Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Africana is a Department!

Last week, I had the privilege of being a part of a celebration for Africana Studies at Barnard which was recently elevated from a program to a Department. As Frances Sadler, class of '72 reminded us, seeing a black studies department on Barnard's campus is the manifestation of dreams she and her classmates imagined in 1968, when Columbia's campus was a microcosm of the national political unrest at the time... and in the words of one of my favorite alums, Zora Neale Hurston, class of '28, "The dream is the truth."

Thulani Davis and Ntozake Shange '70 at Africana Celebration.
The celebration followed a lecture by Thulani Davis '70, and we marked the occasion with remarks from alumnae Alexis Gumbs '04, Frances Sadler '72, Ntozake Shange '70, and myself. 

Below are my remarks which were delivered in tandem with a structured improvisational dance. Artists Candace Thompson, Melanie Green, Autumn Scoggan, Sarah Chien '10, and Kimberly Mhoon brought these words to life with movement.


Africana is a Department: A Movement Score in Four Parts

I. Memory
Africana Studies majors 2007 with then Chair, Kim F. Hall
My relationship with Africana began a little more than half-way through its storied 20 years. It was actually Paul Scolieri’s World Dance History class that prompted me to look into the program. I was fascinated by how the African diaspora manifested itself in movement. I remember the day I called home and told my dad that my second major after dance would not be English, as had always been the plan, but Africana. What’s that? he asked, perplexed. What’s that?

II. Identity
Africana is the interdisciplinary study of the culture, history, literature, and politics of the people of the African diaspora. Once someone asked me if I was an Africana Studies major because I was black or because I was interested in it. I respond hastily, annoyed, indignant, "because I'm interested." It's true, I did choose to study it because I was interested, but I cannot deny that the interest is tied to my blackness and wanting to have a deeper understanding of myself.  It was through the major that I was able to tie together and make sense of all I have ever been interested in studying: blackness, feminism, modern dance, spirituality and literature. It is through Africana that I understand that with my own intellectual discourse and creative practice, I am creating space for myself and those who identify with me. I am diversifying/challenging/expanding the canons of discourse. With this understanding I, some one who lives at the intersection of historically oppressed yet presently privileged feel a joyous responsibility to dance about my realities.

III. Superhero!
Africana is LOVE. It's faculty, most especially former chair Professor Kim F. Hall, continue to unconditionally support me beyond my wildest dreams. I would not be where I am professionally without you. So I honor you Kim. I honestly believe you are a superheroine! Not only for what you have done for me and other students, but for what you have done for your colleagues, and your immense contributions to this institution. You poured LOVE into Africana Studies, and Africana loves us back. 

I know it has not always been this way.

IV. Support
I am proud to say that I felt supported as a student of color on this campus and in my academic studies as a major. Africana serves and enriches this community.

Ntozake Shange '70, dancer Autumn Scoggan and me at the Africana Celebration.

So on this day that we celebrate how far Africana has come, I'll say this: I see you Africana. I support you. I lift you up. 

1 comment:

Timothy Prolific Jones said...

I remember my first performances at Columbia and Barnard in 2001 when students and faculty at Barnard were making the push for Africana to be elevated to a department. It was a long fight, but I'm ecstatic that it came to fruition!

Loved your remarks. We'll have to chat about them soon.

It was back in those days that I first met Alexis Gumbs, who invited me to perform at an anti-Columbus Day rally. She's an awesome woman, as are you Sydnie. Glad you both got to share a stage with Ntozake Shange. Beautiful how small the world is.


Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin