Based on the belief that action rather than theory is needed at some political point in time, question six called for an examination of the “social responsibility” mission of Black Studies. With the current attention to issues of immigration and outsourcing of jobs, the increasing rate in high school dropouts and the rise in the prison-industrial complex, and as mounting homelessness, predatory lending, and increased health care disparities plague Black communities in the US, Black Studies has an opportunity to take the lead in narrowing the town-gown divide, thus incorporating meaningful scholar activism into its curriculum. Panelists’ papers by Henry and Whatley incited a robust discussion that “explored the reasons for the disappearance of community service,” provided some clarification of the meaning of community and the role of Black intellectuals in it, and identified some “best practices.”
The discussion covered a broad range of topics as participants shared the diverse problems that affect social activism in the field. Karenga reintroduced the issue of immigration as an area of community activism and argued that the current concern is not simply about Latinos but a “larger human and African issue.” Although some scholars expressed the opinion that getting past the perception that an activist agenda is not considered academic is a great deterrent to social activism, a number of suggestions were made as to how that perception can be addressed. A great deal of attention was given to ways that allowed faculty to be engaged in community issues and not compromise the ability to obtain tenure and/or promotion. Charles Jones provided a description of the process at Georgia State: “… 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.” He mentioned how his department employed summer money to support offsite endeavors. Possible avenues for obtaining other funding to support action research were introduced.
Innovative solutions for resolving tensions between scholarship and activism were offered. The participants emphasized the importance of partnering with organizations and institutions outside of the academy, encouraging public intellectualism, and creating awards through the professional organizations as a means of tapping into funding from well-to-do Blacks. The intensity of the discussion resulted in a number of “amen” acknowledgements to many of the points made, particularly around the politics of service-learning as a legitimate academic function in Black Studies.