On this past Monday I had an opportunity to share a few of my thoughts on Black History Month and what it means to me with my sister-friend, line sister, and fellow CAU alum Nichelle Wilson and her organization Happy Mama Happy Mini!!
And just in case you might have missed it, you can check it out below:
This was such a fun interview and so glad I got the chance to share a few of my thoughts!!
“Considering the past, living in the present, preparing for the future…” ~Dr. G
This above thought has been something that I am always thinking about, but especially during Black History Month. So much of what I and my ancestors experienced plays a huge role in who I am, what I do, and my next steps. With all of the recent discussions about critical race theory, book bans and changing curriculums (just to name a few) normalizing the conversations about Black History Month are needed now more than ever.
Sadly, there are still those who continue to say and believe that Black History Month is not needed or even feel that they should have the choice to have their children opt out of Black History Month lessons…yet many Black and Brown students experience mental trauma and abuse in and outside of their classrooms on a daily basis (that’s another post). But I digress and say to those naysayers once again my response is it is very much needed especially now!! And let me further back up this statement from the father of Black History himself Carter G. Woodson as he states that the legacy of Black History Month (originally named ‘Negro History Week”) was never meant to dictate or limit the exploration of the Black experience, but to bring to the public’s attention important developments that merit emphasis.” In other words, it was always meant to evolve from a week to a month, to everyday dialogue!!
Reflecting on that pushback, I am reminded of why Black History is necessary every time I step foot in my class and a student tells me “I’m their first Black professor…” or when they learn about Black icons like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Ella Baker, or Essex Hemphill and they leave my class amazed and yearning for more because this is the first time that they have even heard their names mentioned. In an almost perfect place, I would love to live in a society where Black history, culture, experiences, literature, music, and more are part of the curriculum, particularly K-12, sadly this is still a struggle. However, the journey continues!!
For some, Black History Month serves as a time to face the past, but at the same can be a time of celebration and joy. And while the past has its dark moments, we are not permanently fixed during that time! As I often tell my students, sometimes we have to sit in the discomfort and process it…sometimes we have to sit in the discomfort and ask the hard questions and also listen to the responses that follow…sometimes we have to sit in the discomfort and think about the ways in which we can grow from it…We have to move from seeing Black History Month as an item that we can check off of our to-do list, or as some form of punishment (can’t see how that would be the case, unfortunately some do feel this way) and see it as a time to expand on our existing knowledge, while learning to build community.
This year, I came into celebrating Black History with a little more optimism partly due to this year’s theme, “Black Health and Wellness”!! (To know more about how each theme is selected see here .) The amazing thing about health and wellness is that it comes in many forms, whether it is scheduling time with a therapist, implementing an exercise regimen, taking time out for self-care, walking your dog, spending time with family and friends, taking a cultural excursion, and so much more! For African Americans, highlighting our health and wellness is essential to the mind, body, and soul! As noted by the Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at USC School of Dramatic Arts, “Black joy is the heartbeat and pulse of our survival, our resiliency, our perseverance, our health and wellbeing.” Despite the struggles that African Americans have and continue to face when it comes to healthcare and wellness, we still persevere!! We are resilient!! So, with that said I charge you with the task of finding that joy through health and wellness!! And while you are at it, take some time to discover the many ways in which African Americans have contributed to the world of health and wellness.
Now you know I cannot let you go without sharing some goodies!! Just in case you need some additional reading (or you want to update your list) materials check out these reading and viewing lists to help keep the spirit of Black History going even after February has ended!
As another February comes to a close, remember Black History Month is another opportunity to continuously learn and grow! Even amidst all that is happening, knowing that I can reflect on the many experiences and achievements of Black folks always gives me a sense of joy and pride!
Ahhhhh it’s that time of the year again! It’s a Saturday morning 8:30 am in Richmond, VA on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The fall/winter season of graduation is upon us!! One thing I do like about VCU is that we have graduation twice a year, for those who finish in May and those that finish in December. December graduation this year was my first time participating in the entire school celebration at the Siegel Center here on the VCU campus. And this year was extra special as I had the awesome opportunity of hooding my former student and sister friend Dr. Lisa Winn Bryan!! Participating in this joyous moment is one that I will treasure for a lifetime. I remember when she asked me to take part in this incredible moment I had to make sure I was not dreaming, causing this is a serious thing. And what really got me was that morning as all the graduates are preparing for the big moment, Lisa walks in and sees me and she immediately begins to tear up and I had to fight back tears. That was the beginning of what would be one of the most rewarding days in my professorial career.
Graduation is ALWAYS one of my favorite times of the year here at VCU and I get to celebrate it twice once in the spring and also in the fall. This momentous occasion is one that with each year will become more and more special. This is what happens when you become invested in your craft and the students who play a role in its shaping.
This semester has been about self-determination and perseverance for not just myself, but especially for my students. Each one of them in their own unique way has charted a path to success on their own terms. I say this every semester, but it warrants being mentioned being a professor/teacher is way more than providing weekly/daily lessons and educating the future…it’s about being a listening ear, parting growing wisdom/advice, showing support in-person and via Zoom, creating platforms for stories to be told, and as my Soror and the first president of National Association of Colored Women (NACW) Mary Church Terrell once said “lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go.” Graduation is the culmination of all the hard work that students take part in during their academic matriculation, and we as professors get to see the fruits of their labor flourish. I am always grateful that I get to change lives regardless of how big or small.
This change was specifically seen in my Capstone Senior Seminar course! I had the opportunity to mentor 7 AFAM seniors as they completed their senior thesis research projects. The topics ranged from the importance of Black motorcycle clubs in the Hampton Roads, to the issue of colorism for Black men, to the need for academic safe spaces, to better representation in comic books, to healing and processing Black mental health in Black matriarchal figures. And if their oral presentations were just an appetizer to their research papers….I cannot wait till the main course!! I am so proud of each of them and the work that they have done. Overcoming fears, sharing their personal stories, being vulnerable, and taking risks that will make them better scholars and people!!
Look out world, there’s a new set scholars entering and they have something to say!!
We are one month away from the end of the year, but the reading never stops!! This month I went heavy on the YA books and novels with a splash of the diaspora!! I had to make sure I included my young readers in this list!!
So remember to pre-order, add to your cart, visit your local bookstore, and grab a copy or two!! And without further ado check out the recommendations below:
In continuing with our Summertime Conversationson ‘Feeling Good’, Kaniqua and I dive into the culinary world to talk about the importance of Black culinary traditions and their relationship to happiness and and joy!! Now I will forewarn you, you will probably want to have a snack on hand, or immediately afterwards, when catching this episode!!
Inspired by Nina Simone’s 1965 classic song “Feelin’ Good”, Summertime Conversations on “Feelin’ Good”: Exploring the Lived Experience of Black Joy, is a freeform dialogue that foregrounds how people of African descent create communal agency and collective resilience via the cultivation of joy.
During this episode, Kaniqua and I will discuss and explore traditional Black foodways and how they contribute to the communal expression of collective Black joy and happiness.
Check out the video below:
For more Summertime Conversations, you can go here !!
So upon walking through the doors, I am greeted with smiles and hello’s by a few VMFA workers, I pick up a brochure and I immediately see a thing of beauty… SLAB, 2021 (1990 Cadillac Brougham d’Elegance with custom accessories) [see below]…before you even walk into the actual exhibition one has to take a drive-by (rather walk-by lol) this classic vehicle, which in many ways sets the tone.
This clean ride brings some joy into my heart and definitely made me smile. But what would come next stops me in my tracks. In the distance, I hear this faint but “chill up your spine” sound reminiscent of “Strange Fruit” sung by Billie Holiday. And as i get closer of course my ears do not deceive me at all, it’s this one lyric “Black bodies swingin’ in the southern breeze” on loop… One moment you hear and see Billie Holiday and then the next you hear and see Jill Scott, while simultaneously you see this video of a little Black girl on a swing enjoying the simple pleasures in life! I was like WOW, I’m just getting started and they GOT me!!
The Dirty South in so many ways is about identity, preservation, labor, expression, pain, joy, faith, tradition, and so much more. There were many moments when I would either get goosebumps or this tingle of my spine ( a couple of times I felt both) after hearing a jarring sonic sound, or gazing at an image that left me speechless. With each room I never knew what to expect, which made the exhibition like this exploratory adventure. But it was also like a Southern scavenger hunt, where I had this internal list of artists and themes that I knew I would have to find. Some of these artists/creatives that I would find included Bisa Butler, Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Nick Cave, Clementine Hunter, Fahamu Pecou, Sun Ra, Deborah Roberts, among many others!!
The Southern Black experience and culture was truly present so much so that I definitely had a few out of body moments where my spirit momentarily left, eventually making its way back to my body. So often the south gets placed into a singular box, but this exhibition made it very clear that is definitely not the case. As I always say #RepresentationMatters and that message was loud and clearly (literally and figuratively)!! Your thinking of the South will definitely be transformed. Blackness is unapologetically centered, but is enhanced by a spiritual conjuring, the regional inclusions, the Black queer voice, the labor, the children, the sonic vibrations, and the persistence of Black folks from the past all the way to the future!! So many stories, so many voices, so many points of view, just so much to take in…this was a time where I welcomed the feeling of being overwhelmed….My cup runneth over!!
Another moment worth mentioning that really made a huge impact was the way in which children were represented. I appreciated that not only did I see the pain and trauma, but also the way in which many of the images of the children were so innocent, simple and carefree. Some of the photographs like the one below took me back to my childhood days of going to church with mama and grandma and dozing off into a brief slumber on their lap, or flipping through the hymnals and singing along with the choir….ohhhh the memories.
Nothing was off limits in The Dirty South, trust you will get it all and some!! Valerie Cassel Oliver, who serves as the exhibition curator creates a playing field that hits several home runs!! You will leave having many definitions of what the south represents. And without spoiling the last feature of the exhibition, I will say this just make sure you are prepared for every emotion to seep out of your body, just make sure to release and let it go…
Mississippi, Georgia (Atlanta), Alabama, Tennessee (Memphis), Texas (Houston), Louisiana (New Orleans), Florida (Miami) even parts of Africa and the galaxy have space in the The Dirty South exhibition. So if you have a chance, or you will be in the Richmond area it would be worth your while to stop by and check out this amazing aesthetic, cultural, and sonic experience!!
The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse will be at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts through September 6th, 2021.
In honor of #BlackMusicMonth, Dr. Robinson and I wanted to make sure we brought you all another episode of Summertime Conversations on “Feeling Good”: Exploring the Lived Experience of Black Joy!! Our latest episode is a dialogue on Black Music Month as well as a ‘Sonic Curation of Happiness via Black Music’!!
Check it out below…
And if you wanna check out our “Black Joy & Happiness” Soundtrack that was discussed on this episode, check it out below!!
“It’s an artist duty to reflect the times in which we live.”
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” ~Toni Morrison
Today marks the 156th year since the message of freedom was delivered to those enslaved in Texas, also known as Juneteenth (portmanteau of June and nineteenth)!! A celebration of emancipation, liberation, and Black Joy!!
And what is Juneteenth? Juneteenth refers to June 19th, 1865 the day when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to inform the 250,000 enslaved Black people that they were free. Keep in mind the Emancipation Proclamation (which ended slavery) had went into effect January 1st, 1863 (also the start of watch night services), so Texas would not get this memo for almost two and half years later. And people wonder why Black people cannot wait for change! Why we are persistent about consistent upward and forward movement! Why are Black people not quick to trust, because of past failures and screw ups like what happened in Galveston, TX. Nevertheless, the chains are breaking and the truth is being revealed.
In a way there has been this sudden awakening regarding the Juneteenth holiday. Much like how the message of freedom was delayed in its delivery to those enslaved in Texas, one could say there is a delayed recognition (on a larger scale) of the Juneteenth holiday. With all of the the national protests, police violence, and continuous murder of Black and Brown bodies of last year the U.S. would be reminded of past moments of resistance and endurance. This acknowledgement rebirth is what I like to think of as a memory survival. As Isabel Wilkerson writes in her amazing book, The Warmth of Other Suns:The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” And thank goodness the memory of Juneteenth will always be present, because we cannot afford to have any more delays, these are moments that we need right now and always!
So when did I learn about Juneteenth, I remember it being brought up during one of my summer classes as an Upward Bound student, and in passing from one of my aunts who lives in Texas. But I would really learn about Juneteenth while attending Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA) and while out grocery shopping and a young man handed me a flyer for a Juneteenth celebration that was set to take place. Outside of the above-mentioned instances, I did not have any previous knowledge. Now I am not surprised by this, nor am I surprised that many other Black folks are only just now aware of what Juneteenth is and its significance. Even though I may not be from Texas, I take Juneteenth as my Independence Day/Emancipation Day, because clearly July 4th is not!!
Juneteenth is not only a day to celebrate, but also another day to inform the masses, continue speaking out on injustices, and always a day to remember! It’s also another excuse for me to celebrate my Blackness and create more ways to express Black joy and agency. This holiday is also an opportunity to instill values of self-improvement, racial uplift, and reclamation of the family unit. These values were personified through religious sermons and the singing of negro spirituals, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, rodeos, and the preservation of slave food traditions and delicacies (ex. BBQ and soul food). Juneteenth is another holiday that allows Black folks to commune and fellowship and just be free with ourselves!! This freedom has been further expressed with the creation of various websites and the Juneteenth flag:
Created in 1997 by activist and founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) Ben Haith, the flag consists of a star, burst, arc, and the colors red, white, and blue. According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF)the star is a nod to the Lone Star State (where Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1865), but also stands for the freedom of every Black American in all 50 states, the burst represents an outline surrounding the star meant to reflect a nova— or new star—this represents a new beginning for all, and the arc represents a new horizon, fresh opportunities and promising futures for Black Americans. The colors are also reminiscent of the United States flag, this was intentional to show that the enslaved African Americans and their descendants are also free Americans. Even in our symbols there is always a deep, layered meaning attached.
In 2021, Juneteenth has become more than just a holiday, but in many ways a movement!! Not only are school curriculums slowly changing, but we are also becoming more informed about the holiday through popular media. A few examples include:
High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America [Netflix]: Episode 4, ‘Freedom’
Atlanta (FX Network): Season 1, Episode 9, ‘Juneteenth’ [Television]
Black-ish (ABC): Season 4, Episode 1, ‘Juneteenth’ [Television]
And as of 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service all states, except Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota, recognize/celebrate Juneteenth in some sort of fashion. This personally became significant for me because upon moving to Virginia on last year Juneteenth became a permanent statewide holiday (following in the footsteps of Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania). The fact that Virginia made this a statewide holiday is truly significant considering the states past history and the fact that the state is known as being the capital of the Confederacy…Interesting how tides are beginning to change!!
In the end when I think about Juneteenth I am optimistic…I am hopeful…I am excited. Optimistic that one day it will become a national holiday, and that it will truly get the recognition that it deserves. Juneteenth is a holiday even worthy of being acknowledged internationally. Hopeful that the celebration of this holiday is not just for a moment or season, but for an infinity of lifetimes. Excited because with each passing day more and more people are learning about the importance and significance of Juneteenth!! Even if this is your first year, make sure it is not your last!!
And just in case you need a few references for later reading and viewing check out the following link!!