Lee College Honors Program alumnus and Northwestern University professor John D. Marquez, Ph.D., isn’t surprised or disheartened when his thoughts about racism and its continued and pervasive presence in society make someone angry — in fact, he’s encouraged.
Causing disruption and stirring disagreement come along with the job of being an activist and “agitator.”
“This is the role that artists and intellectuals play,” Marquez told dozens of Lee College students last week in Tucker Hall, where he appeared as part of the third annual Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Week celebration. “Without facilitating conversations and bringing up issues, we tend to gloss over and mythologize parts of the past as though they have nothing to do with our present.”
A graduate of Robert E. Lee High School, Marquez was also the honored guest at a special reception where he discussed and signed copies of his book, “Black-Brown Solidarity: Racial Politics in the New Gulf South.” The book focuses particular attention on the history of racial tension in his native Baytown — where his parents moved their family decades ago with the hope of earning a good living and achieving the American dream — and how black and Latino citizens came together to fight inequality.
Raised in The Oaks of Baytown — one of the more notorious neighborhoods in the city — Marquez said he and other children from his community were often treated as problems by the local educational system. It wasn’t until he graduated from Robert E. Lee High School, came to Lee College and enrolled in the American Studies honors course with retired instructor John Britt that he believed he could contribute more in school than just athletic ability.
“He was the first person in my life that treated me like a student,” Marquez said of Britt, whom he still considers a role model and mentor. “I impressed a teacher as an intellectual, and I had never felt valued in that way. I’ve been all over the world as an educator and speaker, but that journey started here.”
After graduating from Lee College, Marquez went on to earn his doctoral degree and co-found the Latina and Latino Studies program at Northwestern. His academic success and scholarly pursuits only strengthened his knowledge and resolve as an activist, and he continued to protest and speak out against issues ranging from border militarization to police brutality.
Citing the high numbers of blacks and Latinos currently incarcerated against the low numbers of black and Latino males who have attained a degree, Marquez challenged students to familiarize themselves with the history of their community and its unsung heroes. Be unafraid to speak truth to power, he said.
“Some look at those statistics and blame the victims for their culture, their style of dress, their style of music; they forget that there could be residual effects of a history of oppression and racial tension,” Marquez said. “Try a little harder. Dig a little deeper. The artist in an intellectual society is a moral witness; that’s what unites us all as human beings: the capacity to be honest.”