Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts: “I Made It! First Year Down…A lifetime to go!!”

So as of last week Tuesday, I officially made it through my first year on the tenure-track at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA), [ALL GRADES ARE IN] and what a roller coaster ride!! As we all know this was an “interesting” time to be a student, parent, and teacher as it relates to the academic world. And this year was one I will never forget! For example, as noted above this was my first year on the tenure-track, which means not only did I start a new job in these unique circumstances, but I also moved to a whole new state and city in the middle of a pandemic! Many have asked, how have I coped and managed the move during these time? Well my answer to that is…I really did not have a choice, you kind of have to ride the wave or it will take you out. Needless to say, I have had a great deal of support professionally and personally, so that has made this transition a lot easier to navigate (Thank goodness for my many villages!!). Also, the fact that I am in a place that I am loving and doing what I love makes this roller coaster ride a fun one!

Now mind you, I have been teaching pretty much since I was in my doctoral program, so thankfully this academic year was not my first rodeo. However, it was my first experience with teaching full-time virtually. For many people like me, their places of sanctuary were quickly transformed into places of work and everything that came with it. I must admit, teaching virtually this academic year further confirmed that my preference for learning and teaching will ALWAYS be physically in the classroom. Not being in the classroom, physically, made me miss a lot things that I truly value. The presence of the students, literally seeing their faces, the interactions, the energy that permeates in a room, actually going into my office and seeing other faculty and staff, meeting other colleagues for coffee/tea, participating in on-campus activities, and so much more. During and after this school year, I would be more in tune with the long and short-term effects of teaching and learning in a virtual space. For some it worked, others not so much…This past year I witnessed not only students struggling, but faculty and staff as well. To be expected to essentially turn “water into fine wine” within days and weeks was quite the feat. Now in a way we accomplished what was asked of us, but that is not to say we did not come out without some bruises and wounds. I have come to realize that it is ok, and necessary, to acknowledge the stressful moments, but it is what you do to move past the stress that also counts. Lots of lessons learned! All in all, we survived and in many ways thrived!

Part of moving forward for me was participating in my first commencement post-PhD graduation, and recognizing our students in the Department of African American Studies! Seeing the excitement as our students proudly wore their cap and gowns get recognized and cross the finish line was a moment I will never forget and always cherish (You can see a snap shot below)!!

(Top image- 2021 VCU African American Studies undergraduates; Bottom images-Dr. G reading/recognizing our AFAM students during the commencement ceremony for VCU College of Humanities)

So what’s next for Dr. G??!! Well for the first time in 5 years I will not be teaching in the summer. It took a minute to digest that I would not be teaching this summer, but I will say that I do have this sense of relief. In past years, it just became a part of my norm/routine, but as priorities change so does the routine. So, instead of teaching I will be in the archives full-time starting next month in Chicago! I was fortunate to receive a summer fellowship through the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC), where I will be able to dive into the crates and examine the presence and importance (past and present) of Black female creatives and characters in comics and cartoons specifically within Chicago. I am really excited to have this opportunity, as it will play a huge role in my upcoming book project.

Evening Chicago Skyline

And after spending some time in the Chi’ I will come back to Richmond and tackle the archives on my own campus (VCU) and dive into the Comic Arts Collection! Let’s just say it will definitely be a productive summer, and I am very excited to get to work!

Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975) Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries

In addition to the work, you gotta make sure you get a chance to leisurely play a little bit! And with certain places returning back to some sense of normalcy, I will definitely continue exploring my new city (and other cities) while also squeezing in some R&R. Some of that R&R will be me getting my read on!! And I already have a few books that I cannot wait to read (a few you can find on my monthly book recommendations list). My balcony is going to get a lot of attention!!

Plus, this summer is going to be all about discovery and re-discovery. As I quickly approach ’40’ in a few months, I am continuing to learn more and more about myself (professionally and personally). The summer is a perfect time to recharge, recalibrate, and rejuvenate!!

Now that the school year is finished, what is on your agenda? How will you spend your time this summer?

~Dr. G

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts..., Feature Spotlight, On the Desk...

Dr. G’s Upcoming Events

Here are a couple of events happening tomorrow and Friday:

*April 22nd, 2021 (8pm/ET)– “Art, Politics, and Social Justice in Times of Crisis.”-Art History Graduate Studies Symposium (Virtual Keynote Speaker)…Art History program (Department of Art)[University of Memphis] (Memphis, TN)

To Register to Attend Click Here

*April 23rd, 2021 (3-3:20 pm/EST)– “Inclusive and Accessible Teaching Practices using Media and Popular Culture”-2021 Virtual Symposia-Inclusive Teaching Practices (Symposium Speaker)…VCU-Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence [Virginia Commonwealth University] (Richmond, VA)

Inclusive and Accessible Teaching Practices using Media and Popular Culture

In 2021, pop culture is not just for entertainment purposes. Classrooms are now prime spaces to facilitate and leverage ‘pop culture’ into open dialogues and discussions for students to engage with various classroom topics. 

To Register to Attend Click Here

Photo by Jonas Kakaroto on Pexels.com
Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts…

2021 Black History Month Reflections…*

“Taking steps that lead to action, that result in change.” ~Dr. G

This year’s celebration of Black History Month hit me a little different this time around. Not that I do not think about and enjoy the fact that we highlight the achievements and success of Black and African diasporic people; I think I now ponder more about what Black History Month has become. Keep in mind, every February I prepare my mind for the year’s celebration, I become on high alert to see who is temporarily stepping up their efforts to celebrate Black History. Every year we see this rise in celebrating and acknowledging the Black/African American experience from various companies, organizations, schools/universities, businesses, etc. 2021 becomes even more on high alert with how the aforementioned are responding/reacting and celebrating this month due to last year’s protests and the many deaths that happened due to racially motivated violence, police brutality, and systemic oppression.

These days as an Assistant Professor in African American Studies, Black History Month is a day-to-day routine. As a matter of fact, I recently recall having a conversation with a couple of my colleagues about celebrating Black History Month. One asked, what should AFAM/AAS departments do to celebrate Black History Month? And I quickly responded with “we celebrate Black History Month 365, every semester, every academic year…we’re and AFAM department that’s what we do naturally.” As a kid, Black History Month was all about coloring pictures of historical figures (i.e. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Matthew Henson), watching an assortment of documentaries, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”, and participating in my church’s “Black History Month” presentation. In high school and college, the celebration shifted to getting deeper into the history and achievements of Black people. It also became an opportunity to have more discussions and conversations about the above with not just other Black people, but ALL people. I will say each phase of my life, up to this current moment has and always been about not just celebrating but staying informed, embracing a deeper sense of pride, continuous acknowledgement, and making sure other people realize this is not just a 28-day effort.

Starting out as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson, his intentions were very clear…educate young African Americans about their own heritage, and the achievements of their ancestors. Woodson dedicated much of his life to ensure that history would be re-written and that the Black/African American population would not be ignored. He believed, “the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization.” This challenge of inserting Black Americans into history was no easy task for Woodson as he and his colleagues struggled to meet the demand for course materials and other resources (sound familiar…). But this would not stop Woodson from doing the work (Officially the celebration became a month-long in 1976)! According to Woodson, making this effort a reality was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the [Black] race.

Many often ask why February, but Woodson selected this month due to the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two prominent figures whose historic achievements played a role in the African Americans population. Ultimately, what Woodson hoped is that the public celebrations moved beyond just simply being one week. For him Black History was never meant to be confined into one week, he actually sought for it to be eliminated and see that Black History became fundamental to American History.

Now what becomes interesting over the years is the critiques and naysayers of Black History Month. Some have argued that “Black History Month could reduce complex historical figures to overly simplified objects of ‘hero worship,’” and others have even described it as racist (this becomes very interesting how the celebration of achievements and triumphs is seen as racist…but that is for another time). Then you have specific critics like actors Morgan Freeman and Stacey Dash who criticized the concept of declaring one month as Black History Month. Freeman would note, “there is no White History Month and there should be no Black History Month…Black History is American History. While I find some slender truths to the above thought, unfortunately Freeman is not fully informed. Freeman also noted (and co-signed by Dash) that the only way to get rid of racism is to “stop talking about it” and this is where you completely lose me…It is not that easy. His critique is very much surface-level. It is actually quite the opposite. And even if we agree with pieces of Freeman’s argument, unfortunately not everyone feels the same way about Black History as American History. This is evident considering we still have to constantly remind people that Black Lives Matters! It would be amazing if Blackness and Black life was normalized, sadly we still have work to do when it comes to this endeavor.

As a federally recognized and global celebration (Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom celebrate Black History Month in October) in 2021, I realize more and more why Black History Month must exist. The celebration has moved beyond the classroom, textbooks are no longer the only source of information, Black History Month is in real time. Instagram in 2018 created its first ever Black History Month program, which featured various initiatives such as a #BlackGirlMagic partnership with Spotify and launching their #CelebrateBlackCreatives program. Various streaming platforms like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime highlight content that centers Black Voices; and in 2020 Target Corporation created a marketing campaign “Black Beyond measure” that features Black creators and entrepreneurs. Additionally, this year Apple launched a variety of ways to celebrate Black History Month through the App Store Black History Month Hub along with introducing the Black Unity Collection. Many of the abovementioned initiatives not only celebrate, acknowledge, and highlight Black culture but are also financially donating to numerous organizations as a part of “promoting and achieving” equality and civil rights nationally and globally. Although I am sometimes weary of these collaborations, my hope like Woodson, is that it becomes a part of the normal regular conversation and not just during a certain when you can say you satisfied your diversity requirement.

There is a never-ending well of knowledge as it relates to Black History and culture, and we are far beyond just simply only talking about enslavement and civil rights. We must continue to shine a light on the whole entire picture of African Americans. A wealth of knowledge awaits us, not just Black people but everyone!! We are not a monolith, but we are worthy to be celebrated!!

—-

As we reflect and close out another Black History Month celebration, be reminded that it will never be wrong to celebrate each year in February, but know that the fun can and does continue year-round!!

Image result for things to do

28 Things You Can Do For Black History Month And Even After…

  1. Educate yourself by digging through the archives of an African American-centered library and/or resource center…Make an active, regular effort to learn about the many facets of Black experiences and culture…Visit a museum/cultural center dedicated to Black History and culture
  2. Trace your family history (Ancestry.com, 23andMe.com)
  3. Support a Black-owned business
  4. Visit/Donate to an Historically Black College or University HBCU
  5. Host a Family & Friends Black film marathon
  6. Create a Book Club that highlights Black authors
  7. Tune into a podcast that discusses Black life and culture
  8. Create a soundtrack/playlist that explores the history of Black musicians and artists
  9. Call out systemic racism, stereotypes, prejudices, implicit bias and injustices
  10. Review the timeline of how Black History came to be
  11. In honor of the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement, host a themed open mic night
  12. In the workplace, have regular, healthy dialogues and conversations about Black life and history [Be thoughtful about inclusion, diversity, and collaborations.]
  13. Support Black radio stations, Black press, and Black newspapers
  14. Follow and support Black artists (i.e. comic book, manga, anime, illustrator, painter)
  15. Incorporate a regular inclusive curriculum (i.e. create lesson plans) in your classroom that inspires and educates (K-12 and College)
  16. Follow a Black historian, scholar, activist organization, foundation on social media (this provides exposure for them and you get to learn something new on daily/weekly/monthly basis)
  17. Have a game night with family and friends using one of these games (Black Card Revoked and CultureTags)
  18. Host a Virtual Wine Tasting with a Black-owned wine and or support/highlight Black sommeliers, winemakers, and businesses
  19. Host a dinner party, try a new recipe and/or create a weekly menu inspired by Black/African Diasporic cuisines
  20. Organize/create a Black History Internet Scavenger Hunt that uses questions that pertain to African American people and moments
  21. Participate in a Story Time reading Black authored children books via your local library/Tune into a “StoryCorps” story that centers Black voices in conversations about Black history, identity, struggles, and joy”!
  22. Volunteer your time with an organization, non-profit or charity (i.e. Happy Mama Happy Mini, Black Girls CODE, National Society of Black Engineers, United Negro College Fund, Color of Change, National Council of Black Studies, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Trans Women of Color Collective, Audre Lorde Project, Million Hoodies, Black Women’s Blueprint, and many more) that empowers and uplifts Black diasporic communities.
  23. Find ways to celebrate Black Joy!! (going to the park, streaming a concert, attending a sports event, etc.)
  24. Talk about the importance of journalism as well as its limitations with regards to Black social and cultural movements
  25. Create a monthly mural project that celebrates/honors Black artistic movements (past and present)
  26. Create a YouTube video diary that documents Black experiences
  27. Learn about Black history and culture through the lens of Black photographers
  28. Understand that Black Lives Matter!!

~Dr. G.

*Jointly published on “Happy Mama Happy Mini

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts…

“Distinguished Alumni”

Guess what??!! I got some exciting news to share with you guys!!

So a couple of weeks ago I get a call from a “217” phone number, I immediately recognized the number as it is from my hometown of Champaign, IL. Fast forward a few seconds, and I would learn that not only had I been nominated but also selected for one of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF)-2021 Distinguished Alumni Awards (Centennial High School)! Let me tell you my whole day, week, month was made with that one phone call. I had no idea that I would even be considered for such an honor, growing up in Champaign, IL was not always full of “roses and cherries.” Not everyone was supportive, many said my goals were too high, I was too ambitious, or that I should re-consider my career path. This type of language can be very dangerous, detrimental, and have adverse effects on a young high school student. Thankfully, this would not sway or discourage me. And fortunately, there were many teachers who motivated, pushed my thinking, served as a mentor, and reminded me of my full potential.

According to the CUSF site, The Distinguished Alumni Awards recognizes “graduates whose achievements, strength of character, and citizenship serve as role models to inspire and challenge today’s youth.” Moreover, knowing that I received this award, confirms all the hard work, dedication, and that it was worth taking a different, unique and creative path. I do hope that the work I do inspires not just the youth of Champaign-Urbana, but any young person who wants to be great!! And knowing that I am joining such alums as Olympians Bonnie Blair and Nancy Thies Marshall, Trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, Attorney & Miss America Erika Harold, Film critic and Journalist Roger Ebert among many others, I am truly honored to be a part of an esteemed cadre of leaders.

It will be 22 years this June 1st since graduating from Centennial High School (Class of 1999), and I can still remember walking the halls, sitting in the classrooms, playing on the basketball court.

Graduation Day and Senior Picture

Ahhhh good ol’ Champaign…Thank you for the memories, you are MAJOR part of who I am today….There is no Dr. Grace D. Gipson, PhD without Champaign or Centennial High School!

For more information on the award and my feature see here!!

~Dr. G

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts…

“First Week of Class…”

So I just finished my first week of class for the Spring 2021 semester here at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, and let me just say I am looking forward to an exciting semester!

This semester I get the pleasure of teaching one of my favorite classes, Black Sites and Sights: Blackness in Popular Culture. I have taught this course on multiple occasions and every semester it’s like uncovering a new treasure. The students always bring a ton of energy and not only do they learn things, push their thinking, and transform their thoughts; but, I also am able to reap some rewards.

One of things that I do to start out the semester is have the students complete a “Course Survey”. Included in this survey is a list of questions which include their top films/movies, favorite songs and artists, and one topic they would like to discuss this semester. As it relates to the songs and artists, I typically create a Course Playlist on Spotify. And let me tell you that compiling that playlist is like getting a new lesson in music. Now some of the artists I am familiar with not necessarily a fan of, some are even on one of my own personal playlists (i.e. Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, SZA, Jazmine Sullivan, J. Cole, D’Angelo, The Internet, and more) and then there are others who I am not as familiar with (i.e. Joji, M-83, Earthgang, Koi Childs, among others). Every semester that I teach this course I learn new artists and/or songs, and realize that my taste in music always adds a new flavor. Creating this playlist offers me an opportunity to look through my student’s eyes and ears, while at the same time understand what they vibe to through their AirPods.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

That’s just the beginning, because once the class really gets going the fireworks really go off. Once I gather the student’s preliminary information, then we dive in and start with the theorization of popular culture and its relationship to Blackness. This first week we covered everything from Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Cannot Dismantle the Master’s House,” bell hooks-“Loving Blackness as Political Resistance”, Stuart Hall’s-“What is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?”, and Angela Nelson’s-“The Repertoire of Black Popular Culture”. To no surprise my student’s were all in!! This was a good sign and great start to the semester!

Needless to say, this semester much like my personal and professional journey is a ride I am excited to be on! I very much look forward to what is ahead, and I am sure you will hear more stories as the semester progresses, so stay tuned!

Cheers to a new semester!!

~Dr. G

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts

Remembering “A Day On Not a Day Off”…

A little over 22 years ago, I remember giving an acceptance speech for receiving one of the Annual MLK Jr. “Living the Dream” Scholarships in my hometown of Champaign, IL. This was award given to senior high school students within Champaign County who were nominated by local teachers, pastors, and/or community leaders. I remember getting the news that I was selected and was filled joy and pride! Receiving this award was significant and carried a tremendous honor. In addition to receiving the honor, each recipient received a copy of the 1991 book “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.” and was given the task of preparing a mini acceptance speech that spoke to the theme of Dr. King’s “Living the Dream”. Preparing this speech was not necessarily the easiest thing to do, as I wanted to make sure I did justice to Dr. King’s memory. But, when I sat down to write it out I just told myself be honest with your words and speak from the mind and heart. And as I would recite my words, there would be a plethora of thoughts and emotions running through my mind. A few thoughts included, “wow this is such an exciting honor,” … “even though I am young, I know I can bring about change,” … “I too have a dream,” … “this is just the beginning,” … At 17-years old and college-bound my journey was already shifting into gear!!

So as I reflect on another year and another MLK Birthday Celebration, I think back to all the many moments in which I have given my time and service to making sure this day was not simply just a day off from school or work. For pretty much all my life, I participated in some sort of service activity, panel discussion, workshop, or attended a special event. It just came natural that on the third Monday in January I would be doing my part to keep the dream and legacy of Dr. King alive and well! Nowadays, I make sure to keep that tradition going not just on the one day in January, but throughout the year. As a professor, regardless of the course I teach Dr. King’s memory is discussed. Whether it’s his “I Have a Dream” speech, or “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon, his interesting comparison and relationship with Malcolm X, his contributions to the civil rights movement, or the fact that there is a street (gotta factor in the specific neighborhood) named after him in just about every state in the United States. I will be honest ever since I first learned about him in my pre-K class, I make it my business to gain a new piece of knowledge about Dr. King. He was more than just the “I Have a Dream” speech guy…He was flawed, courageous, charismatic, bold, and simply a human being! At such a young age he was already engulfed in the movement! Knowing that he was the same age I am today (39) when his life was taken, reminds me of all the work he did and would have continued to do!! Which means while there is still breath and life in my body, I still have time and will continue to do my part to make an impact!

“The time is always right to do what is right.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When it is all said and done, it will be forever be ingrained that this holiday is not just simply a day off, but a day on to reflect, take action, and do something great!!

~Dr. G.


Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts…

What better way to start 2021 than by finally launching my website!! Launching Black Future Feminist has been a long overdue endeavor. Ever since I finished my PhD in 2019, I knew I wanted (and needed) to have a website. With each passing day, I realized the importance of tracking one’s journey personally and professionally. Black Future Feminist as a website creates a space that will allow me to share with the masses my inner thoughts, important ideas, significant moments, creative tools, expressions of joy, and hopefully make some sort of impact!

So you ask what is a “Black Future Feminist”? As a Black woman who identifies as a Black feminist and an Afrofuturist, I was always trying to figure out a singular way to blend these two frameworks/ways of thinking together. The work that I do within my research, my teaching, and my personal life is always centered around Blackness, gender, and the future. Plus, it is essential that I remind myself as well as others that “there are Black people in the future.” So when it was all said and done I came up with this definition, a Black Future Feminist is someone “who is actively working and living for the future, always seeking to give voice to ALL Black women’s experiences, and is always fighting against the struggles of racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, classism, all every other -isms.” Through this naming and defining, I aim to reflect those words into action via this site and beyond!!

Let me tell you I am thrilled and excited to share this part of me! Whether it’s getting the latest on what book I’m reading, television show I’m tuned into, movie I recommend, or public lecture that I’m giving, I just hope you enjoy the ride!!

~Dr. G

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com