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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Prof. Daniel Black converses with students about gender, racial issues

<ple kept coming into the small classroom. They stood up against the wall. They sat on the floor. Anticipation floated in and out of the room. Students from Dr. Thabiti Willis’s course “West Africa in the Era of the Slave Trade” shuffled and stirred. My eyes worked their way around the room and finally settled on the pale blue books in students’ hands.

A tall, slender young man with hair that coiled and reached for the sky stood. He introduced himself as Kayle Spikes ’20, and proceeded to introduce the speaker. Applause ensued. At the front of the room stood Dr. Daniel Black. An award-winning, renowned professor of English and African American Studies at Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, Black stood erect in his tan and brown African garb. The room stood still for a brief moment and was moved into motion by Black’s booming voice as he read an excerpt from his work, The Coming.

Fifteen years in the making, The Coming pays homage to African ancestors and their experiences. Following an enigmatic and captivating read, Black opened up the space to questions and comments. Black shared his decision to center the voices of African ancestors using various strategies. In addition to incorporating slave travel logs, medical record, slave narratives and captors’ diaries, Black also employed a communal voice by using the pronoun “we” and ascribed names to these captives to ultimately provide a fuller picture of African ancestors’ frustrations and hopes during this pivotal historical moment.

Once the lecture concluded, people lingered, chatting amongst themselves. Across the room, I spotted Carleton Professor of History Thabiti Willis. Willis has known Black since his undergraduate days at Clark Atlanta University. Willis said he regards Black as a “master teacher”—he knew all he had to do was “get [Black] in a room with people, and magic would happen.”

To bring this magic to fruition, Willis and Spikes worked tirelessly. Spikes, according to Dr. Willis, demonstrated “stellar commitment” to bring this vision to life by collaborating with representatives from the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC), the Office of International and Intercultural Life (OIIL), Critical Conversations, the Carleton Student Association (CSA) and Men of Color (MOC) on various aspects of the event series.

Black’s program consisted of a mid-morning session, a lunch discussion, an early evening dinner sponsored by the GSC and a secondary dinner sponsored by OIIL, each open to students, faculty and staff. Dr. Willis shared his desire to move beyond a traditional lecture and Q&A model to instead institute an interactive model that recognized the time demands of Carleton students.

The question of topic then arose. In collaboration with representatives of the GSC and OIIL, Dr. Willis and Spikes decided on “Slavery, Sexuality, and Segregation.” Similar to the form of the program, this topic, according to Willis, allowed for an “evolving dialogue.”
Following the 3a session, Black had lunch with students and discussed the previous session and the legacy of slavery in a contemporary setting. In the evening, Black spoke with an audience at the GSC dinner at the Alumni Guest House. During this dinner, Black read excerpts from his novel, Perfect Peace. The novel follows the fictional Peace family as they examine their ideas about “gender, sexuality, unconditional love, and fulfillment” when Mother Peace passes off her seventh and final male child as a girl for the prepubescent years of her life. Black examined the “slippery slope of gender constructs,” the conflation of gender and sexuality, and how the dialogue around both topics is evolving.

Quite seamlessly, the GSC dinner transitioned into the OIIL dinner. Black examined race in the context of Carleton and broader American society. In line with the interactive nature of the day’s events, Black and students exchanged meaningful dialogue that left many pondering and reexamining how they engage with gender, sexuality and race here at Carleton. In having students interact and learn from the “bold” and “visionary” Black, Willis hopes students are compelled to further question and reexamine their view and role in shaping the world. It seems some of Willis’s hopes are already coming to fruition.

Kenya Cooper ’21 shared her thoughts on the event series. After reading The Coming in Willis’s course, Cooper was excited to talk with the author of such an “amazing” and “moving” book. She attended all the scheduled events of the day. She appreciated Black’s wisdom, from which she felt immense “spiritual inspiration.” In attending the dinners, Cooper said she “did not know what to expect, but [she] knew it was going to be good.” Furthermore, Cooper says the event series gave more context to her life and her purpose by helping make the connection between African diasporic peoples and African heritage clearer. She believes it is necessary for all people to be involved in “critical conversations” about gender and race, at Carleton and beyond.

Willis envisions that last Wednesday, Feb. 14 will be the “first of many visits and sessions” by Black at Carleton. While, Black’s renowned scholarship and knowledge has informed the lives of countless students, his dedication to “loving and honoring” others has and continues to give them “the freedom to be.”

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