Amplifying Black Narratives was a three-part series held in fall 2021 as part of Friends Forum, sponsored by the Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries.
1. Amplifying Black Narratives: Past, Present, and Future
Sept. 28, 2021
The series kicked off with Amplifying Black Narratives: Past, Present, and Future and featured Jokeda (JoJo) Bell, Tia-Simone Gardner, and Catherine Squires in a conversation with moderator Cecily Marcus. The panel discussed the preservation of Black art and culture in community-based archives and in the University collections.
About the panelists
Jokeda “JoJo” Bell is the Executive Director and the Director of Exhibitions and Programming for the African American Interpretive Center of Minnesota (AAICM). Her roles within the organization have led to collaborative programming with state historical institutions like the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. She appeared as an expert in MNHS’s 2017 documentary “Storied: African Americans in WWI.” In 2019, JoJo curated The Builders exhibition for AAICM. The show was named one of the top ten exhibitions of the year by the Star Tribune. Currently, JoJo is writing a book scheduled to be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2022.
Catherine R. Squires is Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of multiple books, including “Dispatches from the Color Line” (2007) and “The Post-Racial Mystique” (2014), and edited the collection “Dangerous Discourses: Feminism, Gun Violence & Civic Life” (2016). In 2017, Squires was named a Bush Fellow. Her fellowship focused on understanding intergenerational trauma, culturally relevant healing practices, embodied story sharing and gentle movement. Through these explorations she became a certified yoga instructor and has ventured into memoir writing as a practice of healing and re-connection. She lives in St. Paul with her family and is always on the lookout for interesting birds.
Tia-Simone Gardner is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and Black feminist scholar who works primarily with drawing, still and moving-images, archives, and space. Gardner grew up in Fairfield, Alabama, where she received her BA in Art and Art History from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. In 2009 she received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Practices and Time-Based Media from the University of Pennsylvania. She participated as a Studio Fellow Whitney Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum Of American Art and has been an invited artist at a number of national and international artist residencies including most recently the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. She has also been awarded a number of fellowships for her work including the McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship and a 2020 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship. Gardner currently lives in Saint Paul where she is an Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at Macalester College.
Cecily Marcus is director of collections at the Minnesota Historical Society. From 2009-2021 Marcus served as curator of the Givens Collection of African American Literature, the Performing Arts Archives, and the Upper Midwest Literary Archives. She is also the founding principal investigator of Umbra Search African American History (www.umbrsearch.org), an award winning initiative that brings together hundreds of thousands African American primary source materials from over 1,000 U.S. libraries, archives, and cultural heritage organizations. Currently, Cecily serves as chair of the advisory board for the Digital Public Library of America and as chair of the Society of American Archivists Performing Arts Section.
2. Amplifying Black Narratives: Black Publishers and Bookstores
Oct. 28, 2021
The second event featured panelists Mélina Mangal, Rekhet Si-Asar, and Dionne Sims in a discussion about the challenges faced by black authors, librarians, independent publishers, and bookstore owners in getting books by black authors on the shelves and ultimately in the hands of readers. The moderator was Kate McCready.
Opening all aspects of publishing to Black people and people of color, bringing everyone into the arena, and putting the responsibility of education about racism on everyone — including white people — were among the recommendations during Amplifying Black Narratives: Black Publishers and Bookstores.
About the panelists
Working at the intersection of Nature, Literature, and Culture, Mélina Mangal’s writing highlights youth whose voices are rarely heard, and the people and places that inspire them to explore their world. Mangal’s short stories appear in Milkweed’s Stories From Where We Live series, as well as in anthologies such as All the Songs We Sing: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. Mangal also wrote The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just, winner of the Carter G. Woodson Book Award and named an NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book. Mangal also works as a school librarian in Minnesota and enjoys spending time outdoors with her family, whether it’s in her backyard or hiking in the woods. Mangal’s newest book is Jayden’s Impossible Garden.
Rekhet Si-Asar is an artist, author, and the Executive Director of In Black Ink, a non-profit that seeks to create spaces where the intergenerational stories about Minnesotans of African heritage can be shared, documented, and archived. She is also a school psychologist in Minneapolis Public Schools.
Si-Asar earned her Associates of Arts degree in Illustration/Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in Child Psychology and Communications; a Master’s (in route) from the Institute of Child Development; and, her Educational Specialist Degree (Ed.S.) from the University of Minnesota’s, School Psychology Program. She attended the International Khepran Institute in Minneapolis where she studied African foundations for community development.
Si-Asar co-founded and coordinated the Imhotep Science Academy and Initiatives, an African-centered K-8 educational STEM program. She also co-founded and served as the Operations Manager and in-house artist at Papyrus Publishing Inc.
Dionne Sims is the founder of Black Garnet Books: a queer, Black, woman-owned bookstore. She received her Bachelor’s in Communications from the University of Minnesota before building a career as a User Experience Designer. She created Black Garnet during the Summer of 2020 as a response to state violence against Black people, as well as the purposeful exclusion of people of color from the literature community.
Kate McCready is currently serving as the Interim Associate University Librarian for the Collections & Content Strategy service area at the University of Minnesota Libraries. She provides leadership in the development, discovery, and long term stewardship of the Libraries’ wide-ranging collections. With over 7.7 million print volumes, and millions of electronic resources, the University of Minnesota Libraries’ research collections address all current and emerging areas of study at the University.
McCready is responsible for the acquisition, licensing, description, and discovery of the Libraries’ collections. She also oversees departments that facilitate access to resources held at partner libraries throughout the world and those that develop and steward the technologies and systems that support the metadata, fulfillment, and discovery of our robust resources. Her service area also handles the digitization, management, and preservation of the Libraries’ physical collections and provides services and expertise to campus content creators on intellectual property rights while advocating for sustainable models for scholarly communication and information sharing. McCready has worked at the University Libraries for 23 years.
3. Amplifying Black Narratives: The Creation of Black Narratives
Nov. 18, 2021
The third installment of Amplifying Black Narratives featured writers Sheletta Brundidge, Larry McKenzie, and Sagirah Shahid in a discussion with moderator Dara Beevas. The panel discussed how age and individual experience influence their work, reflect on how authors find their narrative and encourage the community to find their voice — while reinforcing the message that when we uplift Black voices, we all benefit.
About the panelists
Sheletta Brundidge is an Emmy Award-winning comedian, podcaster and media personality. Her son Daniel, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, was nonverbal until he began humming “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X at age four. That irresistible video clip went viral on Twitter, getting two million hits and garnering attention from the national media. Daniel Finds His Voice, the new picture book Sheletta co-authored about her son’s ability to communicate through singing, hit the Amazon.com bestseller list after it was showcased on CBS This Morning. Sheletta has partnered with schools, libraries and clinics in Minnesota, Texas, and Louisiana to give hundreds of copies of her new book to teachers, therapists and parents.
Sagirah Shahid is a Black American Muslim poet, arts educator, and performance artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Loft Literary Center, the Twin Cities Media Alliance, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art. Shahid is a teaching-writer with Unrestricted Interest, a writing program and consultancy dedicated to supporting neurodiverse learners through creative writing. Her debut collection of poetry Surveillance of Joy is forthcoming from Half Mystic Press. Shahid’s children’s activity book, Get Involved In A Book Club, is available for pre-order with Capstone Press.
Larry McKenzie is coach, author, educator, and a long-time community and youth advocate with 20 plus years of experience working with urban youth. His service to young people has earned him numerous awards and recognition, including KARE 11’s Eleven Who Care, KTCA’s Everyday Hero, the Minneapolis Park Board’s Volunteer of the Year, and Positive Image Father of the Year.
McKenzie is the first coach to win four straight state titles in the 100-year history of the Minnesota State Boys Basketball. In 2017, Coach McKenzie became the first Coach in Minnesota High School Basketball History to lead two separate schools to multiple titles, both Minneapolis Patrick Henry and Minneapolis North. In 2014, McKenzie became the first African-American Coach selected to the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.
Dara Beevas is the co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer at Wise Ink, a creative publishing agency, and has been in the publishing industry more than a decade.
Beevas is the author of The “Indie Author Revolution” and has a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University. She was selected as an emerging writer by the Givens Foundation for African-American literature and was named a 2016 Bush Foundation Fellow. She lives with her husband and daughter.