Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) history professor Will Guzmán has been selected from hundreds of applicants worldwide to be a Fellow at the National Humanities Center (NHC). The prestigious award is the first for a professor from PVAMU. Guzmán will join 35 other Fellows from 16 states, as well as Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Nigeria, and Taiwan, in residence at the NHC in North Carolina for the 2021-22 academic year. Guzmán will use the time to prepare his manuscript on Raymond A. Brown: Black Power’s Attorney.
Prior to joining PVAMU’s staff Guzman taught at six universities in a 17-year span, the most recent being New Jersey City University where he served as an associate professor in the African American Studies Program and Director of the Hagan Africana Studies Center at New Jersey City University. Guzmán’s work in New Jersey was so consequential for the Jersey City community that the local NAACP branch honored his service during its 98th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet (December 2019).
Though Guzman’s academic interests are broad, he is considered a specialist in African-American history after 1865 and Afro-Puerto Rican history after 1873. The Defender was able to get Guzmán’s takes on a number of issues that impact both scholarship and society in general.
DEFENDER: How has the movement following the death of George Floyd impacted national and state legislation?
WILL GUZMÁN: It’s impacted the nation on the legislative level on both positive and negative (i.e. white backlash). You see various Southern states creating legislation to, in a very draconian way, punish protesters. On the positive, more members of our communities, young African Americans in particular, are becoming more politicized and engaging in the political process in very concrete ways.
DEFENDER: Any scholar/activist thoughts on the Jan. 6 insurrection?
GUZMÁN: The January 6 insurrection appeared to be a comical, ragtag and motley crew of misfits where G.I. Jane met Duck Dynasty, Boss Hog and Bullwinkle. Grievance politics converged with white-skin privilege to allow these violent insurrectionists to destroy property and assault and kill police officers with impunity. The January 6 event was another reminder that we need to create an unabashed Black agenda that demands $21-trillion in reparations, build multiracial coalitions, dismantle laissez-faire capitalism, engage in political education which leads to mass mobilization that advocates for a more humane and just public policy where people are valued over profits, where corporations are not people, and where the police-military apparatus and surveillance state are eliminated.
DEFENDER: With Haiti in the news, to what other international issues should Black and Brown folk pay attention?
GUZMÁN: We need to engage in research and political education that will result in a robust critique and activism against corporations such as Texaco/Chevron, Shell Oil, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman who are profiting from wars and the destruction of the environment in Black communities in this country and throughout the African diaspora. Examples include Afro-Ecuadorians and indigenous people in the Lago Agrio field (“Amazon Chernobyl”) of Ecuador and the Ejama-Ebubu people of Ogoniland in southwest Nigeria.
DEFENDER: Beyond voting, what must Black and Brown people do to improve our communities’ political outcomes?
GUZMÁN: First and foremost, hold our current elected political leaders accountable to their promises. Second, we have to move Biden to the left and ensure that he expands Medicaid and Medicare coverage or a Medicaid for all healthcare system. What does that look like? It’s us joining nonprofits and other civic organizations to put the pressure on political leaders starting from the top, but also here at the local level. In the coming months, you’re going to see hundreds and thousands of evictions all over the country. How do we mitigate that? That’s going to require at the local level us putting political pressure on alleviating the suffering of those that have been economically displaced by COVID-19.
DEFENDER: What does a redesign of public safety require of us?
GUZMÁN: We have to question ourselves as a community, as a society as to why do we overly rely upon the police for so many issues? No longer can we just be disconnected, even with institutions that have historically been detrimental to the Black and Brown community. Activists may have to engage with community leaders of different political stripes, conservative councilmembers or state legislators, police chiefs, the mayor’s office, etc. We have to begin to engage. And that engagement is going to require time, discipline, sacrifice and commitment. We have to look at the long game. This is not a short-term solution.
DEFENDER: What’s the process for getting Qualified Immunity removed?
GUZMÁN: One aspect of it is our inability to question ourselves and our values related to consumerism and materialism. We give our taxes in silent approval of the police to engage in over-policing (resulting in large numbers of unarmed individuals shot) because we want to know that the police will be there to protect us as middle and upper-class individuals. Even for working class individuals who are aspiring to middle class status, they will vote those values that are detrimental even to themselves. What really strikes at the core of the issue is what are we prepared to sacrifice in exchange for a more humane and more empathetic police force?
Some of Dr. Will Guzmán‘s Most Recent Scholarship
- In May 2021 Guzmán, along with Kimberly Hill (UT-Dallas) and William T. Hoston (PVAMU), became the inaugural editors of the Afro-Texans book series at Texas Tech University Press.
- In July 2021 William T. Hoston, a political science professor and director of the Mellon Center for Faculty Excellence, and Guzmán signed a contract to work on ‘The Hill’ We Climbed: A History of Prairie View A&M University, an edited book that will explore the rich history of Prairie View A&M University.
- In September 2021, Guzmán will begin his nine-month residential fellowship at the National Humanities Center (NHC) in Research Triangle Park, NC, where he will work on his manuscript, Raymond A. Brown: Black Power’s Attorney.
- In December 2021, the biography of Houston-born Emmett J. Scott: Power Broker of the Tuskegee Machine by Maceo C. Dailey Jr. will be released.
- In September 2022, Guzmán will serve as PVAMU program coordinator of the African American Studies Program and director of the Mellon-funded African American Studies Initiative.