Africana Studies Welcome Letter Archives
Director’s Welcome Letter Archives
Africana Studies Welcome Letter, August 2022
Greetings and welcome to the new academic year!
As I begin my second year as the Director of Africana Studies, I am reflecting on this past year and looking forward to what is to come. I am deeply grateful that 2021-22 was an impactful year during which we hosted a number of events, lectures, and new initiatives in Africana Studies that our students, faculty, and other community members helped to make possible.
Through the “Reimagining Together” speaker series we learned from people like former mayor of Boston Kim Janey, and Black feminist scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin who was also the inaugural chair of the African American Studies Department at Columbia University. Mayor Janey joined us shortly before the end of her historic term. As the first Black person and woman to hold this position, Mayor Janey was a trailblazer in the city of Boston. Not only was Mayor Janey born and raised right here in Roxbury, but she is also the daughter of an NU alum who was an effective student leader who advocated fiercely for racial justice at Northeastern. Interestingly, when Dr. Griffin delivered what was the final lecture of the year, she mentioned her unique tie to Janey with whom she worked with as a while Janey was a youth leader in 1980s. Griffin’s most recent book Read Until You Understand: The Wisdom of Black Life and Literature was also our community read last spring. In partnership with Frugal Bookstore, we hosted a book club for which members of the Africana Studies community on campus and elsewhere connected over discussions of this book which pays loving homage to how Black Studies lives in literature, history, music, and relationships across generations. As Griffin notes, artists, authors, and intellectuals of African descent have expressed “ideas and values that have concerned humanity since the beginning of time.”
In 2022 we also hosted a day-long symposium, “Talking Back: the Genius of bell hooks,” to mourn the death of this Black feminist icon in community as well as to reflect on the legacy of a pioneering Black feminist who transformed the field of Black Studies. bell hooks’ interventions as a feminist theorist, scholar, teacher, and activist remain a source of inspiration for an entire generation of people committed to intersectional social justice. Together with members of our faculty like Meredith Clark and Melissa Berry-Woods as well as local scholars like Lorgia Garcia-Peña of Tufts University, Kellie Carter-Jackson from Wellesley College, and Saida Grundy from Boston University, we celebrated the genius of bell hooks in community. One of the highlights of this event was our student panel featuring Northeastern’s own Trina Madziwa a second-year student originally from Zimbabwe, and Alanna Prince who is a PhD candidate in English. In hooks’ honor, we had a day marked by thought-provoking analysis, engaging discussion, and emotional reflections marked by both joy and sadness as we considered how her genius remains a source of inspiration for generations.
I am excited to build on this foundation as we continue our “Re-imagining Together Series” by hosting film screenings, lectures, and student events this year. We will kick off the series this year with the internationally acclaimed film Freda by Gessica Généus who will join us for a post screening conversation on Wednesday September 28th for which I hope you will join us. We are especially excited that many Haitian community organizations and the office of Boston city councilor at large Ruthzhee Louijeune are partnering with us for this event. Down the road we look forward to another symposium in the spring as well as events featuring some of our dynamic new faculty members like Partrice Collins and Anjie Chan Tack as well as our inaugural postdoctoral fellow in Black Feminist Studies, AK Wright.
I am also grateful for the continued collaboration with the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute and the tireless work of my colleague Richard O’Bryant. This summer at the Northeastern Black Alumni weekend on Martha’s Vineyard each of us shared our collective vision for how the Institute and Africana Studies partner together. I highlighted the importance of Africana Studies in relation to the university’s commitment to experiential learning and making an impact in the world. I began with a Toni Morrison quotation I often include on my syllabi: “If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, your job is to empower somebody else.” I remain convinced that Africana Studies is a freedom-making project and one of the best pathways to creating more justice in the world no matter which discipline or profession we choose. Our program is built upon the pillars of interdisciplinarity, intersectional social justice, community engagement, and both local and global manifestations of the African diaspora. Africana Studies has effectively helped us to think critically about the world whether that means making analyses of racial injustice central to how we understand democracy in the United States, or recognizing the myriad contributions of people of African descent to innovations in science, technology, and public health. Here in the United States, our field’s abiding commitment to community engagement, social justice, and academic rigor has allowed us to thrive over the years to the point that for the first time this an African American Studies AP course being offered nationally.
It has been two decades since the publication of Robin Kelley’s groundbreaking book, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, which I believe should be required reading for anyone interested in Africana Studies. This book reminds us of the power of the imagination to animate our visions of justice and highlights the work of activists, artists, and organizations who turn freedom dreams into practice. In these fraught times that we continue to live in–with the ongoing COVID pandemic, the assault on critical race theory, the ongoing harms of anti-Blackness, the overturning of Roe v. Wade–we know that many forms of freedom are certainly under attack which means we need to keep thinking, keep dreaming, and keep building together both in and out of the classroom. I hope that you will join our efforts to think, dream, imagine and build in community this year.
Director, Africana Studies Program
Africana Studies Welcome Letter, August 2021
Greetings and welcome to a new semester!
I am thrilled to begin my time here as the Director of Africana Studies and the Dean’s Professor of Culture and Social Justice. Northeastern is an exciting place to be at this crucial moment in history when the country and our world are grappling with pressing social justice issues. Impactful movements like Black Lives Matter and #metoo, as well as anti-government uprisings across the globe remind us of the need for critical thinking, nuanced analysis, and intentional community engagement. Of course, we continue to face an unprecedented global public health crisis which has had alarmingly disproportionate effects on people of African descent and has further revealed the depth and the breadth of social inequities.
In light of these challenges, Africana Studies is the perfect context in which to examine and engage today’s world. It is a dynamic field that encompasses African American Studies, Caribbean Studies, African Studies, and the entire diaspora. As a global and interdisciplinary project that is both intellectual and activist, Africana Studies emerged from a history of Black student activism that is decades old. Indeed, students are the pulse of everything we do. The mission of Africana Studies is to mentor students invested in valuing the inherent diversity of our world. We are committed to centering Black lives, and this has always been the case since the inception of the field. As these times make especially clear, it is ever more urgent for us to do so today.
As I begin here at Northeastern, I am excited about the possibilities of what we can imagine together. Perhaps in no small part due to my training as a literature scholar, I am an utmost believer in the power of the imagination as an animating force that can inspire, teach, empower, and activate. When we deploy our imaginations, we begin to see the world differently. Our field of Africana Studies would not exist had student activists not imagined their universities as places where knowledge about Black people could be taught, affirmed, and created. As a Haitian-American woman, I come from a people who had to imagine a world without slavery in order to be free. Imagining is a vital piece of our thinking, and I invite you to imagine with me. What kind of program do we want to have? What kind of campus do we want to create? What kind of world do we want to live in? How do we create a more just society?
Given Northeastern’s stature as a leader in experiential learning, Africana Studies is well positioned to mobilize the university’s mission to have a positive impact in the world.
Social justice is essential to Africana Studies not only because of the tradition that it emerges from, but also because our field is rooted in the lived experience of Black people all over the world, and committed to imagining more just futures for all. Likewise, Africana Studies is an interdisciplinary and global project that requires robust community engagement. For these reasons I am eager to work at Northeastern, located in the heart of a Roxbury which has been a pivotal site of Black history for centuries. I look forward to building on the foundation of academic excellence, critically engaged research, community partnership, and experiential learning that already exists in our program.
The times that we live in are fraught. Personally, the past few months have been especially difficult for me as I watched the news about Haiti unfold. The realities of the pandemic forced me to observe from afar rather than in close proximity to my parents and loved ones. I was bereft and overwhelmed. My background as a scholar of Haitian Studies helped me to think through the moment and I was grateful for how my experiential knowledge and academic training combined to offer a more informed perspective. We have a responsibility to our beloved communities to move beyond examining issues with a single perspective.
As the self-described Black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet Audre Lorde reminds us, “there is no such a thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” We live in a complex and interconnected world that requires us to explore it from different academic vantage points, disciplines, perspectives, and positionalities. An interdisciplinary and intersectional Africana Studies program is a wonderful way to move towards those goals and I look forward to partnering with you in how we can imagine together.