Key Elements Used by the National Council for Black Studies that Institutionalize the Field of Africana Studies
Summer L. (Henry) Melay, National Council for Black Studies
Black Studies organizations play a key role in institutionalizing the field of Africana Studies. The National Council for Black Studies (NCBS) has been a major contributor to the field. NCBS uses key elements such as its annual conferences, the publication of the International Journal of Africana Studies, and membership development in order to aid in the stabilization of the field.
In order to visualize a clear picture of how NCBS has played and continues to play a key role in institutionalizing the field, reflection on the 1960s is necessary. Throughout the sixties, there were numerous accounts of campus unrest, anti-war demonstrations, courtroom battles, marches, and sit-ins performed across the country. As campuses across the country began to establish Black Studies programs, a small group of academic leaders realized that without institutionalizing a nationwide organization, the mission toward educating masses of students across the nation may not have been taken seriously. Seven years after the establishment of the first Black Studies department, NCBS was formed. The role of the Council was unmistakable. The Council sought to strengthen and validate Black Studies courses through a commitment to promoting academic excellence and social responsibility in the field.
Throughout the thirty-plus years of its establishment, NCBS has struggled to maintain its integrity and moral compass. On occasion, the Council has been criticized as supporting largely an Afrocentric perspective. Contrary to this belief, NCBS reflects and encourages various perspectives from those in diverse fields. These varied points of view are often conveyed during roundtable discussions and are noted in research papers and grant proposals, etc. Our efforts to be inclusive involve publishing articles in the International Journal of Africana Studies that reflect a variety of theoretical and ideological on issues of race, social class, gender, cross-cultural and multicultural curricula, and postcolonial and postmodernist eras. This bi-annual journal is distributed to institutions of higher learning and libraries across the nation. It aids in the field of Africana Studies and typifies points of view and ideas that are likely to be introduced in classroom settings.
Each year, NCBS holds a conference, hosted by different institutions of higher learning, that provides an outlet for professionals in the field to present their research. Its major role is to recruit keynote speakers and coordinate breakout sessions that cover a wide array of topics that appeal to the general interest of conference attendees. The open-door policy of NCBS contributes to the continuous growth of NCBS membership and strengthens the network of professionals from universities and community schools.
Because the future of the field of Africana Studies lies in the hands of its students, NCBS’s conferences provide an opportunity for students who are interested in teaching in the field to network with veterans in the field. Students also have an opportunity to present their work in an environment that fosters constructive criticism from mentors and senior scholars in the field. Moreover, the NCBS conference is the ideal setting to manifest academic excellence. The Council acknowledges student accomplishments as a means to stimulate the growth of Africana Studies. The induction of students into the Ankh Maat Wedjau honor society, which recognizes winners of a student essay competition, is one way NCBS encourages students to continue the path of excellence and develop interest in the field.
Each year the membership of NCBS continues to grow. Its institutional membership has grown over 50 percent in the past five years and student membership has tripled in growth. This growth is partly attributable to recruitment efforts by board members and the benefit package that accompanies membership. Benefits include a periodic review of academic programs for institutional members, a subscription to NCBS’s professional journal, the International Journal of Africana Studies, online position announcements and book promotions, and an opportunity for eligible institutional members to apply for NCBS’s community outreach grant funding. This benefit package constitutes a key building block in the efforts of NCBS to contribute to the success of various community projects and expand the parameters of the field of Africana Studies.
Recognition of the role professional organizations play in the lifeblood of any discipline or field was an important first step in the institutionalization of Africana Studies. Continued success in the field of Africana Studies is dependent upon an understanding of the need for collaborative and cooperative relations between the departments and programs in the field and its professional organizations.