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Find the stories. Make lesson plans. Put it online.
That’s what a team of students working for the weekly webcast Left of Black was tasked with this summer, but it wasn’t so simple. The webcast showcasing scholars, artists, musicians, just completed its 8th season. That meant there were nearly 250 videos and guest interviews to sort through, many of which hadn’t been in circulation since they first aired years ago.
With funding from Story+, a 6-week summer research program in the Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI), the students, two graduate and two undergraduate, set out to accomplish the mission. Using their respective skills of creating lesson plans, video editing, website building and some acquired new skills, they found interesting stories in the Left of Black archive and turned them into online teaching modules for middle- and high-school students.
The enrichment modules include a video clip derived from a Left of Black episode, a lesson plan and a “digital student experience,” as well as supplemental reading. The Story+ Left of Black team exceeded their initial goal of creating two modules — the team was able to produce four — and made their final presentation at a FHI research symposium on Wednesday, June 27 at Smith Warehouse.
The themes covered in the modules are: service and citizenship, the cultural significance of Black barbershops, the role of music in the Black Power Movement, and Black armed resistance. Each module includes discussion questions, timelines, vocabulary and further reading and is in alignment with the state’s common core standards. The digital experiences and lesson plans can be accessed online here: https://sites.duke.edu/leftofblackenrichment.
Duke undergraduates Ce’Ondra Ellison and Malcolm Brown had both taken classes in Duke’s Department of African & African American Studies and were passionate about what themes and characters they might find.
“This information is so lacking,” said Ellison, an African-American Studies major from High Point, N.C. “I am hoping this work will have long-lasting impact on education.”
Brown was enthusiastic about the project, and quickly grasped the technical aspects of the project like animating a grandmother for a video clip about Black armed resistance.
Graduate students Allison Raven and Nicole Higgins each had prior experience teaching in classrooms and creating lesson plans.
The Story+ experience “allowed me to stay connected to work I had been doing before with high school teachers, which is easy to lose in academia,” Higgins said.
“I think we have been extraordinarily lucky with our team. None of us knew each other before beginning the project. For something that relies so heavily on teamwork, this could have gone really badly, but we all balance each other really well and work well together. And I loved the collaborative aspect,” Raven said.
As a team, Raven said they gained a deeper understanding of how to tell stories in the digital age and which tools to use, including social media. The team won FHI’s Story+ Instagram challenge.
FHI’s Chris Chia, Amanda Starling Gould, and Eric Barstow, provided infrastructure and guidance as the Left of Black team delved into the archive and selected a WordPress template on which to build the website.
Left of Black host Mark Anthony Neal, who is also the chair of African & African American Studies at Duke, helped the students select four episodes in which to focus their efforts:
- Quincy T. Mills, a history professor at Vassar College and author of “Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America”;
- Chad L. Williams, chair of the African American Studies Department at Brandeis who wrote, “Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the WWI Era”;
- Ricky Vincent, author of “Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music”; and
- Akinyele Umoja, an associate professor of African-American Studies at Georgia State who wrote, “We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement.”
The students took excerpts of these videos and used graphics and animations to produce enrichment videos like this one:
First started in 2010, Left of Black is now entering its 9th season. Neal has interviewed a number of notable scholars over the years including Carrie Mae Weems, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Marc Lamont Hill and Melissa Harris Perry. There are plans to continue building the Left of Black curriculum and digital platform.
“It has reinvigorated the project for me,” Neal said. “It’s something we had envisioned from earliest days of Left of Black and we were thrilled to have a team of students to help us realize that vision. It serves as model for what integrated learning could look like, not just at Duke but in the production of scholarship for a broader audience.”
More than 50 people gathered in the Ahmadieh Family Conference Room on Tuesday evening, April 24, for a special meeting of Duke’s Introduction to African & African American Studies class, taught this spring by department chair Mark Anthony Neal.
Professors Britt Rusert, Treva Lindsey, Alisha Gaines and Bianca Williams are Duke Ph.D.’s who each had a book on blackness published in the past year. Neal made those books assigned reading for the spring class and invited the alumnae back to campus to speak with students and to revisit their formative years where the seeds for their intellectual pursuits were planted.
The symposium, “Black Women, Black Studies, Knowledge Production,” was entirely curated by graduate and undergraduate students in a demonstration of vertical learning. English Ph.D. student and teaching assistant Israel Durham designed the program for the 2.5 hour symposium, allowing each student an opportunity to converse with the authors.
The students, divided into small groups, passed a microphone and peppered each alumna with thoughtful questions related to their research as well as their scholarly approach and process. View Photos
Wearing a “#CiteBlackWomen” t-shirt, Williams told students that what they were experiencing was special and a testament to the “brilliant teaching” at Duke.
“You get to co-create. You also know things. You have useful questions. You know enough to engage scholars,” she told students.
“I just want you to know this isn’t normal. This doesn’t usually happen,” Williams said, noting the generosity of professors like Neal and Wahneema Lubiano, an associate professor and mentor to the women, who also attended and joined the women for the last panel of the evening.
“Wahneema would write down every foolish thing we said,” Williams remembered of her time as a student. “It might not have been what I said, but [she knew] what I meant. She would take our nugget, add to it, and give it back… That is generosity and it’s not the norm. After being in other environments, I want you to know this is a gift that we all received.”
Lindsey agreed, reminiscing about the familial kinship she felt in her cohort and with the faculty.
“The faculty believed in us as knowledge producers,” Lindsey said. “I wouldn’t have made it without Wahneema and MAN because of the confidence they instilled in us to be voices, but also to be on the front lines when things went down here,” Lindsey said. “That is the type of faculty member I want to be.”
Gaines, who is interested in black popular culture and reality television, said Black women gave her a way to imagine herself as a scholar and a thinker, especially as an undergraduate student at Spelman.
“I’m a good teacher because I have had good models for it,” Gaines said.
Rusert remembers the freedom to be intellectually adventurous while she was a student at Duke.
“I was 22 years old and remember being in that class (The Post-Black Aesthetic). MAN took our ideas seriously. I remember being like ‘wow!’ This professor really wants to hear what I think,” she said, adding that the interdisciplinarity of the department prepared her for study in her field in unexpected ways.
Also, she said that she’s been able to confront Southern bias as a professor now teaching in New England.
“I am really grateful to have had time training in the South because I can correct some misunderstandings,” Rusert said.
Rusert is an assistant professor in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is the author of Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture and co-editor of W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America, a collection of data visualizations Du Bois contributed to the 1900 Paris Exposition and forthcoming from Princeton Architectural Press in fall 2018. She earned an English Ph.D. and certificate in feminist studies from Duke in 2009. She is beginning a new monograph about William J. Wilson’s African-American Picture Gallery (1859), a text that imagines the first museum of black art in the United States.
Lindsey is an associate professor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The Ohio State University. She authored, Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington D.C., a Choice 2017 “Outstanding Academic Title.” Recently dubbed #ProfessorBae by Bossip magazine, Lindsey’s research and teaching interests include African American women’s history, black popular and expressive culture, black feminism(s), hip hop studies, critical race and gender theory, and sexual politics. She earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in history at Duke.
A lifelong Michael Jackson fan, Alisha Gaines received a Ph.D. in English from Duke and also received the graduate certificate in African and African American Studies. She is assistant professor of English at Florida State University where she won a university-wide Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2017. Her first book, Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, was published in Spring 2017. Inspired by the short-lived F/X reality tv show “Black.White,” the book constructs a genealogy of white liberals who temporarily “become” black under the alibi of racial empathy. As such, Gaines has a love/hate relationship with Rachel Dolezal.
An associate professor of anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, Bianca Williams is also Black Lives Matter organizer, co-founding the Denver chapter. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at Duke, and a graduate certificate in African and African American Studies. Her book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism, how African-American women use international travel and the Internet as tools for pursuing happiness and leisure; creating diasporic relationships; and critiquing American racism and sexism. Central to her research is the question, how do Black women develop strategies for enduring and resisting the effects of racism and sexism, while attempting to maintain emotional wellness?
Neal, host of weekly webcast Left of Black, interviewed the four women about their work earlier that day in the John Hope Franklin Center studio for upcoming episodes of the show. An appearance on Left of Black has increasingly become a rite of passage for a network of young black studies scholars.
“A cohort experience becomes part of our building of knowledge so the production part is apparent. We’re making it as craft, it’s not an arcane thing,” Lubiano, an associate professor of literature and a long-time Duke faculty member, told students at the symposium. “We are actively participating in creating knowledge, thinking about the students and making them central to the work early on.
“I’ve seen students go from undergrad to full professorships,” she said. “Making knowledge is not a finished ‘house,’ we’re always building. It’s important to make your fracturing speak to someone else’s fracturing. We take seriously the process of remaking knowledge.”
On Wednesday, Vanessa K. Valdés of The City College of New York, presented her research on Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, whose personal collection became the foundation for the Harlem-based and world-renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Valdés is the author of “Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg,” only the second full-length biography.
During her talk, “Building an International Archive in the Jim Crow South: Arturo Schomberg at Fisk University,” Valdés highlighted the collector’s global vision for his collection as well as the importance of access to the material.
The lunchtime talk was the latest installment of “Wednesdays at the Center,” held at the John Hope Franklin Center, which features a different speaker each week throughout the semester.
Valdés, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese, said that Schomburg, a Black Puerto Rican, helped establish Fisk University’s Africana collection in Nashville, now named the John Hope and Aurelia Franklin Library.
“Most have no idea about the man himself,” said Valdés, who pursued her graduate degree in Nashville. There is only one biography of Schomburg and it was published in 1989, she said.
The Carnegie Foundation bought Schomburg’s personal collection for $10k which he used to travel across Europe and further develop his collection. However, he donated much of his work without compensation.
In Nashville, Thomas E. Jones was president of Fisk when Schomburg began assembling the library in 1929. He worked alongside his good friend, sociologist Charles S. Johnson, to replicate what he had accomplished in New York, building a black archive in Fisk University’s Cravath Hall, complete with a reading room.
“At the time, black people were steered toward vocational schools and not necessarily reading for pleasure,” Valdés said. Under Schomburg, Fisk established a reading room to “inculcate a desire” in students to read for pleasure.
“Being an active member of society meant being knowledgeable. He was creating spaces of liberation,” Valdés said. Schomburg spoke through his collection, highlighting moments of black independence and responding to U.S. hegemony in the Caribbean.
The Fisk collection concentrated on presence of people of African descent internationally, taking on a global character, telling the story of blacks in Europe and the Caribbean. There were 140 books when Schomburg arrived and more than 4,000 by the time he left Fisk. His efforts were not replicated at other schools until decades after his death, she said.
Johnson, the first black president of Fisk, acknowledged Schomburg’s “generosity and foresight” in curating books for the university’s then-named Race Relations Institute.
“Johnson was trying to get Schomburg to write his book but he wasn’t interested in that. He only wanted to disseminate his work,” Valdés said. “It’s important to consider different modes of scholarship and knowledge production. Establishing the collection, made it unequivocal that black folks were worthy of study and international analysis.”
The event was sponsored by the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship at Duke.
A public conversation with producer 9th Wonder who has been nominated for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Duckworth’; event postponed until further notice
The Department of African and African American Studies at Duke will host an event celebrating the success of Patrick Douthit, aka 9th Wonder, who is up for two Grammy Awards this year.
The 7 p.m. event, “How To Get Nominated for A Grammy,” is free and open to the public. It will be held in the Friedl Art Gallery in the Ernestine Friedl Building on Duke’s East Campus. Light refreshments will be served.
Douthit, a lecturing fellow in Duke’s African and African-American Studies Department, will discuss the work behind his two recent Grammy nominations. He was previously awarded a Grammy for his work on a Mary J. Blige album in 2015. This year, the Grammy Award committee recognized the prolific producer for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s most recent release, which is up for Album of the Year, and for his contributions to Rapsody’s “Laila’s Wisdom,” which is up for Best Rap Album.
Douthit has worked with many musical celebrities including Jay-Z, Erykah Badu, Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, among others. Last month, as the Grammy nominations were being announced, Douthit dropped a surprise album of beats, Zion II. He has taught at North Carolina Central University, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania as well as Duke. In addition, he is a major contributor to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The event will also feature “SexyNotSilent,” a visual arts exhibit by self-taught local artist Natasha Powell Walker. An artist talk for the exhibit will be held in the same location the following week, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25.
Her work tends to focus on the female figure and the struggles women face in society. Through her use of vibrant color, Walker is able to tackle complex issues and provide a sense of empowerment and enlightenment.
Walker will interview Douthit about the opportunities and challenges in Durham’s rising local arts scene, and what it takes to win a Grammy.
The Grammy Awards will air live on CBS on Jan. 28.
The event is sponsored by the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity and the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship.
Gladys Mitchell-Walthour is a political scientist specializing in Brazilian racial politics. Her work examines Afro-Brazilian racial identification, discrimination, political behavior and opinion.
She will discuss her latest book, “The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil” (Cambridge University Press), on Wednesday, Nov. 29th at noon in 225 Friedl on Duke’s East Campus.
Mitchell-Walthour, an assistant professor of public policy and political economy in the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, uses an intersectional approach to analyze the impact of the experience of race on Afro-Brazilian political behavior in the cities of Salvador, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. Taking into account the experience of racial discrimination, she seeks to explain Afro-Brazilian political behavior with a focus on affirmative action policy and Law 10.639 (requiring that African and Afro-Brazilian history be taught in schools).
Mitchell-Walthour has also co-authored two edited volumes as well as the book, Brazil’s New Racial Politics (2010), with Bernd Reiter. She has published articles in Racial and Ethnic Studies (2010), The National Political Science Review (2011), and Latin American Politics and Society (2009) among others.
Mitchell-Walthour holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago, a master of public policy from the University of Michigan, and a B.A. in political science and African & African-American Studies from Duke University. In addition, she was a visiting research fellow at Duke’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), and a Samuel DuBois Cook Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Gender in the Social Sciences (REGSS) at Duke.
By Sadé Dinkins
“When you’re in front of your beat Maschine, there’s nothing but you and the Maschine. It’s a sacred place nobody can get in between,” said Grammy Award-winning producer and African & African American Studies professor Patrick Douthit, also known as 9th Wonder.
Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts and a music professor, said Douthit’s donation will “contribute to a more expansive range of inquiry linking artistic practice to history and culture” and is the beginning of an auspicious partnership.
Upon completion, Lindroth said the new Rubenstein Arts Center will host Douthit’s Hip-Hop production class and students will be able to access the Maschines in the new space.
“The art of sampling used in the creation of hip-hop and facilitated by Maschines, has opened up new ways music can ‘speak’ across generations. It brought new meanings to ‘old’ work even as it generated new art,” Lindroth said.
Douthit’s courses, which include Hip-Hop Production, Hip-Hop Cinema, and the History of Hip-Hop (co-taught with Mark Anthony Neal) have begun to lay a foundation for the education, appreciation, and fostering of hip-hop on campus. Douthit said the new arts building will provide a space for a more comprehensive hip-hop education, reaching every end of the spectrum, from production to DJing to rhyme structure.
“Just like you need to have a class studying the great poets of the time, you need to have a class studying the great MC’s of the time,” Douthit said.
Maschines are a product of Native Instruments, a leading manufacturer of software and hardware for computer-based audio production and DJing. Native Instruments has a long-standing relationship with Douthit, who praises the tech company for its apt ability to streamline the beat-making process.
Douthit lamented the fact that last year students were unable to take the Maschines to and from class in order to continue their creative streak outside of the classroom. His donation, however, will provide not only that option to foster one’s innovation outside the classroom, but also an additional resource through which students may find that creative escape from the academic rigor of Duke.
“The arts open up your mind and make you not think so much in the box,” Douthit said. “It helps you become imaginative and creative and you’re not so analytical when it comes to things, even with life decisions.”
Douthit is also donating Maschines to his alma mater North Carolina Central University, the Raleigh Boys Club, and the MLK Community Center in his hometown of Winston-Salem.
To quantify the impact of such a donation is a grand task, and one that deserves more qualitative recognition said André Mego, a Duke sophomore, who interns with Jamla Records, and who took Douthit’s hip-hop production class.
“It is much deeper than making music. It is about expressing oneself. You look for records that hold the sentiment you have inside you that you want to release and you piece it together either by chops or through a loop in order to express the feelings you hold,” said Mego. “9th’s donation is one that gives me hope for a bigger home for hip-hop at Duke.”