Black Studies and the Community
(Due to the importance of this issue and the robust discussion among the participants, the transcript from this panel is included in its entirety with only minor editing.)
Charles P. Henry (University of California, Berkeley): When I was asked to do something on community and Black Studies, I immediately began to look at some anthologies for previous work on it and looked at [at] least a half dozen anthologies and found one article focused solely on community service and Black Studies. To me that was a sign that our interest in community was not what it was in the late ’60s and early ’70s when the program got started. So of necessity I’ve drawn impressionistic evidence that I think one of our needs is to get some real concrete data; and I think Abdul is showing us one of the ways we can do that.
So, I had start with what was going on at Berkeley, and central to Berkeley’s demands in ’68 and ’69 was the notion that Black Studies had to be integrally linked to the community. And they asked for an institute of research that focused on the community. And there were several other aspects; none of those happened. We’ve [been] successful in a number of ways, including a PhD program, but in terms of the community involvement, it’s a great weakness at Berkeley and I suspect in a number of other places.
To my knowledge, since I’ve been there, we’ve had two programs that revolve around community to some extent: one, a tutoring program, which we’ve administered for a while, but no longer administer; and Poetry for the People, which June Jordan came and started, which works in community as well as on campus, and that we continued to keep going out of our money. She was able to bring in outside money for that. But in terms of community involvement in the decision-making and direction of programs and the research end of the program; no involvement.
In looking at the little literature that exists out there, Manning Marable has a “debate” between him and Skip Gates on activism in Black Studies. It’s not really a debate because they don’t engage each other in his Dispatches from the Ebony Tower. What’s offered is an arrangement from Skip Gates talking about the availability of community internships to Manning talking more about applied public policy that affects the Black community; and that would seem to set the parameters of current Black Studies programs.
I also looked at the history of Black intellectuals. One can argue that organic intellectuals, that is, intellectuals not on university campuses, have been more centrally involved with their communities in terms of their work. It turns out that if you look at Carter G. Woodson or E. Franklin Frazier or Cornel West, they all represent different generations that are all very upset with their current Black intellectuals. So that has remained consistent that Black intellectuals don’t seem to be as highly regarded; or at least those individuals don’t seem to think they’re as engaged as they should be in those communities.
Whether we’re better or worse than we were before, it still leaves us with the issue of where do we go from here? I’ve outlined five or six points. And all you can do in 1,700 words is outline. One is to deconstruct the notion of the Black community, because I agree with Adolph Reed that sometimes you can use it as a trump to really end conversation. “I represent the Black community, therefore you need to do this and this.” Who are we talking about in the Black community? The Black community is more fragmented than it’s ever been; it’s also richer now than it’s ever been and we’ve not been able to tap [into] that wealth within the Black community. With progressive changes in immigration it’s much more diverse; with our discussions of gender it’s more open to considering gender and sexuality questions.
So whose Black community are we talking about, and what kinds of programs are we talking about to address this community, and who’s going to pay the cost of those programs? Because with every program there is a cost. It comes out of something else. It means you’re not doing scholarships; you’re not doing this; you’re not doing that. So we have to be aware of benefits and costs.
Secondly, I think we need a clearinghouse for best practices. I’d like to know what’s been successful elsewhere before I invest some money in something. I know Ohio State has done a review of their community extension programs. Before I set up a community extension program I should look at what works; it has been in existence since 1976. So there’s a history of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and not everything is going to work in a different context; but certainly we’ve got enough stuff going on nationally that we can find some program that seems to work at universities like ours. A clearinghouse would certainly help with that. We’ve got “best practices” in a lot of things but certainly not in terms of community.
Third, what kind of community service are we talking about? There are a couple of major types. One is direct services to the Black community. The most obvious one is tutorial programs. We’ve got students who go out to our public schools and help tutor students who are at risk or who want to come to the university. We have GED programs; those kinds of things are one kind of community service and usually have the most direct link.
But the other kind has to do with how our research is shaped by our involvement in the community. And, James Jennings and his piece, which is the only piece that I’ve seen that really focuses on this in Marable’s reader, talks about Kenneth Clarke’s research growing out of the HARYOU project and his work with Black youth unemployment in Harlem and how that was effective in shaping the internal colony model, which he’s one of the first to articulate.
More recently, in terms of the handbook that Molefi and Maulana have put out, there’s a discussion in there of social work and how social work professionals’ discussion of things like rites of passage has benefited from the development of an African-centered approach that includes spirituality as well as a number of issues. That’s a second part of how community affects Black Studies in terms of how it grows our research paradigms.
Fourth, funding community projects has tended to be external in that it all comes from soft money. And soft money comes and goes in political cycles as politicians respond or don’t respond. We’ve been in a down cycle, at least in California we’ve been in a down cycle for some time. But I think Abdul points out an important internal resource, and that is work-study money that can be used off campus or on campus. So we need to look at that again.
Fifth, and maybe most importantly, is the reward system. The reward system in the university tends to not only not reward community service, but punish community service. I’ve been told on my reviews that I’m producing too much community service and that was going to hold me back. I’ve been told in terms of my reviews I can’t publish with a Black publisher or it’s going to hold me back. The budget committee, which has the last say on promotion, appointments, etc. at Berkeley, has had one Black member in twenty years. So we need to reform ourselves internally. We have added language in the academic personnel manual within the last two years that recognizes diversity as something that should be looked at in terms of tenure and promotion. That’s been at least a twenty-year struggle to get that language in there. Now we have to get it implemented. Saying it is one thing to get the people looking at what you’re doing to say, “Okay they didn’t do this article, but they did this project in the community, or for the profession. They edited this journal,” or it’s something else. And if you’re not on the budget committee, how are you going to police that? How are you going to implement that?
Something I would add that grew out of one comment that I heard here was [that] one of the best things I heard from political science at Berkeley was when a Black candidate came through for a job interview and a well-known political scientist said, how would you explain what you do in twenty-five words or less to the person on the street; if you just went out and were asked what you did? And, this person couldn’t do it. I think we need to ask each one of our graduates coming in or leaving a program, “How will your research impact the Black community?” And if they are not able to answer that question, they need to rethink their research paradigm.
Warren Whatley (University of Michigan):
What are some of the issues; some of the cautions, pitfalls, possibilities? One is tenure. We’ve really got to make sure that it does not get in the way of tenure amongst our young faculty and professional development for all of us. I think if we don’t deal with that constraint it’ll never really get done. We’ll always be sitting here saying we want to do it but we won’t. Two, links to professional schools, I think we can learn quite a bit from them because they’ve been doing it for a long time. Three, links to the community can help attract outside funds from well-to-do Blacks. I was thinking of the conversation here with the professional organizations and I wanted to say why not give an award to Denzel Washington for community service and then follow up on that with some fundraising activity; Michigan can do that but an award that represents a large group of Black intellectuals might help quite a bit, only if the universe that that professional organization is serving is committed to real community stuff; only if the award really means something. If we really got our act together, then that’s another agenda item.
Real commitment is needed. What I’ve learned from interacting with these programs at Michigan and these science delivery schools is that a notion like a three-legged stool is needed. You can’t think that we’re about research, we are about training students, and then if we get to it we’re about activism, because it is a part of our origins. We’ve got to think about all three of those things needed in order for the other two to move forward—research, education, and service. Until we do that I think we’re not going to get very far.
What I’ve learned from my conversations today with Terry Kershaw—I think he has a lot to say about what we can do in this area, that is, in integrating the three legs of that stool, and really making activism part of what we stand on and the other two being folded in there.
Number six is public intellectuals. I’m not talking about people who make public policy prescriptions or go work at the Fed and stuff like that. Public intellectuals meaning a version of spin doctors that get on TV and stuff like that. There is a lot of that going on, and that affects public policy. African Americans do that very well, and we should support that instead of looking down our noses at it. As many of my colleagues say about economists in Black Studies departments, you should have one in the room—one at the table; but only one.
We could hold a forum on issues that are very central to what we do, like immigration; we’re missing that debate. I think what’s going on now with protests in the streets about citizenship and about rights is having a profound effect on the way the Black community is viewed and how the Black community even thinks of itself as an empowered political movement that we haven’t been part of. It’s sort of seeping in now, but we missed that and we should have been ready and prepared for something like that.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): All this mobilization is taking place in Spanish. If it had been going on in English we’d have been a part of it. It’s been on Spanish TV stations. Everything has been in Spanish, which is why they had such a turnout.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): There is a discussion about the absence of African Americans. We have Afro-Latinos; we have people that are bilingual. So how do you get in on the discussion?
Warren C. Whatley (University of Michigan): And missing that is costly. My conclusion was if we ever get our act together on this front, then fundraising becomes a lot easier.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): What I find interesting is that my association with Black Studies is very much rooted in one that came out of activism and connection to community. The irony is that as we’re having this discussion, universities themselves have moved in to incorporate this whole notion of service-learning and using that nomenclature. So the question is why aren’t we participating in that debate? There’s funding for that, building it into classes; it’s a way to get it back into the discipline.
Another thing is that interesting spaces like museums, the Field Museum for example, [are] doing participatory action research and connecting with departments. So part of it is partnering spaces that may not be the usual suspects and moving outside the academy. So I would put that on the table.
Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): For many years, probably since the ’70s, the department of African American Studies has had a program called Pass-Out, which is very well known. A few years ago it was disconnected from our department, but it was a model program where faculty members and graduate students volunteered to teach community people some basic subjects. We had at one time nearly a thousand people taking those courses from the north Philadelphia region. So people would come in from the community and want to learn basic courses in almost any subject; there would be faculty or graduate students to teach them, and community volunteers from the professions would be involved. One of our previous chairs disconnected it from our department because it was not considered to be academic.
Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech): That brings up an important point that needs to be understood also. You [referring to Whatley’s comment] were saying, for example, people are not doing that. One of the benefits that Temple had and one of the benefits that Ohio State had was they are in Philadelphia and Columbus. One of the benefits we don’t have at Virginia Tech, for example, is we are in Blacksburg. That has to be taken into consideration also.
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): Maybe we don’t know what we are doing when we say things like we don’t have it. Because in the college of Ethnic Studies, we have been winning awards nationwide for our community service. We’ve been teaching and having it in Black Studies for at least four years. And right now our college is setting up… . We had taken away faculty awards because that was elitist; but now they’re trying to bring it back and I was asked by the provost to be on this committee, because Black Studies has been doing it so well, they wanted to set up the criteria for faculty winning the award in community service learning and they want to go to those units that have been doing it. Within the college of Ethnic Studies all of our units, all of our studies — La Raza Studies, Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies; we all have a community service learning component. We do it differently. Some people build it into the class as an extra two units and some people offer it directly as a course.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): Do you get the funding that the university gets—the money that they’ve gotten from service learning? Does that also flow into your departments?
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (San Francisco State University): It’s offered as a course right now. That’s the way it works. My work with the National Council of Teachers of English on the Black Caucus and Rainbow Coalition, we also have an award for community services within the National Council of Teachers of English. Maybe, as from some of your observations, we need to have some kind of network to let each other know, because we can go around saying we ain’t doing this or that, because we don’t know that we are doing it outside of areas that we have knowledge of.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): The point I was trying to make is if you are doing it, how do [we] link it back to taking advantage of the funding that’s out there. Because what I was also hearing was people saying how do we get the resources? And I’m saying that if you have a long history, how did you, or have you tapped into the money that is always sitting out there for service-learning for people developing and doing [curricula] that are service-oriented? That’s really the question.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): My sense is that this is going on in the UC system, a lot of the service learning infrastructure and funding is coming through student affairs. Which means that it is very undergraduate oriented and it is taking place at an administrative entity, which is a little bit disengaged from the structures that provide the main academic services like departments. So that’s kind of a problem of harnessing service learning resources in a lot of contexts.
Charles E. Jones (Georgia State University): What we try to do at Georgia State is build the department around the two prongs of NCBS, which are academic excellence and social responsibility. There’s some tension there as Kevin mentioned. One of the things we’ve done in our first year was incorporate service learning in our introduction courses. Every student that takes the introduction course has a service-learning component where they volunteer twenty hours with an organization. So in a ten-year period on our service, we put about 1,400 students into the community to work with over fifty organizations. Many continue to volunteer after service learning; some have gotten jobs.
In our second program, we have our education initiative where a faculty member coordinates requests from the Atlanta public school system, from elementary to high school, where we give lectures. Unfortunately, they all fall on Black History Month. Teaching workshops and the like are other practices. We had a prison project at the federal penitentiary, the last place Marcus Garvey was before he left the country, where we taught an intro to African American Studies class, we had a drama class going there, and a couple of other things, but that changed when the prison received a new warden.
The question becomes how do we do these things, but at the same time ensure that our folks get tenure, where we work out a deal in terms of faculty workload and make a case that this is comparable to having a class offsite? So I have been able to give release time. We get summer money for professional development. For example, a person who does an education initiative may be able to get 10 percent. However, we try to have that balance; some people complain, but we’ve been very successful. We had seven people, and out of the five people who have gone up for tenure, everybody has been successful.
So there are ways to do that. We want to distinguish ourselves and define ourselves in Africana Studies, and we have to find a better way to implement and operationalize that with what people are doing and make the best practices through the professional organizations so that we can have a bank with that information there. It could be very helpful.
Unidentified: How much is it for institutional membership?
Charles E. Jones (Georgia State University): $300 for membership; that’s a good deal.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): That’s not enough and that’s one of the reasons people aren’t joining. Raise the price and you’ll get more members.
Charles E. Jones (Georgia State University): UCLA has always been a longtime supporter, but we have a problem getting $300.
Sylvia Cyrus-Albritton (ASALH): We could do a combo, $300 and $250 that’s $550 and you can get both organizations.
Edmund T. Gordon (University of Texas, Austin): I wanted to address why an active scholarship takes more advantage of the service trend that’s going on at other universities. At the University of Texas, one of the big reasons is the university has a particular notion as to what service is and the Center for African American Studies has another notion of what activism is. There is a progressive aspect as to what our politics [are] in the Black community, which is definitely not the same thing as the university’s application in terms of community service. So if the nursing school wants to do, in terms of service, a component that includes a cultural pathology approach to the Black community, which is totally antithetical to what we are interested in, they get approval. We wanted to have a community activism component. When we tried to have an activist community service the university told us it could only be called community service, we couldn’t get the word activism in the wording. So there’s politics that’s a problem.
Kimberle Crenshaw (UCLA): I want to turn to my theme and broaden the notion of community, and talk about one of the ways I think that we as a collective can be more effective in the field and the community in some of the national struggle that is going on there. For example, we all know theVoting Rights Act is coming up for renewal in 2007. Trust that the other side right now is deeply mobilized, their intellectuals, researchers; everybody is lined up to show that this is no longer necessary. I don’t know if any of us are really involved; perhaps some of us are.
But as an organization, I think a piece of community service can be to collectively anticipate the issues that are coming down the pike over a two- to five-year period. It’s not impossible to do. That’s how the other side always out-mobilizes us. They know what’s happening in two, four, and five years; they begin the process of mobilizing far enough in advance so that by the time the issues really hit the public arena, they’re totally prepared for it. That’s part of both public service and academic work that can be blended together.
All of us do some kind of research that’s relevant at some level to political participation; the levels of it, the history of it, the importance of it, etc. We name all of the issues that I have heard over the last ten years that were equally important — welfare reform, incarceration issues, and affirmative action. Anti-affirmative action stuff is spreading throughout the country. There’s another initiative going on in Michigan. This racial privacy thing is going to happen in state after state. We can be effective if we are organized and we anticipate it in advance. Not to take away from any of the local community kind of issues, because I think those are important; but there’s a way in which if we can aggregate our resources and expertise we can be far more important in intervening in this collectively than we can do it [individually], each one of us.
The only thing I’ll say … Warren, you said something earlier … I am appalled sometimes at how our public officials go on TV and talk about things they know absolutely nothing about.
Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): I wanted to answer Irma’s question about the service. I essentially agree with Edmund, and I want to make four quick points. First, is that we have a sense of needing to overcome this sense of hypocrisy and appropriation by the university of an idea we had and the inability to concede it’s our idea. So it’s hard to even work with them because they don’t seem honest. The second thing is a matter of self-determination. That is under the university’s control; we don’t have the latitude to shape it in our own image and interest. The third one is the one that Edmund pointed out about the difference in approach from social service to social change or social activism. They don’t want us to be really active. They want us to serve. And that fits in with the established order of what we should do. The fourth reason is that there’s been an erosion and interruption of the Black activist intellectual conditions within Black Studies itself. So that formulating these causes that came almost intellectually naturally, if we can argue that, now is a laborious task and people believe they don’t have time to do this. If you poll them they don’t seem to really have the time. If they don’t have time to join NCBS, you know they don’t have time to go see the community.
So I think the other thing we have to do is [talk] about immigration. As Lee and people at NCBS know, I’m very much into the immigration thing and the immigration project. And, I’m in there not only because I can read the Spanish and also because since the 60s we’ve seen Latinos as complex and [also as] our ally in the struggle against the established order. What I think we need to do, even if we don’t know how to read Spanish, [with] those people who do know how to read Spanish, we have to translate those items that are key and make them available. And I think in the context of a professional organization we can do just that. And we have been doing that in terms of writing articles. I write an article, I put it on NCBS listserv, people can read it—
Lee D. Baker (Duke University): A timely article, I must say.
Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): Thank you. The point I want to make about that is that I did an analysis from a Black position and African-centered. I used our own social ethical text to make an argument for caring for the vulnerable, for the stranger. So what happens here is that we’re doing it in our own interest.
I also laid out the fact that the immigration issue is not just about Latinos, whether they’re African or a triple identity or not. It’s also about Haitians, it’s about continental Africans; it’s about other Caribbean Africans, and we have to see it as a larger human and African issue.
The other thing we can do is participate in the struggle itself. Certainly we are involved in the struggle, and we are involved in it on several levels in terms of fighting for the Haitians within the context of immigration. One of the problems that Black people have is that a lot of times they say, “I can’t help anybody until I help myself.” What we have to do is demonstrate that they are helping themselves by helping others and by helping the Africans that are involved in immigration. No one is worse treated than Haitians; everybody knows that. That’s the lowest on the totem pole in terms of immigration, the way they’re treated. So for us not to take that as our issue is irresponsible.
The last thing, we need to do these policy papers and put them out there. Kimberle talks about the poverty of intellectual depth in the so-called public intellect. I really like that term. We’re activist scholars. The public intellectuals talking to the public about us. That’s essentially what the public intellectual is in this Black Studies project. But an activist scholar has a tradition that goes all the way back to the classical African civilization of ancient Egypt. We need to write these policy papers.
We also need to get involved in the labor movement. The next most important area [where] we can get involved is the labor struggle. We talk about that at NCBS and again, I invite everybody to join and come.
Mónica Carrillo (LUNDU): It’s very interesting because I think that often immigration is thinking specifically in terms of action or economic trouble. But I think that immigration is the new Diaspora. Maybe the first Diaspora was when African people were taken and put in America. But the second Diaspora is Afro-Latino people, African people from the Caribbean islands and Central America who come to the United States and to Europe. Because the richness of Latin America … now, there isn’t any anymore in our countries. Maybe for example Europe and East Asia, their countries are rich because they accumulated the gold of African and Latino countries. So I think it’s very important to understand immigration like a second Diaspora of African-descended people from America. And if we introduce this other perspective, we can understand more another kind of Diaspora because there are African people and Asian people, too, in the United States.
James de Jongh (CUNY): We have about ten minutes left, so I ask everyone to make their comments brief.
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): I think everybody is right about this policy business; what I have written has been about policy making. As program chair for ASALH and vice president of programming, I want to reach across the table and say if ASALH held a policy workshop every year as part of this convention and if NCBS held one in the spring every year as part of its convention, and if this workshop brought together academics and actual policymakers, then we could start a conversation twice a year, fall and spring, about various issues. But once again, to do this, there is a funding problem. We can get the academics to come to this one. But it’s not as easy when we have a conference at a certain location to get the participation of people who … sometimes politicians come to your meetings only when they can fit it in because they’re serving the constituents. But to bring in people, perhaps the staffers, from some of the congress-people, to come to the conference in the fall and the spring, and to address some issues that we established, a kind of agenda with some flexibility, for perennial issues and cutting edge at the same time. That should be easy for us to effect with funding.
Carole Boyce Davies (Florida International University): A couple of things following one of the points that Charles made. One of the things we [Florida International] have to try to work on is bringing the university to the community. We’ve done this through partnerships through a series of ways of working with teachers in the schools. Along with that, one of the ways that we let MA students get credit for a degree is by creating a community program and then writing that up as a paper. So there’s an option that if you want to write a thesis or if you want to do precisely that; the third way is building lesson plans and other kinds of materials if you’re going to be working in schools. I wanted to put that on the table as well.
Related to this point about immigration is the question of the way in which US African American communities are also treated as non-citizens. So I think there’s a natural link. Many people were looking at Katrina around the world, I mentioned this in the paper, and are saying, “What the hell is this?” People had never seen anything like that. So here you have a community, en masse, that’s totally destroyed and everybody is on to the next thing. And people wondered how come there was no … We were calling each other trying to figure out who is going to … where is a position statement, what is happening. We called Schomburg, we called too many people. But there’s a way in which, yes, Kimberle, there’s no affirmative position that comes out when something like that occurs. … There are so many things that have happened and there has been nothing. So there’s something that has to intervene. After this maybe we can talk about some strategies that can be implemented right away or soon after these things happen—at least a position statement.
Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): Two points. On the question of immigration, I think we should be a little bit deliberate about where the Black community stands on this. In other words, Black people are interested in their own well being, as well they should; as everybody is, which is why people want to immigrate. But unless we put forward the fact that it has to be a both sides of the border solution, not a one side of the border solution, and if we take the poor and working people in the Black community, take their sense of dread and fear seriously, whether we speak Spanish or not, the issue really is within our community. Two sides of the border is the main thing. The bourgeoisie worked it out. They first did NAFTA and now they want cheap labor.
My other point is the best-case scenario that we do in Toledo with regard to community service. Clearly we have to figure out how to make it work. First, every time we put a program forward and we say it has something to do with computers and the internet, everybody loves it. That’s a word to the wise. So just put that in your paper. The second is the fact that we built a website, a portal, called Cyber Church. We built a free web page for over five hundred churches in Toledo. This is a project not only to serve the community; I mean bring them something they don’t have.
We all exist in information tech-rich environments. The Black community isn’t necessarily waiting on us to bring them ideology. Some people have different views about that, but you know, most of the Black community looks at us as people they have to re-educate. But we have something now they don’t have in the numbers and quality.
The research aspect of this is that right now somebody is geo-coding the churches. Now just imagine if we could set up the network where every Black Studies program went out and built a Cyber Church in their community and we ended up with a database of 10–15,000 churches where we could in fact interrogate the database with regard to denomination, characteristics of the minister; imagine 10,000 sermons online; 10,000 choir renditions online.
What we’re talking about is a revolution in the study of the Black church. It’s not just a new way to do it. We’re talking about knowledge we don’t have right now. Imagine being able to control for women ministers in the South and compare their sermons; or to look at a passage in the Bible, all the sermons that deal with that, and look at the characteristics of the church, the community, the minister, the congregation. We’re talking about a new twenty-first century approach to what we’re doing. This is not the same old game. You go out and do a literary criticism where you go out and read five novels and write a book.
We got a sister who’s doing a census of the African American novel, including the ones that were serialized in church publications in the South fifty years ago, that nobody knows about because Barbara Christian, God bless her soul, reviewed novels that were in the New York Times. So that became the real filter for literary criticism.
My whole point is that it’s possible to do twenty-first-century work if we only evolve our thinking so that we can become more democratic. Because all these databases are accessible and transparent and inherently democratic. It hasn’t been mentioned here, but we have old-boy/old-girl networks working here; and we know that. So what we’ve got to do is answer the question why don’t we have more people by being more democratic; more open; more transparent; more accessible; more self critical; and concerned with our real community.
Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech): I won’t take a lot of time, but I would ask you to think about, as we’ve been talking all day about, the field and what it is. What we’re really talking about is how we are training future professionals and how do we go about training future professionals to be scholar activists. And there are approaches out there in terms of how to do that research. I don’t have enough time to talk about it in detail. But I know, for example, I do my work in terms of scholar activist methodology; and there are ways to actually do that; and that’s what we’re talking about. We really have not, as a community of scholars, actually talked about how does one go through it; how do you train future professionals to do research that’s going to allow them to generate knowledge that would allow the community to empower itself and act in its own best interest? We have that available. We don’t have time now. But if we can, I’d like to talk more about that, about [how] we would actually go about doing it. It’s not impossible to do; as a matter of fact it’s something we can do and train others to do. As a matter of fact, we can train the community to do it; it doesn’t have to be us.
Unidentified: It doesn’t get in the way of tenure, does it?
Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech): Not at all.
Janice Adams (Guest): I’m just here to listen and observe and learn. I’m Janice Adams and I’ve been consulting with Irma McClaurin. I had a thought that I don’t think the general public, if we can use that term, really knows what Black Studies is and what it does.
And I think there’s a critical issue in terms of raising a profile of Black Studies for which we have some genuine scholar/activist stars [to] whom [it] is our responsibility to pay some serious attention to. I think John Hope Franklin is one of them; I think we have people who are serious scholars who are on campuses who also have a media profile who may not be in the trenches on Black Studies, but who can attract enough public attention for the agenda to be able to be pushed forward. Those people include Maya, who’s on a campus; Toni Morrison, who’s on a campus; and if I can use my media hat for the moment, some kind of event where you’d have the association or some kind of combined event that pays tribute to the people who work so hard for us.
John Hope Franklin really stands out for me. Irma and I were at an event at Barnes and Noble where he was treated like a groupie when he came in by [a] diverse range of people. Paying attention to that, I think, is going to raise the profile so that we can say what Black Studies is, what it does, how it contributes to our world at large. [It] is going to be immensely important from a funding standpoint, from covering your flanks in terms of the university not being able to be so easily dismissive.
Sylvia Cyrus-Albritton (ASALH): I want to speak quickly on the policy issue because I think it’s very important as one of the people that get the telephone calls that want to know from CBC and every press agency, from one poll to the next in terms of a position, that institutions like ours and like our professional organizations need to adopt in our mission statements the fact that we will assist in policy statements; it would be very helpful. Then really developing some strategies, be it working with the CBC Foundation. Maybe it’s not at our conferences. Maybe we have to get funding to bring the people who are interested to the Congressional Black Caucus and where our leadership is. But I think that this issue of policy is very important. And as we are silent on the plethora of issues that are coming to bear, that we are really minimizing what Black Studies really means, because we say there are so many diverse points of view by the time we get together, who are the leaders who always say something? It makes it very difficult for those of us who are directing who the press should be talking to and what the policies should be. And this is an issue that we’re really asleep on, because the press is calling those few institutions looking for Black Studies, the Black perspective, when they don’t want to call the individual universities and the Black Studies department with its independent point of view. And it is something we need to adopt and give some serious consideration to, because there are such critical issues coming down the pike and we need to help direct the community.
Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): I just want to add to what she was saying. I’ve been listening and I know that Daryl is saying, where’s the money? I heard several things here. One is how can the two organizations collaborate in a way that makes them stronger so far? For example, you talked about having each a policy kind of thing. You can do that with service learning. In other words, those people doing the community participatory action stuff, everybody is doing it but we didn’t know what people were doing. How do you share that information? How do you use the organizations?
One strategy to think about is if your institutions haven’t paid attention to you. Instead of bolstering them, why not apply for funding through your national organizations. You can lend grants to people who have a 501(c)(3) status. Let them get the indirect cost as opposed to your universities. Let them be the intermediary that then becomes the way that you go to them to say, “Here’s my project,” and at least know that it’s being looked at by people who share what you’re doing. That’s one way you can think about it.
The technology. For some of you, your travel was late because you weren’t doing your email, and so we need to get the technology on board. I heard several people here saying we have model programs of how to do this community action stuff. Why not work with them to digitize it; to make it accessible. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel if people are already doing a good job at it. How do you globalize it?
There are people who have modules on globalization that are available from the web. You can pull down the syllabus; you can pull this [meeting] down. These resources are available; the technology makes it possible to take programs that have done an effective job and do that.
Part of it is collaborating, [which] is probably going to get the attention of any funder, including myself around things. I’m not taking proposals at this point. But what I’m saying is how do you effectively leverage, not your individual institutions, but the field of Black Studies? The projects that I am interested in are the ones that are not going to build your individual institution, but will build the field. So that’s what I have an interest in.
When you can begin to think in those kinds of terms and come up with [ways] to develop a best practice model of community action for Black Studies, not from my institution here, there or wherever, but for the field, that will get my attention.
So begin to think in those terms; think about the absence of technology. If you come and say we need to introduce technology into Black Studies across the institutions, let’s do a pile-up with these numbers and then they can help the rest of us do it. Thinking on that scale and not about the individual project and my institution is really the way to go about it. That will also get the attention of other foundations because it’s advancing a field.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): I want to express a slightly different point of view than one that was expressed earlier about African American Studies being the leader in terms of community service and scholar activism. From my reading of history, that really is quite accurate. The biggest piece of American public higher education is the land grant college. It was founded on notions of community service. Its main community service in the nineteenth century was to absolutely transform American agriculture. We move on to some of the things that are going on right now in the twenty-first century where we see a keen interest [in] service learning but it’s going on at the same time that major research universities are serving as the handmaiden for another kind of external entity, and that is the technology transfer function; the growth of proprietary research within the university, which is serving a very narrow corporate and industrial elite.
On the other side of that is [that] universities [are] trying to make sure that they are connecting with their publics because they’re going in one direction but they see it as a public relations problem; and in a lot of ways that accounts for this resurgence of service learning in a lot of big universities like my own.
Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech): No one is saying that Africana Studies and Black Studies are the leaders in this. What they’re saying is that this notion of activism is an integral fundamental part; not that it came first.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): Several people did say it came first. And I’m saying that maybe [the label] activism gets you in trouble. But the notion of public service is integral to what we do in higher education. So the way we cast what we’re doing is also going to relate to how it is received within our individual contexts. We all get a certain amount of credit in promotions and so forth for public service. There is a continuum.
Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech): That’s the key.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): It depends on where you stand.
Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): The difference between the historic development of what you’re talking about, Claudia, I don’t even deny and I accept. You know the modern impetus for this comes from the US government and corporations feeling that their children are detached from civic responsibility. That’s sort of different. So when they do it, they cover this up and the conversation we had about people and the epistemology of learning to serve, the Black women’s club movement, “Enter to learn, leave to serve.” This was activism; it wasn’t simply about handing out food. It wasn’t a breakfast program, it was about changing society and changing the way we understand ourselves and having a sense of responsibility for the world we’re coming into; that’s a whole different kind of thing. And we don’t have a whole lot of discussion about that, not in the way we put it.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA),Terry Kershaw (Virginia Tech), Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), James de Jongh (CUNY):
James de Jongh (CUNY): Ladies and gentlemen we’re going to have to bring this to a close.
- HARYOU (Harlem Youth Opportunities), founded in 1962, combined with Associated Community Teams to become HARYOU-ACT. ↵