Lateefah Simon Speech: Without culture, without art, we’re prisoners.

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Johnny Perez, Student, Fine Art July 17, 2018

During Week 11 of Spring 2018, Lateefah Simon, President of the Akonadi Foundation, visited ArtCenter College of Design. She gave a speech in which she challenged the ArtCenter community to use their gifts to speak truth to power and to create pathways for others to honor their gift.

I was so grateful when Lateefah Simon came to our school to speak about how we as artists and designers can do so much to advance culture and policies that will help those in need. Although some of us may not think so, we are all very privileged to be members of the ArtCenter community. As people of privilege, it is our responsibility to pass that privilege on to those who don’t have it, and we must be relentless in doing so.

Lateefah emphasized the importance of understanding privilege, and sharing our stories as a means of understanding. As she pointed out, “You can’t be a global citizen without the responsibility of understanding deeply where your neighbor has been. If you haven’t taken it upon yourself, you’re perpetuating the problems. We walk with histories of ancestors on our shoulders. Some choose not to validate that reality in everyday life, but some do.”

I think that sharing our stories is a way of showing empathy and vulnerability. Sharing our stories is a means of acceptance and self validation, a way of choosing strength instead of helplessness. In doing so, we will encourage and inspire the same in others.

It’s on all of us to engage and to forge connections. To not only connect individuals, but entire communities with humility, empathy, and inclusiveness that is informed by our own personal struggles. It’s on us to work with our peers to enrich the community by crossing societal boundaries.

As someone in the audience said during the Q&A, it’s not very difficult. It comes down to our individual responsibility. It’s our duty to do this. If enough of us do this, the problems of the world won’t seem as hard. ArtCenter has the best minds. We have what it takes to create a better culture and future. As Lateefah said, “We don’t have to be a part of a culture to advance their policies. Folks are waiting for us to change and shift culture.”

The question on all of our minds should be, what kind of world do we want to create?


Johnny is a Fine Art major with a background in photojournalism. He is also the President of ArtCenter Student Government.  Learn more about Johnny and his work here —>