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The Age of Censorship: Why Isn't Dr. Umar Johnson Fit to Speak at Morehouse College?

Photo: Dr. Umar Johnson

Words: India Rice

“Black queens forever, snowbunnies never,” said Dr. Umar Johnson, a school psychologist, activist—and a viral social media sensation. Johnson, known for consistently amusing audiences with his controversial pan-Afrikanist beliefs, was set to grace the campus of Morehouse College on March 18 to discuss the prison pipeline. 

The origins of the event began with Antonio Sweeney, a sophomore from Flint, Michigan, who is majoring in Business Administration with a minor in Leadership Studies. He is a part of Morehouse’s Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership (AYCGL). The AYCGL Higher Education in Prisons program is dedicated to supporting Morehouse faculty who teach the humanities to incarcerated people in Georgia prisons. In Dec. 2023, Sweeney met Johnson at a Kwanzaa event in Detroit. 

Photo: Antonio Sweeney (left)

After the event, Sweeney then proposed an idea to Dr. Justin McClinton (C ‘13), a Visiting Professor of Leadership Studies at the AYCGL, to bring Johnson to Morehouse to discuss the prison pipeline. Over the course of Morehouse’s 2023-2024 winter break, both Sweeney and McClinton invited Johnson to speak to students at the college, confirming to the Panther, via email, that the Bank of America Auditorium on campus had been secured for March 18.  

On Feb. 7, before Morehouse released an official statement, Johnson announced that he would be coming to the college on March 18 at 5PM – sparking controversy across the Atlanta University Center (AUC).

Faculty and students, like myself, began to speculate that he would be coming to the school to put on a dramatic display relating to the Black experience. Others expressed disdain for Johnson's sentiments on controversial topics. 

On Feb. 23, the Maroon Tiger published an article titled “Spelhouse Divided: Dr. Umar Johnson's Imminent Arrival,” written by Erinn Gardner and Freddrell Green, that discussed the mixed reactions from students related to Johnson’s political ideologies. 

The article referenced a 2015 interview with The Breakfast Club where Johnson stated, “there’s no conclusive evidence” that people could be born gay. As a result, Dr. Steven Allwood, the Director of Student Counseling Services at Morehouse, told the Maroon Tiger, “I don’t really think Dr. Umar Johnson is the caliber of intellectual that I would like to see here at Morehouse, and a lot of his views I find homophobic, oftentimes sexist, patriarchal, and sometimes simplistic.” 

On the day of the article's release, Sweeney revealed on Instagram that “The Prison Pipeline” event with Johnson had been canceled. Although the event's cancellation cannot be directly attributed to the article, Sweeney expressed his disappointment by stating, “For [Morehouse] to think we can’t think for ourselves is truly disheartening… I don’t agree with everything that Dr. Umar says, but I also don’t agree with everything Kamala Harris says.”

Photo: Antonio Sweeney's Instagram

So the question is, should Johnson be allowed to speak to students despite his controversial nature?

In contradiction to this censorship, Morehouse has previously welcomed other “controversial” figures to speak at the college about a myriad of topics. In March 2023, G Herbo, spoke to students about mental health alongside Dr. Walter Kimbrough. The Chicago-born rapper spoke to students during the Black Men’s Mental Health Pre-Symposium Conversation hosted by the Black Men’s Research Institute. Does G Herbo’s experiences with mental health absolve him of the sexism presented in lyrics like "She suck it and swallow it, that be the reason I'm calling her special,” in his 2018 song, Pac N Dre?

Similarly, Wallo 267, co-host of Million Dollaz Worth of Game, also visited Morehouse students to speak about his life experiences that same month. His past as a formerly incarcerated man–who served 20 years in prison for armed robbery– was not a barrier that interfered with his visit to the college. In my opinion, Wallo being previously incarcerated and sharing his story gave Morehouse students valuable insights. Why should Johnson’s visit to the school be any different?

Neither of these people are above reproach. Students and faculty should not shy away from their conflicting opinions about public figures' statements and decisions. It is in the best interest of all people to create a healthy dialogue that helps individuals respectfully find common ground. 

Two things can be true at once. A person may present controversial opinions; however, they can also make well-informed inferences about the world. Morehouse is an institution that has historically championed student activism and self-expression. So, it is only fitting that Johnson is allowed to speak to students at Morehouse. 

It is important to stimulate a healthy dialogue amongst students about topics relating to the Black community and the AUC. A historically Black college like Morehouse that aims to produce well-balanced men and has a program dedicated to uplifting those that are incarcerated, should be supporting Johnson’s conversation.

The prison system disproportionately affects Black people more than other races. According to the AYCGL website, Georgia has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Nine hundred and sixty eight per 100,000 citizens are incarcerated. The site also states that the racial and ethnic makeup of the incarcerated population is extremely disproportionate. Black citizens are twice as likely as Latinos and three times more likely as whites to end up behind bars in Georgia prisons. These staggering statistics should be discussed in a forum with students to not only inform, but also help them be the change that they wish to see. 

Recently, Johnson appeared on Lil Yachty and Mitch’s podcast, A Safe Place, to discuss topics about the Black community. “A lot of our parents are inadvertently feeding the school to prison pipeline by promoting leisure activity instead of academic reinforcement and Black excellence,” Johnson said during the podcast. Whether agreeable or not, this targeted point shows that Johnson has a clear opinion about the prison system and how it affects Black people. Is this not substantial enough evidence that Johnson would bring great insight to Morehouse regarding this topic? 

Now, this does not excuse any offensive statements made by Johnson. If anything, this opens up the floor for more conversation to be had about all the things that he says. It is important to understand that the makeup of our world is full of different opinions and ideas, but it is also important to cultivate an environment that fosters an open and healthy discourse surrounding topics that significantly impacts our community.

How will we progress if we do not listen to and correct one another when we are wrong? Censorship has only ever led to the silencing of voices and increased divisiveness. At this time, it is important that people stick together more than ever to reach common ground. 

After all, we are all that we’ve got. 


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