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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.

In solidarity,

Dr. Régine Jean-Charles  

Director, Africana Studies Program

Africana Studies Director’s Welcome Letter Archives