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35 Chapter Nine Discussion

Establishing Leadership Succession

Manning Marable (Columbia University): This being the last panel … I want to take about two minutes upfront about the challenges of intergenerational leadership especially in Africana and African American Studies.

Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): … Years ago, when I was a graduate student at Stanford, my advisor, Carl Edwards, who was very supportive in the field of Black history, asked the rhe­tor­i­cal question, what would you do to justify Black history? My response was you never argue about yourself because you might lose the ar­gu­ment and go out of existence. You assert who you are and in­sist up­on it, and you sustain yourself either inside the academy or out­side the academy.

At Howard, we’re adding professorships as opposed to hiring ad­juncts. I am now at ASALH [Association for the Study of African Amer­ican Life and History]. We’re not dying; we’re alive and well for the first time in thirty years. . . . In 1982, I was in the library and ob­served that the Journal of Negro History was being published ir­reg­u­lar­ly and I said, “I’m going to do something about it.” I came to DC in 2003; was asked to join the board; and for the last three years it’s been my primary job. I’m a volunteer for ASALH and a board mem­ber.

Woodson taught us that the academy will not necessarily smile on you; the philanthropists will not necessarily smile on you; you have to believe in Black people. I have faith in Black people and they all can be redeemed across all ideological lines … . In all fields, leadership takes several forms: intellectual, teaching, and service. I want to focus on what it takes for intergenerational leadership in service. And here I want to focus on what it takes for inter­gen­e­ra­tion­al leadership in the following areas of service: service to de­part­ments and programs; service to Black Studies associations; and ser­vice to journals and presses.

One problem, whether in departments or programs, is small units. We all come from small units when we do Black Studies. We don’t have the dozens of faculty members. Service becomes a prob­lem. The things that we have to do, we don’t have sixty people to do them. When I was at Columbia, the departmental meeting had sixty-five people in history. In Black Studies, you’re lucky to have ten or fifteen; you normally have six. You don’t have a reduction in func­tions; same mission, one-tenth the faculty. This creates a problem in getting people to serve. This is why at many in­sti­tu­tions the same people serve for generations, if not two. … It is often by necessity. … So you have limited resources; and when the position comes open after we’ve worn a horse out … those po­si­tions remain and can become a revolving door. That’s the problem.

Professional organizations typically have staff, paid staff. At ASALH we are not fully professional, that’s why we’re still here, but we have a small staff. The National Council of Black Studies—I’m learning more, basically you have part-time staffers and maybe some other help, which means if the academics participate, they don’t just simply set policy. You have to have people who do ser­vice as volunteers coming out of the field; which means you have to do double duty in service to the university—department pro­gram; then you have to do real work at a professional association.

… You cannot run a professional organization with volunteers. You can’t do it with work-study students. You can’t do it with dues alone. We do not have the numbers in the profession, whether in­side the organization or out. So all of these debates about how many people are members, you cannot amass the numbers to bring the membership dues in either ASALH or NCBS to have an ef­fec­tive or­ganization. … Our graduate students everywhere are sub­si­dizing these organizations — and they must; that’s in­ter­gen­e­rational.

… At ASALH we had a disastrous experience. We had very well-meaning policy makers; very well-meaning students brought on to the board. They had the load of being underfunded as students, and then they tried to take on professional projects for journals. And I would tell them, “You are failing and it’s not your fault. You’re not supposed to be the workhorse of this organization; not even faculty is supposed to be the workhorse.” We need the rev­e­nue to staff.

Scott describes the operation of the association (ASALH) dur­ing Wood­son’s era and explains that “not-for-profit” operations work through the phi­lan­thropy of “for-profit” businesses.

… What do we need? I would suggest that’s something Ford can do. … We need service fellowship programs funded by Ford to give relief to people who serve in departments and programs in Black Studies. After your term of service you can apply for a grant and take a sabbatical at the National Humanities Center or some­where else. … We need the creation of leadership com­mit­tees for grad­uate students that are properly structured in these or­ga­ni­za­tions; not in policy positions for the entire organization. We are too democratic; they are in training. We ruin their careers when they get too involved in what’s always a fight within the pro­fes­sional or­ga­nization. We’re not different in that regard. They need to be in lead­ership positions at the graduate level for other grad­u­ate stu­dents. That takes support for bringing them to the con­fer­ences and things of that nature. … I had a conversation where everybody thinks the e-journal is free. Nothing is free but the electrons. But the server you pay for and everything else. You run into one copy­right problem and you will get a real lawsuit. We need phil­an­throp­ic organizations that believe in academic en­dea­vors to fund schol­arly output to journals, staffing, and fellowship for service.

Austin Jackson (Michigan State University): I think I’m the only student in the room; I want to thank my mentor for bringing me along with all these heavy hitters. So please forgive me for any in­ac­cu­ra­cies or mistakes that I may make. Establishing in­ter­gen­e­ra­tion­al lead­ership in Black Studies must begin with a move beyond dis­cus­sions of relevancy or survival and moving toward re­con­nect­ing the dis­ci­pline to the real material circumstances confronting Black people to­day. Engage in honest re-assessment or evaluation about how what we do is relevant towards both understanding and trans­form­ing these conditions. This means confronting gene­ra­tion­al dif­fer­en­ces between the Civil Rights-Black Power gene­ra­tion, the hip-hop generation, and scholars, moving beyond paradigm fights to­wards practices and theoretical innovation, creating new ways of mar­ket­ing Black Studies to students headed to so-called tra­ditional ca­reer paths.

I think that the unresolved contradictions that the older gen­e­r­ation talked about today are still with us. They need to be ad­dres­sed directly. Earlier during the conference people kept mak­ing reference to structure; I think these structures are still here and they need to be addressed by Black Studies. The old racial struc­tures that the founders of Black Studies addressed dur­ing that time period have been replaced by new subtle, insidious, forms of structural discrimination; and they’ve created racial preju­dices in many ways.

I will mention only a few. When I say “crisis,” I’m not being eu­phe­mistic here. When we have Black males that are 6 percent of the pop­u­lation and 45 percent of the US prison population, you have a cri­sis. You have a crisis when in thirty-six states the Black males that are re­leased from prison are disenfranchised; many of them lose their right to vote. So we still have legal voter rights disenfranchised. You have a crisis when half of the grade school population, at least 45 percent have to repeat a grade at least once in public school. And, in fact, since we’re sitting in New York City, the New York Times re­port­ed back last year, 2005, that at one point, I don’t know what it is now, but 50 percent of all Black males were unemployed. We have a crisis and Black Studies needs to directly challenge and intervene in this particular crisis.

Dr. Alkalimat mentioned Katrina. We don’t need to say any­thing else about the government’s strategic non-intervention. I was curious—as a student of Black Studies—as to Black Studies’ re­sponse to Katrina. All the talk on television didn’t reflect people in Black Studies, I guess for various reasons. Right now, at the state capital in Lansing—I’m from Michigan State—the neo-Nazis that were in Toledo are now rallying and joining forces with the KKK and rallying a million-man march sort of thing at the Lan­sing cap­i­tal.

I’m frustrated in my reflection. I can only give my reflection as a student because that’s the only perspective I can speak from. There was an argument among graduate students as to whether or not we should protest or respond. So we do have a racial crisis that I believe that Black Studies needs to address. As I listen to some of the conversations, I think the older generation, the ground­break­ers, simply assume that social justice is a given when you allow stu­dents to major in and get the PhD in Black Studies. It’s an as­sump­tion that that value is already with them. And I’m here to tell you as a student that it is not true. Amongst my graduate stu­dents there’s actual debate over whether or not we should do scholar­ship and activism. I want to put that out there that there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. We can’t just simply as­sume that the values are already there.

I want to talk more about structure and leadership and social justice in Black Studies in the context of my own program. In his examination of critical and postcolonial studies in the academy, Marxist critic Aijaz Ahmad observes that in most instances radical theoretical paradigms privileged in the academy, [in] academic dis­course, are strangely removed or separated from the radical politics that generate them. From my own limited point of view as a doc­to­ral candidate in African American and African Studies at Michigan State, I see a similar tendency in Black Studies.

The Black radical tradition seems an object of nostalgic reflec­tion of the good old boy days of the movement and the struggle. It is almost as though questions concerning the relationship be­tween capitalism and racism, socialism or nationalism, and social in­te­gration and transformation have been resolved with Black Studies’ institutionalization and scholarly writing. However, scores of Black lives lost and dislocated, from Katrina in New Orleans to genocide in Sudan, offer vivid testimony to the need to in­cor­po­rate or struc­ture, in a real and tangible way, the Black Studies ethos of ac­a­dem­ic excellence and social responsibility into Black Studies pro­grams. Meaning future leadership in Black Studies will not and can­not develop by itself.

I’ll quickly talk about how Michigan State’s model in the PhD program offers a starting point for how we can actually begin structures to create this leadership. Let me briefly talk about our in­ternational internships. I believe — I could be wrong — that Mich­i­gan State is the only PhD program that offers anything like that as a starting point and requires an international internship. The purpose of the in­ter­na­tional internship is to make sure that we as graduate stu­dents con­nect our work to the wider African Di­as­po­ra. I did mine in Jamaica. I explored three different Maroon com­mu­ni­ties in Ja­mai­ca. I really didn’t want to do that project be­cause my project was more African American-centered, but I made some con­nec­tions I wouldn’t ordinarily have made.

We also require a domestic internship where graduate students have to generate a project or join a project in the community that would be generated for dissertation research and the community being researched. I run a program called My Brother’s Keeper that’s funded by my mentor Geneva Smitherman at the Malcolm X Acad­e­my; that’s how I satisfied that requirement, where I trained un­der­grad­uate and graduate students how to go into a community and do service-learning and teach literacy to our at-risk Black stu­dents at the Malcolm X Academy in Detroit.

Graduate student apprenticeship is something started recently by an intern director at Michigan State where a graduate student is selected to serve as an apprentice: sort of like a rites of passage where, if it was me, I’d learn the pragmatics of running the pro­gram—grant writing, financial planning, human resources, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, etc. Other than that, administration is a mystery for a lot of us. It has to be taught to us at a very young age in our career.

The last thing that I’ll mention doesn’t deal directly with pub­lic policy, but it could have public policy implications. Each student is required before we graduate to present our research to the com­mu­nity. Last year seven doctoral students presented their research proposals to the community at a center in Detroit. We had regular community people there; activists; we had former Black Panthers that showed up. The purpose of the public venue is to make sure that we can articulate our research in a language that’s successful for the people, and, two, the purpose of that is to get feedback from the community itself. When I did mine, some community mem­bers attacked me and I had to reformulate my research pro­ject. That painful process actually needed to happen.

So in my brief reflection here as a student in a PhD program in African American Studies, I hope I have demonstrated that any discussion about leadership and discipline must be rooted in the real, tangible, social, political, and economic conditions con­front­ing Africans in the US and abroad. And the role of Black Studies in intervening in sustaining racial crisis conditions in the future must be structured within PhD programs, and that will pro­duce van­guard leadership in the new millennium.

Baker offered the suggestion that enabling graduate students to join NCBS and getting involved in the field is critical and pro­posed that a volun­teer attend the Ford Foundation conference and recruit graduate students to attend the National Black Graduate Stu­dents Association annual meeting. He also proposed a panel stressing the importance of having NCBS or other pro­fes­sion­al organizations.

Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): One of the ways that stu­dents can also be involved in this intergenerational succession that we can be involved in is … publications. The Journal of Black Stud­ies from time to time has had graduate students publish in the journal, and I’m sure that the International Journal of Africana Stud­ies would do the same and probably has already done the same. So there are ways that scholars at these different departments can also mentor their graduate students in participating in a pub­li­ca­tion as well as in conferences.

James B. Stewart (Penn State University): I want to extend the dis­cus­sion to talk about mentoring junior faculty through their early years, be­cause it doesn’t do anyone any good to have a grad­u­ate student and then you lose them. That’s what I do at Penn State. I’m a senior fac­ulty member in charge of mentoring faculty of color across dis­ci­plines through their junior years. It is some­thing we need to think about seriously, because I see a lot of peo­ple in Af­ricana Stud­ies who have more of a disjunctive experience than those in traditional dis­ci­plines.

Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): I think of three words—replication, in­novation, and education. Many of us try to replicate ourselves, but we often give the con­clu­sion, not the process; because the move­ment that we came from does­n’t exist. On innovation, many of us have to be­come risk-takers with ideas that we don’t even agree with. But the new generation is go­­ing to have to find its legs. It seems to me the main thing is ed­u­ca­tion. For that, I’d like to say that every founder of Black Studies should write a biography, and it would be good if the professional organizations prepared an out­line; that could be help­ful because later, if we just speak it into a tape, these are going to be very val­u­able, and we shouldn’t belittle the ne­ces­si­ty for us to come clean; be­cause only in that way later we can revive it in twen­ty years. How else would they know?

Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): I’ve been trying to grap­ple with the overt and im­pli­cit request for funding for pro­fes­sional organizations. Ford has funded both organizations in the past. But I think it’s im­por­tant to understand that the landscape of philanthropy is changing tre­mendously, and that many are mov­ing to­ward, in some ways, more corporate kinds of models. We have a process called “Vector-3.” It is a process of accountability.

One of the things that is coupled with the grant making I do is the question of sustainability. When the money dries up, what are you going to do? So, as you think about requests, whether to Ford or anyone else, you have to be able to address that question. The sec­ond thing is that among Ford there are certain things that they don’t do because they believe that’s part and parcel of what it is to be an academic or institution. They don’t endow uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges. They may endow nonprofits. So, if you’ve heard of Ford giving to nonprofits, that they do. But they think the en­dow­ment is the business of the university and that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. So they don’t give endowments.

I would say in terms of professional organizations, that they would say, that is the business of being an academic. Now, there may be projects—for example, increase the membership or the par­ti­cipation of graduate students or professional organizations. That might be a project that could be funded. But to actually sup­port the organization, I don’t think you can define that kind of view­point, because they see that as what you’re supposed to be do­ing as part of the development of your field. So understanding what that landscape is is important.

I do want to talk about Austin. I thank you for your pres­en­ta­tion, and I think your mentor has prepared you well. … I think there is a crisis of the involvement of graduate students … be­cause there’s a kind of tension between finishing their degree and being involved. What we as faculty have not done a good job of is showing them the connection. That if you don’t participate now, when you need that organization as a junior faculty, it’s not go­ing to be there. So part of being a graduate student should be involvement. That does not mean that we need to have them in leadership positions. I think that is a mistake. But I think the proc­ess of getting them in­volv­ed should be part of their in­volve­ment.

In terms of their contributing to the professional journals, … one of my requirements for graduate students is that you write pro­fes­sional papers that are publishable. That is, I do not accept pa­pers from graduate students that are simply to finish the re­quire­­ment. That to me is an oxymoron for graduate students. You turn in a publishable paper, and that means you’ve got to go pub­lish it. So if we can create venues, whether they’re academic pa­pers — when I was editing Transforming Anthropology, we had a commentary sec­tion. It didn’t mean you had to do a thirty-page pa­per; you could do a 1,500-word description of your research. So … as part of your graduate training you require them to submit to the journals that are out there.

Manning Marable (Columbia University): Eight years ago we start­ed a journal at Columbia University called Souls, and about a fourth of the articles we print are by doctoral students in Africana and Africana Ame­ri­can Stud­ies. … I think it’s absolutely critical that leadership begins by con­vey­ing to students that generating pub­lish­able papers is not only pos­si­ble in our graduate programs, it’s a re­quire­ment. And that we demand excellence of our grad­u­ate stu­dents to produce pub­lish­able papers, and that also our jour­nals should publish them. Souls is looking for the best papers that we can; and we have a web­site; and we want to encourage doctoral and MA students in the field to do so.

Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): I’d like to reaffirm that … the practical mentor [is very important], for in the final analysis that practice proves and makes possible every­thing. One of the things I want to argue is that in addition to fo­cus­ing on the local community, … African American Studies is im­por­tant, because it gives us that nexus … to link them to larger pro­jects. Sometimes if you talk about the materialities of our peo­ple, you might think that they’re right there instead of being link­ed in an international way. …

Second, and this is something we have to work with as aging schol­ars. … There is this kind of intellectual timidity I hear some­times in my generation that is afraid of giving guidance. Guidance is varied; it can be director; it can be advisory; or it can be sup­port­ive of what the students’ initiative is in. You must direct. If you don’t take some position you can’t invite the kind of strug­gle out of which truth is born; truth not born out of struggle isn’t truth any­how. So you’ve got to be willing to struggle with your stu­dent. You can’t let them claim some new knowledge you’re not even fa­mil­iar with.

I don’t feel comfortable when people around the table or stu­dents talk to you like you’re finished. My students don’t talk to me like that. I’m going to do like Anna Julia Cooper. I’m going to be on my way to a meeting when I pass. So what I want here is a bal­anced understanding of the past. I want to stress continuity ra­th­er than rupture. If you stress rupture, you don’t have any au­thor­ity to speak. You had your time and now it’s their time. If you talk about African history at the most ancient … that continuity should go on even as we talk; both participate, then what we do is shift ac­cord­ing to changing developments, but we have the same core. And we have to keep the core of Black Studies and stop dis­paraging it, as if it’s over; no, it’s not. It’s extended. It’s like the American founders. Imag­ing them saying, what we did in 1776, we got to scrap that; that’s a new thing. You take this Constitution. The Con­sti­tution is a dusty document unless we make it alive. And original Black Stud­ies doc­uments are just more dusty documents unless you make them alive.

Esther M. A. Terry (University of Massachusetts, Amherst): [To Austin Jackson] I want to briefly thank you for your comments and your candor. But I think they should remind us all that there is a very real ten­sion we have to stretch and deal with, and that is the role of teach­ing and research. We at UMass frequently get requests by young en­ter­ing faculty who want to take research leaves before they get in the door, who want to go off and spend a lot of time re­searching. What we’ve got to know is that we have got to hire people who un­derstand precisely what this is and to be in the class­room and with the student, wherever that classroom is; wheth­er you take that class­room downtown or wherever; that there’s a relationship that we have to insist on that is between the teacher and the fac­ul­ty mem­ber and the student; and we have to balance that with our research; and we have to make determi­na­tions not to make one subservient.

Ronald W. Bailey (Northeastern University): I want to mention the possibility in terms of graduate mentoring. In 1986, we did a con­fer­ence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mississippi on African American ar­chae­ology. “Digging the African American Past” was what it was cal­l­ed. It was at that time that I met Lee, who was an un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent. The thing that came out of that was the Afro-Amer­i­can Ar­chae­ology Network was form­ed. We took money from NEH and did op­portunity fel­low­ships, or access fellowships, where we gave travel sup­port to mi­nor­i­ty grad­u­ate students around the coun­try to come to this con­fer­ence and to link up with some of the leaders in the field of ar­chae­ology and anthropology and so on. So I think that we should think about that, because there might be funding available for that. If you [don’t have] a graduate pro­gram or you are in a major uni­ver­sity, you might be able to get other sources within the uni­ver­si­ty to give you funds to bring stu­dents to the conference as a way of giving them a bridge as po­ten­tial graduate students.

Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): Now that’s something I might be able to fund.

Sylvia Cyrus-Albritton (ASALH): I’d like to say … that we … get very few comments from graduate students in terms of how we can be more relevant and how we can assist more, particularly at our conferences. So I encourage our young people to take an ac­tive role in assisting programming. We have a number of sessions that we have during our conference. I do think we need to use our con­fer­ences as better vehicles … for students to rub shoulders in a very pro­fessional and direct type of way in panels and sessions, and I en­courage us to think about that.

Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): I’d like to take a moment to announce one other conference. It’s called the Cheikh Anta Diop International Conference, in October of each year. It at­tracts two hundred to three hundred people every year, in Philadelphia, from all over the world; and the co­ord­i­nator is my wife.

Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): I’d like to speak in favor of rupture. I think that we run the risk of be­com­ing the generation that preceded us if we don’t understand the pro­cess by which the African American tradition is sustained. We are not a ruling class. Therefore, the continuity of a ruling class, in­stitutions of pictures of dead people on the walls, etc., that is not what is characteristic of our com­mu­ni­ty; rupture is. So I’d like to propose the three “R’s”— retention, rupture and rediscovery — because the current generation of people com­ing from graduate school, they’re bonding with each other. They’re developing a language, which is not a language I speak. How­ever, I know from our experience, they’re going to return to the source, to use a phrase; and we have to be prepared to take the risk of allowing them their wings; but at the same time un­der­stand that the racism in society … is going to continue… . They’re going to rediscover Black people. They’re going to rediscover the need to read certain texts. So we have to be flexible. I’m back to that stretch thing; the vision and the current situation. So I will conclude by saying, de­vel­op a taste for rupture and love rupture. Just like we love our teen­agers who fight us and then come back to love us, because they learn­ed the lessons we were taught were real and good.

Manning Marable (Columbia University): My last point is an appeal for documentation of our historical experience that allows for the next generation to both rupture and unite with that cultural and intellectual con­tin­uum; that we need an oral history project that is dig­itally based of the Black Studies experience over the last half cen­tury; very sim­i­lar to what the history makers project is in Chi­ca­go; or the Shoah pro­ject that Steven Spielberg funds.

There are two generations of intellectuals, part of whom have dis­appeared. We can’t interview St. Clair Drake any more; we can’t interview Nello—C. L. R. James; but we can interview many of the sisters and brothers who built these programs in the ’60s and ’70s, and getting a sense from them of best practices, the things that worked well and the things that didn’t, and intellectually what they sought to achieve and accomplish. That material would be priceless to generations at the end of this century. And if we don’t plan such an archival project now it will not happen and we will lose that history.

Marilyn Thomas-Houston (University of Florida): When the par­ti­ci­pants first asked me how … information from the con­ven­ing was to be used, I responded partly for research … of a larger pro­ject… . The book … Totems and Teachers, … struck me as the kind of project needed in African American Studies; and that’s the ma­jor point of “African American Studies in Context” — a doc­u­men­ta­ry I propose to do. It documents the history of the field from your perspective, what it is like for you….

An online archive of this convening that includes edited ver­sions of the nine videotaped panels in streaming video and the ed­ited transcripts in PDF format is to be set up at www.Black-Stud­

Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): Marilyn asked me to bring the conclusion, and I thought it might be interesting to pose the question where to go from here, which I think we’ve all said, and how to continue to expand this conversation, and not just with this group, but to in­volve people who could not be here. So I’d like people to think about that, in terms of having this con­ver­sation maybe at the next con­ference at the National Council of Black Stud­ies, or having both ASALH and NCBS do something to­geth­er where the con­ver­sa­tion can begin to get that cross-fer­ti­li­za­tion that people had been talk­ing about, and for us to make a com­mitment to be there and think about who else needs to be there.

… The conversation here is very helpful in terms of me saying as I look at the field of Black Studies, what ought to be priorities that I pay attention to. Is that going to result in a grant for every per­son in this room? Probably not. I’m hoping there will be some kind of funding strategies that I will engage in that will build the field. … I am going to talk with her [Marilyn] about how we get at least one more conversation that I can support, and then again, how you’re going to sustain it past that. So think about that along the way, and where that would take place, and linking it to a con­fer­ence may be a way to do it. It may get at some of the issues of bringing us “back to church,” as they say, and getting senior schol­ars and people involved.


Chapter Nine Discussion Copyright © 2018 by marilyn m. thomas-houston. All Rights Reserved.

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