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-Studies.info.
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.