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Forum series engages crowd and wraps up Black History Month

By T’Nerra Butler | Associate Editor
On February 28, 2017


In its ninth year, the Spring Literary Forum Series captured the tales of scholars and students alike as they spoke their truths.

Whether it was a scholar expressing their story, research studies, book and even one scholar’s film, each narrative encompassed one similarity: Blackness. This year’s series “Song of the Afro-South: Intersections and Connections,” took place over a span of two days, Thursday and Friday on both mornings.

Florida A&M University alumnus and 2016 recipient of the National Book Award in Nonfiction, Ibram Kendi, summed up his night at the series during the reception and book signing. The reception concluded the two-day series with the signing of Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”

Earlier, Kendi stood behind the podium of Lee Hall’s auditorium Friday, discussing different themes of his book.

“If I could sum 600 years of racist ideas in two sentences it would be this: the only thing that is wrong with black people is that we think that something is wrong with black people,” Kendi said. “The only thing that’s extraordinary about white people is that they think something is extraordinary about white people.”

His discussion included topics like early voter restrictions, peoples’ presumptions of African Americans and violence, prison reform, and other racial disparities.  In the question section of his dialogue the topic of Ebonics and the stigma behind it emerged.

“English as a language came from the German and Latin languages, but nobody calls English broken German or broken Latin,” Kendi said. “If we diversify intelligence then we can diversify culture.”

His thoughts and articulations often earned claps and nods from his captivated audience.

The opening session on Thursday included two scholars, both products of Florida A&M University, who presented their topics.

Alexander Brickler, guest panelist, explained his academic interest and studies in black history within literature as well as post-war Japanese writings. Brickler displayed different images from the Hiramoto Akira’s Manga “Me and the Devil Blues.”

Brickler said he found the unreality of Robert Johnson as an historic blues man to be a fascinating connection between the realms of folklore and history.

“Hiramoto takes some of the legend, the myth, of folklore traditions with blues in the south and is able to rearticulate them through the language of manga comics,” Brickler said.

The images incorporated the tale suggesting blues musicians sold their souls to the devil for impeccable talent.

Clothed in black with accented multi-colored Zulu tribal beads, FAMU graduate and the second panelist, Kendra Mitchell took the audience back to Africa in her tale. Those beads were to be earned, she said.

The beads were symbolic of the relationships she built.

Mitchell’s presentation was called “Between the Diaspora and Me: A Black PhD’s Fulbright Chronicles in Post –Apartheid South Africa”.

After being awarded a grant to represent Fulbright for nine months, Mitchell took off to Africa. She was responsible for teaching English, with some classes having as many as 300 students. In her presentation, she spoke on the misadventures she encountered.

During Mitchell’s time there, she witnessed different protests by the students in South Africa who wanted to fight against oppression. 

 “Events like this provides an opportunity for us to reflect as a collective, especially in a time where we are at a crossroads as a nation, as a people,” Mitchell said. “Events like this celebrate our ability to overcome.”

Mitchell is not new to the FAMU stage, as she spoke at a panel in 2011.

“My experience as a Fulbrighter left me with a global perspective and a sense of how black bodies are embraced and rejected around the world,” Mitchell said.

 William Steele, archaeologist, and historian, Andrew Frank, both presented speeches that similarly examined the thought of Seminoles and the repopulation of Africans and Native Americans.

“There are actually not Seminoles, they’re Africans who maintained their identity,” Steele said.

Frank broke down the process of the repopulation of Florida by Africans.

“And like shards of glass the set up new independent villages along the south,” Frank said.

Documentaries and films were also interwoven in the series as they told their own stories. One documentary by Keith Beauchamp, “The Untold Truth of Emmett Louis Till,” was screened and was followed by a speech from Beauchamp.

“Is this America? 53 year since the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but our civil rights continue to be violated each and every day not only by the civilian population but under those who are sworn to protect us?” Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp opened the floor for a question and answer session with Davis Houck from Florida State University. During this portion of his presentation questions like, “Can the woman who accused Emmitt Till for whistling be charged?”  “How can I tell my grandchildren that they’re not safe in America?” and “How can I use Emmitt Till’s Story to spread awareness to help the youth in Chicago?” came to surface.

Natalie King-Pedroso, professor of literature at FAMU, said the department integrates documentaries in the series because it is a great teaching instrument. The forum series started as a teen teaching project for the honor’s society and over the years has evolved.

Devan Renea, writer for Queen Sugar, shared her journey in the industry and the developmental process of the American Drama series.  She also discussed the representation of characters in Queen Sugar and the original message Oprah Winfrey was pushing for.

From being an intern, to working with Warner Bros and now working with the Oprah Winfrey Network, Renea wanted to get one thing across: students are capable of anything.

“I am a living, breathing testament that if you work hard, play hard and work smart, you can do it,” Renea said. “Whether it’s entertainment or whatever it is, you have to do it and do it with passion.”

The series hosted by the Department of English and Modern Languages, commenced and concluded with the reception in the School of Journalism and Graphic Communications. This forum series aided in summing up the last full week of Black History Month.


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