together to achieve a common purpose. “This era of Black activism requires that everyone educate themselves about racial justice, a topic that’s both challenging and consequential,” Joachimpillai says. “It doesn’t matter what community you live in, what privileges you may or may not have or how much or how little of this history you already know — we all need to commit to figuring this out together.”    

For her part, Marcel believes the book could be utilized well in first-year seminars and academic courses spanning multiple disciplines, such as history, sociology and political science, to not only show students that “activism is everywhere — in our communities, in our classrooms and in corporations,” but to help them realize that “activism improves our democracy. It’s what enables us to make sure that every individual has an opportunity to bring their unique gifts, talents, energy and creativity to bear in a way that improves society for all of us.

“At the end of the day,” Marcel continues, “I want readers to have a deeper appreciation for the considerable and concerted efforts that have brought us to where we are today, and a greater understanding of why it’s necessary for all of us to support Black activism if we want to achieve our vision of a just and equitable future.’”  

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