Margaret Mead could've been talking about Amrita Chakrabarti Myers when she said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."
Originally from Canada, Amrita got her start in banking before heading to Rutgers University to study the black female experience. After earning a doctorate in African American and Women's History, the budding historian landed in the last place she ever expected—Bloomington, Indiana. As it turns out, Bloomington has been an ideal place for Amrita both on and off campus. She's both the Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor of History and Gender Studies at Indiana University and a noted advocate for social justice.
Description of the video:
I'll be very honest with you - when I went on the job market, with my PhD freshly inked in my hand, I said to God I said, "God I I really am willing to go anywhere I just want to be like in a good place where I can do the work that you've called me to do and where I can make a difference. I'll move to the deep south, I'll take a job back in Canada, I'll go to Alaska, I'll stay on the east coast, I'll go to the Pacific Northwest, just one thing God...please don't send me to the Midwest."
I really - I'm not kidding, that is a true story. And God clearly has a sense of humor because every job interview I had and every job offer I had was at a Midwestern school. Every single one.
A lot of my friends were like, "you're going to go live in the middle of the cornfields, you're going to go live in klan country, in Indiana, in Bloomington."
And I'm a big city girl - I've always lived in large metropolitan areas and very diverse areas and so it wasn't adjustment when I came here.
But I have never regretted teaching at IU because over the years what has been shown to me over and over is that my instincts were right; that this was a place that needed me and needed the expertise I could bring, and I mean to this day a class after class, semester after semester, student after student tells me, you know, they're from Carmel, they're from, you know, Kokomo, they're from Indianapolis, and they have never been taught African-American history, they have not learned Native American history, but it gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing that not only am I helping the Black and Latino students on this campus by being here, but I'm also helping and reaching out to a lot of those white students who are open, who are interested, who desperately want information and knowledge, who can be changed makers in our society who can become active citizens to make our world a better place, but they've been not given the knowledge, or the education, the tools or the skills.
And so I have never regretted coming here, because somewhere in the back of my mind I thought this might be that kind of place where, yes they have work to do, but this is a place where they would be accepting at me that they would want me.
And that's just been such an amazing feeling all the way around. I feel like this is a place where I have actually been used to do good, and that's all I've really wanted.
Can you tell us about maybe the last time, or maybe the most important time to you, when you felt like you truly belonged?
Well um honestly this is going to sound really funny, but it's true - I just found out this morning that I've been awarded IU's Martin Luther King Building Bridges Award - just found out this morning. You know, it's for people who have been essentially who emulate you know the characteristics of Martin Luther King and trying to be a bridge-builder between different groups of people; campus community, different racial groups, etc.
So over the last three or four years I've been doing a lot of social justice work on campus and in Bloomington.
I've had a lot of times over the last few years where I have felt really really accepted and really welcomed and really like I'm in the right place, but this morning when I got that email it was such a - it was an amazing feeling to know that my my colleagues had nominated me, and that the administration on this campus views the work that I do as important and worthy of being acknowledged, so I'm all like now, like weepy, but they're giving me the award at the MLK breakfast next week, and that means a lot to me.
That is a huge sort of way in which this University and my colleagues have shown me that the work that I do matters and that they appreciate me so yeah.
Since 2014, Amrita has helped organize a number of symposia and campus-community teach-ins, including “Rights and Retrospectives: The Civil Rights Act at 50," "It's Not So Black and White: Talking Race, From Ferguson to Bloomington," and "Violent Intersections: Women of Color in the ‘Age of Trump.'"
In 2017, Indiana University recognized Amrita's community involvement and advocacy with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Building Bridges Award, which honors those who capture King's vision, spirit, and leadership.
Like most leaders, Amrita's impact extends well beyond the boundaries of the IU campus. She is one of the original founders of Btown Justice. The local community organization functions as a social justice information clearing house, standing in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and the modern civil rights movement. She is also in high demand as a speaker at social justice events across the country and has been a co-anchor of Bring It On!, WFHB’s African-American Radio Show, since 2015.
Amrita's first book, Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston, was published in 2011. She is now at work on her second book, Remembering Julia: A Tale of Sex, Race, Power, and Place.