A Friend Returns

Poet-performer Dr. Amanda Kemp came back to campus for a second time this year as Haverford’s Friend in Residence.

Dr. Amanda Kemp, a gifted, vibrant poet-performer who blends theater, activism, spirituality, and history in her work, visited Haverford’s campus in March for the second time this year as part of the College’s Friend in Residence program. Kemp’s latest weeklong visit included a workshop, a talk, and a performance that featured dancing, singing, and spoken-word recitation.

The Friend in Residence program, which is sponsored by the President’s Office and the Office of Quaker Affairs, has brought a distinguished, experienced Quaker activist or thinker to campus annually since 2010 to interact extensively with students and faculty, bridging the gap between the College and the larger Quaker community.

“My personal goal is to bring a diversity of Quakers through the program to show that Quakers around the world, and even in the United States, are much more diverse than people might think,” said Walter Sullivan, director of Quaker Affairs at Haverford. “I’m interested in bringing Quakers whose work is of interest to current students… This year, we chose to bring Dr. Amanda Kemp whose work is really about using performance art to build a culture more committed to racial justice.”

The events that Kemp facilitated this semester included “Saying the Wrong Thing,” an interactive workshop for creating strategies to build relationships across racial lines, and a talk, “Show Me the Franklins,” in which she discussed how she used historical documents to develop her performance about enslaved people in the lives of Benjamin Franklin and John Woolman. Kemp’s visit culminated in Making the Invisible Visible, a visual and audible spectacle in Zubrow Commons that included musicians, singers, and spoken-word artists, including on-campus groups such as slam poetry club Lethal Expression, a cappella group The Outskirts, and new Haverford band Baby Bush.

In addition to her public events, Kemp was also able to visit various classes on campus. She was engaged in conversations with nearly a dozen classes over the course of this academic year, including four first-year writing seminars. She enjoyed not only helping students digest concepts or learning strategies, but also hearing about students’ individual perspectives during class discussions.

“Those academic settings, even though we were talking about academics, they feel personal… they feel more intimate,” she said. “The way I teach is I really like to know what you think… I like the two-way dialogic process.”

The “two-way street” model is something that Kemp tried to incorporate in all her interactions on campus, in classrooms and otherwise. Though she is a seasoned performer, her participation in Making the Invisible Visible was limited to an emcee-type role, allowing other community voices to take center stage.

“I think I do inspire people, but what I also really want to do is support the community where I go into finding and articulating their own voices, into listening to each other, honoring each other,” she explained. “You can invite someone in to be great, which is great, but you’re great too, and I feel like I want to make my time with you here an opportunity to realize your greatness.”

Dr. Amanda Kemp giving her talk on historical documents in Quaker and Special Collections.
Dr. Amanda Kemp giving her talk on historical documents in Quaker and Special Collections.

Kemp’s first on-campus residency was back in October, during which time she lead an interactive workshop on “Engaging Race Questions,” gave a public talk on “Working as an Artist, Change Maker, and Intellectual,” and presented a multi-media performance, #SayHerName: Celebrating Black Women in Resistance. A resident of Lancaster, Pa., Kemp utilized her proximity to engage in a second visit to Haverford this academic year, which allowed her to continue conversations that she started with certain student groups last semester, and learn from her first visit as she led a second round of events this spring.

Her very first event when she returned to campus was Inspira: The Power of the Spiritual, an improvisational presentation that incorporated various spiritual music into a performance that invited viewers to create a space to contemplate grief and empowerment alike.

“What I wanted,” she said of the show, “was something that was going to delve into the pain, but we were going to break through it to our strength, to our support and love. I only realized I needed that, though, because of my experience [on campus] in the fall.”

Kemp’s residency was a stellar example of a program that Sullivan believes enhances the Haverford community by giving its members a great opportunity, “to meet real Quakers and see how they play out their values in their lives, and ground [our] conversation about ‘Quaker Values’ in some real-life examples.” Kemp’s visits gave students and faculty a powerful and multifaceted display of what manifested Quakerism can look like.

“I feel like this has been a very, in Quaker terms, ‘covered’ residency,” said Kemp. “It’s been very blessed.”

-Michael Weber ’19

Photos by Rae Yuan ’19