As an extension of AADHum’s 2017-2018 Conversation Series, “Transformational Intersections: Digital and Public Humanities” explores how the digital humanities create, perceive, and interact with cultural heritage. Universities, museums, and other cultural institutions’ exploration of technology and new media are changing the ways communities engage with history. How can we create similar impacts for historically, culturally rich Black communities that have been purposely ignored and forgotten?
At the center of this conversation, we invited Rev. Joseph A. Brown, SJ (Professor of Africana Studies, Southern Illinois University Carbondale) and Dr. Howard Rambsy II (Assistant Professor of English, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) to be in community with Dr. Catherine Knight Steele (AADHum Director and Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Maryland) and Kevin Winstead (AADHum Project Manager and Doctoral Candidate in American Studies, University of Maryland).
This conversation plays upon the image provided by Poet Laureate Eugene B. Redmond: East St. Louis’s Black culture is carried through space and time by “drum voices.” The panel assembled here reminds us that necessary insights are restless until they arrive into a conversation of power. The focus of the discussion teaches us how long-lived survival strategies in the Black community can be transformed by teaching our children how to use digital tools and media to create emancipatory effects for their families, their communities, and the diasporic Africana world. We are reminded that every one of our young people can increase their grace, beauty, and hope by discovering how to send the truth across space. We are called to teach and to learn how the past and the future are gifts to us all.
“Transformational Intersections” was recorded in front of a live audience at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. A full transcript of the conversation is provided below. If the embedded video does not load or appear, please click here to access the recording.
About the Invited Panelists
Joseph A. Brown, S. J., Ph.D., a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. He is a Catholic priest and member of the Society of Jesus. With graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University (1969) and Yale University (1983; 1984), Fr. Brown is Professor in the Africana Studies Department (having served as Director/Chair from 1997-2013). In addition to being a National Black Catholic Congress Liturgist in 1992 (New Orleans) and 2002 (Chicago), he has published many articles in African American literary criticism and cultural studies.
He is the author of Accidental Grace (poetry; 1986); A Retreat with Thea Bowman and Bede Abram: Leaning on the Lord (1997); To Stand on the Rock: Meditations on Black Catholic Identity (1996); Sweet, Sweet Spirit: Prayer Services in the Black Catholic Tradition (with the assistance of Rev. Fernand Cheri, OFM/2006); and The Sun Whispers, Wait: New and Collected Poems (2009). He was the holder of the MacLean Chair of Jesuit Studies at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, during the fall of 2009.
Howard Rambsy II, Ph.D., is a Assistant Professor of literature at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he teaches courses on American and African American literature. He is the author of The Black Arts Enterprise. His articles, blog entries, and mixed media exhibits focus on African American artistic production. He coordinates the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club–an arts and technology program for undergraduates and high school students focused on the Digital East St. Louis project. Digital East St. Louis is a three-year project funded through the National Science Foundation and is designed to implement and study place-based learning to increase interest in STEM skills among African American students. Founded in 2015, Digital East St. Louis engages middle school students from East St. Louis in a series of out-of-school, technological learning activities
Dr. Steele: Hey, welcome to everyone, and welcome to our conversation, not a formal conversation at AADHum, but it is our version for this semester because we are very fortunate to have folks on campus that we couldn’t let be here without gracing us with a panel on some topics that I think are really interesting and poignant for these times that we’re living in regarding technology education and community and how these things get linked together. Hopefully by the work of black digital scholarship.
Dr. Steele: So the title of today’s panel is “Transformational Intersections: Digital and Public Humanities.” Using humanities to get kids involved with tech. So we’re very fortunate to be joined by three esteemed panelists today. I’m going to introduce them, and then we’re going to get right into what I hope is a very productive and generative conversation for the folks that are here with us and for the folks that will be watching this later on AADHum’s website. So I’ll start off by introducing our panel. First, all the way on my left we have Reverend Doctor Joseph Brown who is a native of East St. Louis. The Reverend Joseph Brown received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale in 1984.
Dr. Steele: His research background includes African-American and American literature and aesthetics. African-American literary history and black theology. He is the chair of the 1917 Centennial Commission and Culture initiative and a scholar of East St. Louis history and culture.
Dr. Steele: Dr. Howard Rambsy who is a professor of literature at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. Where he teaches courses on American and African-American literature. He is the author of the Black Arts Enterprise. His articles, blog entries, mixed media exhibits focus on African-American artistic production. He coordinates the East St. Louis digital humanities club which sometimes an art and technology program for undergraduates, high school students and middle school students. Is that right?
Dr. Rambsy: Now in high school.
Dr. Steele: Moved to high school.
Dr. Steele: Then finally we have Kevin Winstead. Kevin Winstead is an alum of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He’s a doctoral candidate in American Studies here at the University of Maryland. His work focuses on the continuity processes of Black social movements. His current project is emancipatory hope reclaiming Black social movement continuity. It focuses on how Black activists community pass along resistive knowledge temporarily and spatially. So thank you for joining us today.
Dr. Steele: I’m going to start out with asking all of you to kind of speak to us a little bit about your experience as broadly as you can with the community of East St. Louis. Provide us a window if you will into this space that we’re going to dive into in a little bit more deeply today. Maybe Dr. Rambsy, or Father Brown, we could start with you.
Dr. Brown: I guess we’re starting with me. East St. Louis was one of the largest industrial areas in the Midwest at the turn of the 20th century. But it was designed always to be protective of white privilege, from the very beginning. In one of the great migrations that we have experienced with African-descended people moving around, trains would go down into the South and bring Black people up to work in the packing houses, on the railroads and the other industries like the aluminum ore plant and the glass factory.
Dr. Brown: When they came into East St. Louis they became a very powerful force in local politics and they were drivers of the economy. Which meant of course they were under great suspicion attack and hatred. It culminated in two different riots, race riots, meaning white instigated domestic terrorism in the spring and summer of 1917. One in May, one in July. The May one some people would call in a cynical way would call that a warmup. The awful experience which helped to transform American history was in July of 1917 when people were convinced that Black terrorists had killed police officers. That wasn’t true, but we don’t usually have to have a true reason for instituting racism and terrorism.
Dr. Brown: So the mobs, male and female, went through the Black community killing whatever they could find. Not whoever, just whatever. They burned down houses, women who had babies in their arms were rushing out of the houses, they picked the babies up and threw them back into the houses. They killed the women. Some of the white women, a number of them, who were … I don’t know how we would call it today. They were prostitutes. That’s how we would call it today. Working in the red light district which was completely supportive of and supported by the local police and political establishments. They were taking over the street car sites and pulling people off the street cars and beating them to death in front of the police and the state militia.
Dr. Brown: There is no accurate way of knowing how many people were murdered during that time, but my rather educated suspicion is at least 400 people because they’ve never discovered all the mass graves. They didn’t count the people who were thrown into the rivers and creeks. Nor did they count the people who moved across the river into places like [Kinloch] and Ferguson and other places and who died days later.
Dr. Brown: So the newspaper accounts were never accurate when it comes to counting Black bodies. The reason it was transformative is because the Urban League organized itself around the dispossessed, the National Association for the Advanced of Colored People, two of the founders, first of all, Ida B. Wells came out and made an incredible act which we call the prototype of technology and media by what she did on the field sociologist. I maintain that she was the first real great sociologist, predating DuBois because she was his mentor. We know how he turned against her.
Dr. Brown: But the NAACP came in and did an awful lot of work. The United States Army did an investigation. So did the United States Congress. No one was ever prosecuted for anything. That dispossession turned the city around. Since then, the city was organized in a way that most of the tax base, from all of the industries were incorporated outside the city of East St. Louis. So when we talk about community development and justice, the packing houses were national city. The aluminum ore was Alterton. They just made sure that the tax base never went into the city to keep it going.
Dr. Brown: My father’s parents lived in East St. Louis at the time of the riot. My mother was taught by people in school who had been some of the great witnesses like Daisy Westbrook. So I had a history of knowing about it. Knew that the elders and the ancestors were telling me to talk about it.
Dr. Steele: I think it’s such an important place for our conversation to start because some of us, I’m from Illinois and I think some of us are from Illinois and know a bit about this, I don’t think it’s a widely understood moment as it should be in social movement history. In the way that we start to contextualize our present iterations of social movements in that area and how we really have to think back to the past in order to understand the context of what you’re talking about. So I wonder, Dr. Rambsy, if you could talk to us a little bit about as you begin to approach this moment in East St. Louis in this space now, how does the past inform what you’re looking at now, in terms of how students are being educated, how communities are dealing with the ramifications of a past that we haven’t fully explored.
Dr. Rambsy: I think a lot of it deals, at least for me, a path in like education. In some ways, we were talking about this yesterday, sometimes cities have so many things to replicate or look similar no matter where you are. If you’re in Chicago, people talk about the struggles of the public schools. That’s one of the things I deal a lot with young people, high school students in particular in East St. Louis. So I started in 2003 working at SIUE, but when I moved I moved to St. Louis. I wasn’t even familiar fully with the idea of oh East St. Louis. I thought I was going to be driving around St. Louis and come to it. So it’s later I learned you crossed this bridge and you’re in East St. Louis.
Dr. Rambsy: Fortunately, my university had a relationship and actually has different services they offer in East St. Louis. So that was my entry into working there. I thought I would be doing things in St. Louis because of the university connection. So I did a tour of a school when I was there. There was a retired teacher that had come back to teach and when I was … all the incoming professors were going through. She stopped me and she said, “Hey I want you to come back and do work in the school.”
Dr. Rambsy: So she was a master teacher in so many ways. Actually the first several months there, I didn’t do any volunteer service. I just sat in a classroom while she was teaching English. I benefited in that way. It was much later, it was almost like student teaching. Really it wasn’t even student teaching, it was just being a student. So I did that. Then later, I started figuring out what people were interested in. What I could offer from my position as a professor.
Dr. Rambsy: But getting to the question like the past. To me, it just seems there’s a lot of struggles in terms of around income inequality. Just like folks just not having a lot of resources. That’s because sometimes people were just free to go other places like people who could be teachers there are professors somewhere. Or they’re at … we always talk about that, it’s so few African-American teachers.
Dr. Rambsy: These ones that come out of school under-graduate are really good, they get bought up by very large white districts. Wealthy white districts. I guess that’s over everything. Police forces get done the same way. In St. Louis, the surrounding counties that have a little bit more money so they buy up all the … anyway, I think to me it’s like that. It’s like these large systems going on. The plus is there’s a lot of energy there. Folks all seem to be glad when I show up. I’m glad to be there. So we can do a lot of different projects that aren’t always offered in other places.
Dr. Steele: I want to talk a lot more about the work that you’re doing with students. I wondered if I could bring Kevin in on this question. I think something you said is so important about the notion of being a student first before trying to get involved and teach the kids and be a mentor or create a program. I’m always struck by your work, Kevin, in terms of being a student of social movement history before beginning to make suggestions about the current state of social movements. Could you talk to us a little bit about what it means to be a student of social movements in relationship to now understanding the present moment, in terms of organizing the East St. Louis area.
Kevin Winstead: Sure. So full disclosure, I did my undergraduate in Carbondale which Illinois’ spatial history is really interesting so as far as I’m concerned Carbondale is a suburb of Chicago. Even though it’s five and a half hours away. Most of the African-American population come from Chicago. If not from Chicago, then definitely St. Louis or the greater St. Louis area. What I found to be really interesting in my undergraduate experience there was the relationship Carbondale had to the history of the Black Panthers in Chicago. To the history of activism in the Midwest that there was no way for me to know that as a high school student.
Kevin Winstead: So my interest in social movements come from a personal place. My father has a tie to activism in his youth. But my initial questions around movement work were very local. So being around alums and some of the people we were bringing in guests. Also just understanding the local histories, our Black Studies program in Carbondale very much focused on local history. My questions weren’t so much framed as big scholarly activism as much as it was trying to understand my local surroundings, the local politics and history. Why is it that Carbondale is a suburb of Chicago? Yet the closest major Black population is East St. Louis. Never made sense to me.
Kevin Winstead: So just as starting and asking those questions, and then from there, some significant points in history happened for me. So while in my undergrad, Hurricane Katrina happened. Had this major influx of migration of Black people in the New Orleans area. Students in the New Orleans come to see my institution had to now break almost every rule and policy and norm to be accommodating. So we’re having admissions in the middle of the semester. These people don’t have any way of proving anything about housing. A lot of ways they did a lot of great work in just doing what was necessary.
Kevin Winstead: Then now asking the question, if you can do that, then how come so many of … there’s always this that comes up one out of every four African-American men in Carbondale are going to not make it to sophomore year of college. Well you’ve proven that you can make the leaps when you want to so why then does this keep occurring?
Kevin Winstead: The second major point so I came to the University of Maryland in 2011 but I always in the summer go back to Carbondale to work because it’s not to do in the area. Which is great for my studying. But I was in Carbondale when Ferguson happened and Mike Brown’s death happened. Then to also have a social network where I’m getting text messages saying, “Hey something’s weird and everyone is flocking to the area to kind of see what’s going on.” Not knowing that it’s going to be that. It’s just weird.
Kevin Winstead: So in a lot of ways, that, I think, sparked my journey in my doctoral program in social movements. It’s like, “What is this?” Then to see the similarities between Ferguson and East St. Louis in the way that landed in it. You can be in the car driving for five minutes and pass through three different towns that have three different police departments that you can get taxed three different ways. All of a sudden, we’re having [debtor’s prisons] that are based on the geo-space and what that kind of pressure puts on people and how they respond to it. All of a sudden, in these macrowaves we’re seeing something that we’re now calling “social movement”.
Kevin Winstead: I don’t think it’s an accident that kind of the origin story of NAACP is in East St. Louis. Kind of the origin story of Black Lives Matter is in Ferguson. I don’t think that’s an accident at all. So yeah a lot of my journey is just trying to explain my local and that led me to things like DH, because that’s where my people were.
Dr. Steele: I think each one of you has touched in some way of this notion of what I would think of as a collective memory in this area. Where there is a shared memory that is, in some ways, missing pieces. But it’s in some ways, very real for folks that live there what has happened and what that means for the present. Father Brown, you said something about nobody being prosecuted from that 1917 terrorist action.
Dr. Steele: I wonder about that kind of a collective memory. Something as great as this can happen in this place and no one can be held accountable and how we see that replicated. What that means for folks that are living there now, as Kevin said, and experiencing this over and over again as murders of Black men and Black women happen.
Dr. Brown: I’ve heard a couple of things. I think that we should have another panel discussion so that I can do the back story on all the things Kevin Winstead didn’t say about being a student of social movement theory. When we have a break or something I will deal with that because I thought that was one of the most interesting narratives I’ve ever heard composed on the spot. My colleague here from Edwardsville, I would want to know who was the retired teacher?
Dr. Rambsy: Oh Sandy [inaudible 00:18:22].
Dr. Brown: Okay. Southern Illinois University, he said, has a common, and Kevin said it, has a common obligation to East St. Louis, much more than a common obligation. The site of the bloodiest, destruction of human lives is the land where the East St. Louis campus of Southern Illinois University is today. That was the near south end, nearest the river front and the downtown area. More people were murdered on that land. One of the members of our 1917 commission when we did a kind of a visual … a walking map of the sacred sites, and one of the very early documentaries that was done about the race riot, she broke into tears. Because she did not realize that where she grew up was on that land.
Dr. Brown: So we’re talking about memory. What he said about the retired teacher said, “Come and sit here and learn.” My next question would be, “How do we understand that East St. Louis because of the economic issues that some of the richest people who are African-American came out of East St. Louis. We have diplomats, business millionaires, educators, Donald McHenry who had been the United Nations representative after Andrew Young. We have people.
Dr. Brown: The producer of Black Panther, Reginald Hudlin, East St. Louis, his Daddy and Uncle ran an insurance company there, agency there that my family always used. Now, what I want to know is when we start to have the digital projects of connecting cultures and connecting generations, the retired teacher took a very young professor and said, “I want to teach you some things about adapting to this community.” He takes middle school students and high school students and undergraduates and says, “Go into this community.”
Dr. Brown: My big issue would be how do we train those people with whatever media opportunity you have to tap into the trauma? Because tapping into the trauma, a grandchild or great grandchild can get a very old person to tell a story. That’s how I learned history. My grandmother’s photograph collection that we sat in her bedroom and she told me all these people. Those pictures dated back to 1878. Now how do you get those pictures digitized, if you want them, but how do you get a nine year old to say, “Uncle Joshua, what happened?” He will probably tell him because it’s a front porch or the equivalent kitchen discussion.
Dr. Brown: The one place where I find I don’t find the digital humanities focusing on the young in the Black community, with the greatest effect. I want to know how you can bring something in there and force me to tell the truth about all sorts of things. Mr. Winstead did one of the most amazing interviews I’ve ever witnessed. The only Black Catholic nun to march at Selma. She died last year. Right around the time of, right around November. Sister Antona Ebo. When he finished his master’s thesis, he discovered her name and said, “I wish I had known about her. I would’ve put her in my thesis.” My response was, “You want to go visit? Write her a letter and she will respond.” We went up there and she said to us in her retirement apartment, “I don’t feel like talking to you all today, I really wanted to just cancel all this”. Two and a half hours later, I said, “I got to go home.
Dr. Brown: But you have the very young with a woman how was already in her 80s, and who had been an active participant in history being recorded for the future. That, to me, how do you tap into and respect the trauma because so many Black people will say, as they did after slavery, “I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it. That’s over with.” That was not what they meant. What they meant was if I bring the pain back up, how will you help me? How do we do that in this digital media humanities, respect where my trauma is and I will tell you a story of how I survived.
Dr. Steele: I don’t have a better question than that so I think that’s a fantastic lead for you all to jump in.
Kevin Winstead: Yeah okay, I will jump in as the person who did that interview. That was actually one of the most informative moments on how to conduct research, qualitative research in Black spaces. Because I found out it was actually what I wanted for my own academic purposes was the least important part of the entire process. That I actually find the work in a lot of ways disturbing because I’m asking someone to hurt again for my needs. That’s a real part of the work that we do. But it was all the moments that in the transcriptions seemed to be irrelevant, the joking, the you know bring someone back to ease. Or the fact that you know, as she was saying that, she was in her kitchen making tea for everyone. It wasn’t necessarily that I was thirsty, but I was going to have tea because-
Dr. Brown: Oh yes.
Kevin Winstead: -that’s part of the ritual part of comfort.
Dr. Brown: That’s how you get the elder to be open.
Dr. Steele: Comfortable.
Kevin Winstead: That moment is actually something that stayed with me. I’ve wrestled with in a lot of the Black Studies conversations that I’ve had since, which is there’s always this false dichotomy that happens between joy and trauma in Black Studies conversations. At one extreme, I would hear things like “It’s not really Black Studies if we’re not talking about the pain.” On the other end of Black Studies, I heard, “My Black Studies is built in not regarding this particular type of trauma or pain or in actions of”. Focus on joy in a particular way that doesn’t always resonate as authentic to me. That has always been a blend.
Dr. Brown: But Black girls are magic.
Kevin Winstead: I’m not even going to touch that. What I’m going to do is I’m just going to ignore that. For me, what’s resonated true has always been a blend. The joy in spite of or the times where as an individual I don’t have access to it, so now I have to rely on community in particular ways. Yeah, so I think I also agree with you that I don’t know that I’ve seen successfully … that’s why I was very much interested in this particular panel because I struggle making sense of East St. Louis in a very familiar way that I struggle making sense of Ferguson.
Kevin Winstead: So a lot of the work, a lot of the research around movements happen in such urban centers. It would make more sense if we were talking about it as St. Louis. East St. Louis for me I have a hard time placing is it an urban space or a rural space? The language I have around how to make sense East St. Louis doesn’t fit that way. In the same way that Ferguson doesn’t fit.
Kevin Winstead: For me as someone who’s studying this and wants to study this for a living and struggling with that, I can only imagine the middle school student trying to evaluate their own local importance. It doesn’t fit any narrative that I’m spending my entire day with particular types of textbooks to get through. I can’t imagine for the middle school student to be told the importance their own local.
Dr. Rambsy: It’s interesting you say that because I really wish I could talk to people … I need to talk to more people who work with high school students like I do around the country in Black spaces, like I do. The number one thing you’ll hear young people talk about as it relates to violence now. Someone will get killed in a Black space and the thing you always hear them say is, “Why can’t this get the attention that Mike Brown got?” They always ask that now. It’s so interesting to me because I don’t know what you put in that space before.
Dr. Rambsy: What I’m saying when somebody gets killed, it’ll be a … unfortunately, often it will be a young Black man will shoot another Black child, often another Black man. I remember this summer they were just really upset. Cahokia is another small town near East St. Louis, so the kids in the program I’m working with were so upset because this couldn’t get the attention that Mike Brown got.
Dr. Rambsy: It just keeps happening like that. They just keep saying. I’m just thinking it’s so connected to the media. People were just asking those questions like why can’t get … like you were saying, people coming from Carbondale. They wanted to know why wouldn’t people come here for John but anyway.
Kevin Winstead: In that anyway, there’s a lot and guess where a cultural studies person can definitely make an intervention. Because in my work, it seems so obvious and yet so many spaces I see people miss it. We don’t actually march historically because of death. We don’t protest because of death. We protest when you don’t give us the ability to mourn death.
Kevin Winstead: So Ferguson doesn’t become Ferguson because of Mike Brown’s death actually. The narrative has become that in popular spaces. That he died, people got upset. That’s not what happened. What happened was he died and they made a memorial. Then the police drove through the memorial. Now I’m upset. Now you didn’t allow that mother to mourn so now I’m willing to risk my material body to make an intervention.
Dr. Rambsy: One of them would be the radio though. I remember sitting at home on that day in St. Louis. I don’t know actually somebody called, “You dude, switch on the radio.” They were on the radio saying, “They shot this dude and he’s on the ground right now.” Everybody was getting out there. They were like, “He’s still on the ground.” I don’t know if you’ve seen … now they’re much more … they’ve got these little orange things they put up around people. It was weird though because it was really low but somehow if it’s there you can’t see it. That was the thing on that day. Everybody was sitting there. I was just thinking, you start seeing the social media.
Dr. Rambsy: I wasn’t so fascinated in retrospect. Today when something happens people tell me, “Go check on Twitter. Go check out-” but I had this distinct memory of them saying, “Turn on the radio.” You know in St. Louis, radio is really interesting. Black folks we on there and we just talk. Not even like we talking now, an interview like going. So everybody was on radio and that got people there.
Dr. Rambsy: That was interesting you mentioned the Mom because I remember one of the reporters got hurt. This never happens. She was at the scene and she was just talking like later her lawyers are like, “Hey you shouldn’t be in the talking.” So she was more contained. I loved seeing her at that moment. She went in and that’s why we talking about education. She started talking about he was just getting out of high school. He was doing this yeah.
Dr. Rambsy: So I thought that was so fascinating. All the things she would say literally while her son is down on the ground. Talking about him in school. So I thought that was so fascinating. No, they got moving because it was this boy, you could literally see him lying on the ground. I think that image more than anything shaped people seeing it. Yeah you’re right, later they got on it, but just seeing a body laying there was moving.
Dr. Steele: [It] kind of set its own pathway.
Dr. Rambsy: Yes.
Dr. Steele: …in that there is a history of Black trauma and Black death that Black folks have dealt with in this country in a variety of ways. What sparks marching is the inability to mourn in the way that expresses full humanity. The ability to say, “This was wrong, I am sad, and I grieve.” When that’s taken away by injustice, it sparks this moment. So-
Dr. Brown: That was the same [exact moment], that he said that. That was worth everything because it takes me back to where I spend my time. You’re not going to ever have the language that says is it urban or rural? We live in East St. Louis and both of my grandmothers had gardens. My maternal grandmother had her garden and his husband had his because they couldn’t agree on anything. But she used that to feed people. But it was in the middle of the city. 20th Street, not in a suburb. There wasn’t such a thing.
Dr. Brown: We carry our spaces and define them according to our need, which is the same way we define our performances. If we’re going to be dealing with digital humanity again we’re dealing with a performance of Blackness. We always have our own strategy for dealing with trauma, it’s called “song”. From the slave ships to Massey Hall with that incredible quintet of jazz musicians way back in the day to whoever is performing, badly mostly, in tribute to Aretha Franklin. But I don’t want to go there.
Dr. Brown: The point is how I’m starting out. I say, “sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” that’s not a metaphor. By the time I get through singing it, somebody two fields over is connecting with me. If that’s not the prototype of digital media, I don’t know what is. I’m not going … and they start singing that, I’m not as bad off as I was. I have performed myself out of the depth of the trauma into something more human. More complete. But I have to use my voice and we have to use our bodies. As we were told yesterday at another presentation from this program. We have got to understand that.
Dr. Brown: The spirituals, the blues and jazz are all the same performance need. I’ve got to go from here to somewhere else. I’m going to be spirit possessed. If it’s a riff, if it’s an improvisation. If it’s just, again, Aretha or Patti LaBelle or somebody going absolutely stone cold crazy I’m going to have to get from where I started. It’s always in the valley of death.
Dr. Steele: Each of you have talked about in your work, in the work that you we’re going to talk about today the thread that weaves together the Black experience in some way. I think what’s fascinating about we can start to connect this to digital humanities as Father Brown has done is the local, of the very deeply personal work that each of you have done and spoken about today in terms of keeping memories alive in communities, of respecting communities, of understanding the nuances of spaces that is really potentially something transformative for digital humanities and for Black digital humanities. I wonder, Dr. Rambsy, if you could talk a little bit about the digital East St. Louis project and about East St. Louis digital humanities club and the importance of this local community and the impact it’s been having.
Dr. Rambsy: so it started as the STEM center in my school was working with the humanities center at my university. They jointly applied for NSL grant and they gave them time to work on it. They were going to work with local students, particularly in East St. Louis to just give them exposure to DH as one STEM field or just digital technology. Giving them exposure to one aspect of STEM. Hopefully start in middle school and it would all carry on. Have more people exposed. Because a lot of the researchers said, “Yeah students get exposed early on.”
Dr. Rambsy: So when their grant started to end, I just proposed, “Hey we continued on”. We had a digital humanities club with East St. Louis students. So that’s what I’ve been running the last two years. I’ve probably been doing all kind of digital projects forever. Now it’s given it a name. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years on that. It’s work really interesting in some ways just exposing students to just projects of DH. That could be the smallest things of working with recorders.
Dr. Rambsy: Most often it means us working on sound editing and music editing. The music part really gets folks. It’s interesting because generationally the kind of music folks are in. Like in a certain kind of rap folks are into. What I’ve been blending in, my background is in African-American literature is I bring in a lot of poetry. So we do a lot of mixes of poetry, re-mixing our own voices. So yeah that’s been a really interesting fascinating to do that.
Dr. Steele: I was just want to say I think it’s really important that you pointed out something that’s an ongoing thing I think about a lot is a lot of the money for working with black folks is directed toward STEM education. This notion that STEM will save us. But I think what you’ve done so brilliantly here is expose this notion that the humanities and digital humanities has a really important role to play. Not only introducing kids to technology, but in making that connection back to community. Then what does humanities bring to it. Maybe you could talk a little bit about your work with digital humanities and community. Talk about the difference between exposing kids to tech and exposing kids to DH and what that looks like.
Kevin Winstead: This 2019 has been a weird year for me. Being in the market, it’s been much more informative than I was imagining. A lot of the job opportunities that resonated with me were at this kind of intersection of public humanities and DH work. No matter what size of the institution, every institution says that they’re underfunded. Especially as they’re thinking about building digital humanities programs. But at the same time, me entering this space, I can’t do this work without it being somewhat focused on marginalized communities and particularly local communities and the justice in that space. Which then, interesting enough, and how a lot of this comes full circle the work we’ve done with ADDHum over the last two years has been race, place and space focused or on movement, different types of movements. Social movements, movement of the body. We’ve kind of played with that for the year. I think the major takeaway from that experience for me is that Black DH doesn’t always look like the latest invest in technology. It looks a lot like using the tools that our people have in their everyday to do critical work.
Dr. Brown: Yes.
Kevin Winstead: So then my intervention in a lot of these spaces of employment has been well you already have things. Let’s start with that. Every kid comes in with a computer and a cell phone, what would DH look like if I only have a computer and a cell phone. Or what does going in the field look like if only thing I have as a research tool is a cell phone?
Kevin Winstead: To see the shift that people are … me saying that to them and then see the shift they have around the capacity for DH can be. Then for them to then link that capacity back to justice work. Which then brings me back to your project. What I find to be so fascinating and really unique as a DH project is that is one) we’re talking about literacy in the space. We’re also getting the kids to do the work of remembering because, as a critique to the system purposely trying to forget it. Which I also think in a lot of ways the area is such a … it can be looked at as a metaphor of what’s about to come. I think about Chicago and kind of the gentrification that’s happening in Chicago. They’re pushing all of what used to be urban Chicago to the suburbs. Now, it’s going to have the same questions and look fuzzy in the same way I now think about Ferguson and East St. Louis, right? What does it look like when it’s South Holland that’s having the trauma.
Kevin Winstead: Instead of it being called Chicago and how do we remember that differently because it’s not Chicago. That’s how the trauma is. South Holland or Hammond or you know what I mean? It doesn’t produce the same importance nationally because it’s not the major city. So then, what I suspect will happen is that we’ll forget these communities and that trauma. Then the responsibility of remembering those communities and that trauma and what that means is going to fall back on its own citizens.
Dr. Brown: The slogan that one of our commissioners came up with for the 1917 Centennial Commission was “East St. Louis, the city that survives”. Now, I have a justice call. You just brought it up. You all are talking about justice call. This is the old people talking now. They come into this room and have taken over my body. Just have to let them all talk.
Dr. Brown: I want those high school students and middle school students to be in charge of the homecoming of East St. Louis. I mention the millionaires, the doctors, the lawyers, the politicians, the entertainers, we had more musicians, more than Miles Davis. But that’s the one everybody knows about East St. Louis. Down the block from my Mama’s house was his brother’s house and they turned that into a museum. You’ve got the Katherine Dunner museum. You’ve got all these wonderful opportunities to see a cultural initiative where people would come to that city to see the history of survival and transcendence and resilience.
Dr. Brown: But I want those people who left there because you are so right, the major population demographic of East St. Louis are the very old and children. The biggest economic supports are the school district and welfare. Property values are laughable. If a house is worth $5,000 I would be stunned in any of the neighborhoods of East St. Louis. All of that has always been on purpose. But the young people can say, “We need you and we can get across the universe to tell you that. We want you and we can use every media style we can have, we can come up with. It’s just a cell phone, I want my grandmother somebody who ain’t been here since he was in junior high school to come on home and do something”.
Dr. Brown: The whole notion of justice is when the first, the superintendent of schools back in the 1960s I think it was had to flee to Africa because he was getting ready to be arrested for fraud. We’ve had at least a couple of mayors go to jail. They turned over, as they have done, when you talk about gentrification, the first thing was we will turn your city over to people after we have completely looted it. Now you will have to deal with something that is impossible to deal with. We will call you a failure, without ever taking responsibility for it, but it has survived. The small businesses, the women’s businesses, the men’s businesses. Those are all over town.
Dr. Brown: They are ways of organizing collectively. I want to see we don’t have … this is a weakness, it was part of the mission of the 1917 race riot commission was to engage the curriculum of the school district. The system pushed us back. This is the project that would be the door opening, but it’s not enough to tell them how to use it. They’ve got to learn how to make it work to bring some of the lost people back home. You want to reverse migration that’s what I think East St. Louis is ready for.
Dr. Steele: I think this is really interesting. It recalls to me this moment of … Kevin and I, we’ve had this conversation of Black people need to be taught the digital in order to have whatever progress it might be. If it be kids, we go into the schools. We have these programs and we teach Black folks how to use that then it’ll be … what I think each of you has brought out is that there are these survival strategies that often pre-date the digital in Black communities that when met with digital humanities you can have really emancipatory effects.
Dr. Steele: So I think Father Brown has spoke to this, I wonder if you two could as well. Think about what are these survival strategies of the folks of East St. Louis, of Black folks more broadly, and what does that mean to meet with the tools of the digital humanities?
Dr. Rambsy: Ah yes, that is a good question. I’m trying to think through … I will say so I do these … I used to do these exhibits and every now and then I still do mixed media exhibits. I remember I was talking to a couple of folks that worked in museums, how to do them. They were like, “First you should go to museums and exhibits you really like, you try to emulate those.” I think that’s been the really strongest driver. I always have mixed feelings about the music editing because students really love that. So it’s hard to get them to do something else.
Dr. Rambsy: I think it’s because they’re like, “Oh wow, I heard these songs on the radio and now I’m learning how to create those” So that’s a viable emulation of how do I recreate the thing. I think I’m just going to have one of the challenges. One of the opportunities for me is to push them to see other things they’re really into the world, this digital base. How do we recreate that kind of thing?
Dr. Steele: Seeing what they already have as skill sets.
Dr. Rambsy: Exactly.
Dr. Steele: Not that there’s a deficiency, where I’m coming to train you, but you love music, you hear this, you’re able to piece this together, that is a skill. You’ve been told it’s not but it is. Here’s how we make [that manifest –]
Dr. Rambsy: The music, they feel very, “Hey I know more than you, Mr. Professor on this music thing.” I love that part one of the things I would always do when I first got to working at the high school in East St. Louis . I would say, “Hey I’m from St. Louis.” I would say, “I love living in St. Louis because there’s where they came up with the Mono as a dance.” Students wouldn’t be talking about anything else, but when I said that, “I’m from St. Louis and in St. Louis we created the Momo.” It would set them off because all these St. Louis folks know that the Momo started in East St. Louis. I was like, “No, it was St. Louis.” They’re like, “No, because it was named after the monastery, which is there. The monastery was the name of a club famous for … infamous club.” Anyway.
Dr. Steele: We can edit that.
Dr. Brown: No keep that one in.
Dr. Rambsy: But they were so invested in telling me the history of it. So I think yeah you’re right. So they were very familiar with a certain kind of cultural-
Dr. Steele: Storytelling, morality.
Dr. Rambsy: That was actually trying to think through other things like that. I would say too somewhat morbid subject, but I was … if you’re in St. Louis not everyone but I think about gun violence in St. Louis. Being interested in gun violence, it actually led me to Baltimore. Because Baltimore more than any other city like … all of … they did a really good job of documenting it though. So if you go on the Baltimore Sun, they have this interesting site that you can do just any, hey I’m going to look by male or female. Do I want to look by neighborhood, it’s very …
Dr. Rambsy: I started watching it as I was trying to think. I would always complain, “Oh wow, the newspapers in St. Louis need to document gun violence the way they do …” I think that would, like I say, you’re in St. Louis, East St. Louis, a big critique they don’t follow this like Mike Brown. It’s interesting I’m always thinking, “Hey they also don’t follow this like Baltimore does”. L.A., a few years ago this woman wrote a book called “Ghetto Size”. Her big project was she went around trying to interview everybody’s family who had gotten killed in some kind of violence, it was usually gun violence.
Dr. Rambsy: So the LA Times started documenting it as well. So those are the two places documenting. But these are DH projects in some ways. Now Chicago does the same thing. So these are very much DH projects. So it’s interesting even the things that we think are struggles and I’m like, actually you all could tell a lot of stories about even the biggest challenges in the city. They will tell you big challenge is gun violence, so interesting.
Kevin Winstead: I’m really, really appreciative to have you both here. You both being the leadership chair director of Black Studies programs who serve the same community. So for me I didn’t know I was an academic until I was exposed to Black Studies. Because it never made sense to me that I was being trained as if I didn’t already know a thing. Particularly around tech. I’m being trained to do something that I was born with a lot of times.
Kevin Winstead: My instincts was I got a Play Station for Christmas or a Nintendo for Christmas and wouldn’t nobody in the house there to hook this thing up but me, so I had to figure it out. Went through all of that process so … and didn’t see within Black study spaces, that same kind of duality of much of the work of Black Studies is performing in other spaces. Also much of the work of Black Studies is cultivating and developing something that’s very much like an intra-group thing. Sometimes Black Studies is very much an internal thing. Sometimes Black Studies is very much an external thing. I see this play itself out in how we’re thinking about DH, particularly around this project.
Kevin Winstead: A lot of the work of DH when we’re selling it to grants is exposing people to tech. A lot of the change I’ve seen in DH in my short time with it has been around requiring, forcing DH to redefine itself. So new media, social media, as being a DH project, wasn’t the case four or five years ago.
Dr. Rambsy: Three minutes ago.
Kevin Winstead: Three minutes ago. It is now because the argument is well this is how Black people enter the space. So are you going to exclude communities because they don’t have your preset definition or are you going to reform yourself because this is where actual people are. That as a Black Studies project seems very familiar to me. It’s like, “Yeah we can do it your way sometimes, but I believe you’re going to do it our way too.”
Dr. Rambsy: Even when they recognize social media though, as DH, I don’t think they say DH scholars. Because you could ask whomever to represent who the DH scholars are, and I asked them to list a 100 DH scholars, you’re very rarely going to hear of Black folks. It’s only in some spaces that because you invite me to talk about DH, that I was likely to say I’m a DH scholar. No Black people almost never ask me to come ask me to speak, they don’t view me as a DH person.
Dr. Rambsy: So that’s why I’m always ambivalent about using the term just because Black folks, in my view, they’re excluded from it. Like with anything else, you get invited to the Black panel. Which is fine, which is why I embrace it. I’ve thought about that a lot how the core of DH doesn’t really accept Black folks, like DH scholars who are Black.
Kevin Winstead: It’s complicated because you’re excluded but observed.
Dr. Rambsy: Yeah exactly.
Kevin Winstead: I think Kathryn talked about this yesterday that I find to be so familiar which is you’re excluded where it comes time for recognition or resources, but the next wave of innovation is going to look exactly like a project. So then, in this weird complicated way of am I or am I not a part of the space, it’s like somehow I’m part of this space always for a future conversation.
Dr. Brown: A scholar that we have in common is the late Father Walter Ong, who did a whole lot about secondary morality, morality and literacy. But I didn’t know, I never have had a field. I don’t have a discipline, which I know my mother would’ve told you. She would’ve said I’m not disciplined. But I didn’t know what cultural anthropology was when I took his class. This is in the 1960s. He would bring in a reel-to-reel tape recorder, sit it on the desk, click, “This is Walter J. Ong, this is March 13th, the class topic today is such and such.” He would just ramble on. Then when we raised our hand, he would click it off. Then he would only put his answers on this tape.
Dr. Brown: So I watched him do this kind of stuff in 1967. But then when I got a hold of his article on the talking drum, I went, “Oh my God, when did this man?” All of a sudden this is not Walter Ong, this is the Walter Ong, the friend of Marshall McLuhan. The person who actually put into strategies so much of the electronic village. But he said, as a matter of justice, people of African descent and origin will be the quickest ones to pick up on the electronic world because they don’t have as many filters to go through. He was absolutely right.
Dr. Brown: The arguments I had in graduate school with some of my old classmates in the late 1970s, early 80s was all this rap hip-hop stuff, excuse me, let’s go back to the talking drums and how we were outlawed. We could not have drums so we used our feet and our percussive voices. Then young people are saying, “Okay I don’t play drums, but I can play two turn tables here, plus my microphone.” We’ve always appropriated and transformed whatever was excluded to us or used against us. That’s the way we learned it back home. We’re still using the very same strategies of sending information across space. Du, du, du, bump. Or however we’re doing it with a cell phone. However we’re doing it, we have always been the people who established the new cultural norms.
Dr. Steele: This reminds me very much of the work of Adam Banks and digital [griots] so Adam Banks is a rhetorician, but works on composition, works on schools of education as well. This might be a good way of kind of connecting enough. I think we’re drawing close to our time. In thinking about how all of these principles that we’ve outlined of what makes a good connection between a community and a digital project, maybe we could think about that in terms of actual traditional forms of education for K through 12.
Dr. Steele: It doesn’t escape us that we’re having a conversation about how to reach kids with DH but we didn’t have an educator today on our panel. I think it might be a good way for us to end by thinking about what the relationship needs to look like between Black Studies, between digital humanities and between K-12 programs, people who design curriculum and teachers. I wonder if we could maybe end in a way that acknowledges that as you all kind of give us some closing thoughts for today.
Dr. Rambsy: Ken goes, because I want the last word always.
Kevin Winstead: I’m going to say this because I’m graduating and I have a little bit of freedom. It’s like that moment when you’re retiring you can say what you want.
Dr. Rambsy: Excuse me.
Kevin Winstead: A little bit, a little bit, a little bit. So-
Dr. Brown: Edit you out.
Kevin Winstead: I think we’re at a moment with AADHum when we’re having conversations around what the future looks like. When you’re in that space a lot of the generative parts of that is one) reflecting on what worked and didn’t work and what we could do better. What we weren’t even thinking about. I found myself during my conference saying why don’t we have junior college institutions here? Why don’t we have the local K through 12 teachers in that space? Because everything we were talking about was relevant, in almost every space.
Kevin Winstead: So I think in a very real and tangible way for the University of Maryland, I would hope a version of AADHum looks like us training teachers here because if their students within four to ten years. Particularly around DH where we’re having this structural kind of tension of needing senior scholars to run the thing so we can develop a junior. It doesn’t always make sense to me because we’re in a space where we don’t have a lot of senior scholars across the board who are doing this in the way that we wanted. So if we want the critical mass there, then we need to start with the communities first. But that’s not always the way institutions work. So there is this weird kind of feedback loop-
Dr. Brown: But that’s the way Black Studies has always worked.
Kevin Winstead: Right exactly. So exactly. So for me, putting on wax, that what I hope a future AADHum looks like much more instead of looking at senior leadership, it looks like we’re going to Bowie and teaching the kids how to do things. Or we’re going to the junior college because we know they’ll be here in another year. Developing critical mass that way so we can have this kind of system. Maybe the trickle up system if you will needs to start with people first.
Dr. Rambsy: Yeah I would just say it’s very difficult. It’s easy and rewarding on some levels, very difficult to run those programs. I don’t even … I think some Black Studies, African-American studies programs do this kind of work in high schools, but I wouldn’t say all of them do. [crosstalk 01:00:49]. So much of my work as you all know, since I’m in black communities, after a while we just start thinking about differences between black people and black people.
Dr. Rambsy: So we even know that not every black child at this school sign up to be in the DH Club. Even when they’re in there, they’re fascinated when I do open days like you can do this tech or this tech. Not everybody chooses this. So it’s just very fascinating too. Also there’s a gender divide. I know there are more guys when we do trips to certain places who will go. There are many reasons why the young women would not want to go. So anyway.
Dr. Rambsy: For us on the local level, it’s not even enough. We have to think so much about black people. The difference between different kinds of black people and different economic levels of black people. All of these kinds of things, which I said on and on. I was at the stage where I do some things … some thought needs to be had around how do you … one) how do you define themselves and how do they work and what is the relationship between training people, even mentioning grad school. It was something that wasn’t mentioned. I was a classmate of Adam Banks. We were at Penn State at the same time. So we would talk about those things.
Dr. Rambsy: But working with high school like I do now was never brought up. It’s just something they don’t mention in grad programs, Ph.D. programs. Because they’re training people to be college professors. They’re not training people to do the kind of stuff I do now. It would be considered below most professors, black and white. People will talk about, “We need to help kids and do this.” They’re not going to …like once a week, for an hour I’m in there with young folks that are sometimes. It’s very different on the one hand it’s cool because I don’t give them a grade so they like me. But sometimes when they’re disagreeing with me, and I don’t give them a grade, they’re like, “What can you do?”
Dr. Rambsy: So those are the kinds of things that, yeah, people can talk about that a lot but that’s the part I think that’s just not something you’re prepared for in grad school. So if you even show up, how do you even start? What high school do you pick to go work in a city? What teachers do you pick? How do you convince your university that this counts in some ways? [crosstalk 01:03:11] Exactly. So there you go, all kinds of things.
Kevin Winstead: [All kinds of things on this] panel too.
Dr. Brown: We need to remember that black culture was created by teenagers. They weren’t enslaving my age and you all are on the cusp. They were taking teenagers who knew enough to choose to survive somehow. That’s always been. That was the case of the underground railroad, the runaways, that migration. You look at Fredrick Douglass as a boy, envisioning freedom by looking at boats and clouds on Chesapeake Bay. As a child, he was taking advantage of all of it and turned it around to make some money to help other people be free. It’s not a question of what will they learn, it’s why am I teaching you. It’s why.
Dr. Brown: If I’m going to get you to be able to do all of this, I want you to go out there and do something for your community. It doesn’t have to be … and that’s the biggest problem we have when we’re studying in the academic world is it’s either/or. No it ain’t. We’re dancing to five drums. We’ve got to dance to five drums. The old folks danced to three, but we got to do five because other stuff has come in there.
Dr. Brown: I’m still going to be cool enough to understand that as Bernice Reagan says in “The Songs are Free,” the song means whatever I intend it to mean when I’m singing it. So therefore my pedagogy, my whole vocation for teaching is who’s in front of me and what are they going to teach me because black culture has always started with the young people. If you can get them to say, “Mama how do I do this?” “Papa show me how to, or let me show you …” “Uh-uh, that ain’t the way you use a cell phone. Here”. You’re building something. Why? Because I don’t want my story to get lost.
Dr. Brown: I’m going to write a memoir, finish it some day for my 13 year-old great nephew and his cousins because they need to know where they came from. But he has to ask me the right question so I can tell him the right answers. That’s what you all are doing with digital humanities. You are finding ways to give the next generation permission to do it their way and to teach us what we need to be. Because you talk about the senor scholars, that’s what this panel is. You all are the senior scholars emerging. At some point, your field-
Kevin Winstead: I ain’t graduated yet.
Dr. Brown: Yeah I said the same thing when I was in graduate school I am going to have to find my space. They can’t teach me. I’m going to have to get them to say, “Okay go on.”
Dr. Steele: That is a fantastic way to conclude in thinking about how we dance to the five drums at the same time and make projects that work for our tenure package or our community or work for our justice-minded self all at the same time. Hopefully that digital humanities gets to be a space where we get to accomplish that. So thank you so much to the panel and thank you so much to everyone for coming out. Do we have time, I think there’s some questions that we can take from the audience. So thank you for the panel first
Ben Kinard: My name is Ben [Kinard 01:06:52] and I work with a program similar to yours. We take high school kids and help, excuse me, we help them get into school and we help them get through school. We track them for six years after we get them in school. I’m from Baltimore. I have … this forced this relationship with a 90 year-old gentleman who went to East St. Louis and established boys and girls clubs. He’s actually a legend and the way I got out of my circumstance was through sports. What I saw in Baltimore was the cutting of the recreation budget. The elimination of those recreation centers that were the center of the community that gave the athletes the forum to be able to succeed.
Ben Kinard: So there is no recreation system that allows people to ascend to a good career, if you will. In answer and to pose a question to your question of how do you get to these young kids, my friend who formed the boys and girls clubs in East St. Louis, he has a model that can be adapted to the digital humanities model and run tangentially with your program to expose kids in the inner city to the digital humanities. So that’s a model and you can reach across the aisle to bring in people like my friend who has a message for those kids.
Dr. Brown: And his name is?
Ben Kinard: His name is Archie [Archibedian 01:08:58]. He has an incredible library that’s going to be donated to the Smithsonian, jazz collection. We can talk about him later, but the model that he has created in creating these boys and girls clubs, not only in East St. Louis but in Seattle and in the district, the DMV, could be a model that could be used to further cause. So my question is how is the climate for recreation and the boys and girls clubs in East St. Louis?
Dr. Rambsy: That’s a good question. Actually I would say around sports, things go really well for folks. I’ve noticed that too. I mean they wouldn’t like me saying it … I think the young people mostly involved in my DH club aren’t the folks that are going to be the top basketball player or football player in the city. Because the football team is really good in St. Louis. Their basketball team is fairly good too. So it’s creating opportunities for other things that is sometimes a challenge. I think there’s a whole system in place around sports. So yeah. I think that’s the … what if you’re not the next LeBron? I think that’s when it becomes like a challenge. How do you create other things?
Dr. Rambsy: I want to add too, and I hate to always be the person talking about the challenges, but it’s just because I’m in that work, we think about it so much. One of the big challenges we talk about is in a place like East St. Louis because everybody will say, “Let’s do something for East St. Louis,” like on these programs. There are so many programs at a given moment, that you’re competing constantly so like SEIU I could say this, even people say things like they have five upper bound programs, like at one center.
Dr. Rambsy: So they have to actually get creative on how we not overstep the other programs. Then, you just can name them. That’s the problem when you get down to economics because you can literally drive down some streets in the afternoon and non-profit after non-profit. Then all there are several … several is too small, there are many churches. On the one hand, you feel like, “Oh wow this is great,” but it means none of these places have to contribute in a significant way to the taxes in the city. So that’s the thing that they have, almost too many programs so we have to be really creative. You’re always competing with each other.
Kevin Winstead: Something I’ve noticed as an undergraduate at the university level, so many of those programs are with people who don’t live there. They drive in and leave, instead of it being kind of bottom up.
Dr. Rambsy: He’s absolutely right. You go to any kind of side program, there are elder people there and very young people. You and I would be there, we would be the only one in our age range.
Kevin Winstead: [Been there, done that.].
Dr. Rambsy: It’s fascinating in some ways because you’re like, “Wow who is everybody who might …?”
Kevin Winstead: Including parents, parents are leaving their children in care to go work somewhere else. Then, the people that are helping are living somewhere else to come here to work. So there’s yeah absolutely.
Dr. Rambsy: To answer your question, they’ve got the programs down. It’s almost like I don’t know, it’s something else that is needed.
Dr. Brown: There is a group, East St. Louis Arts and Culture Coalition that has got started last year that has as its mission to start bringing people together in the collective so that they cannot be in this death spiral of competition. You also got the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center which is amazing. You’ve got people almost as old as that man who is still … Coach [Benoit 01:13:12], the one who trained Jackie and others. It’s still working with these kids. At the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center how that woman raised that money and has that standing there and all sorts of programs of every description. So that’s another place where something is emerging.
Dr. Brown: Then you’ve got the cultural groups like Sunshine and his African art and drum ensemble. He’s got his own cultural center. He’s been doing things for decades. That’s all I’m going to say, decades. His point is so true, you’ve got all of these small competitions going on. That was one of the reasons why the centennial commission put itself in there, the cultural initiative to stay in operation.
Dr. Brown: All of us are volunteers, the median age is probably 100 or 70, for the three people that are under 70. But we have no resources. But we did have enough of a voice and a public presence to generate other people thinking about we need to be coming together. Because that is one of the most critical points of … but that was the way East St. Louis was designed to be in competition.
Dr. Brown: You had the Republicans, black Republicans and the Democrats. I mean those are family splits, but they were really going against each other. It has always been that way. That’s no different from plantation mentalities, put people against each other. You’ve got the great battle going on Christmas days back in Douglass’ narrative. We always had that and that’s the thing we’ve always struggled with is Civil Rights and progress through movements. So I think what he told you is very true, but I do think that there are some places where people are thinking bring them together under one roof.
Dr. Steele: Thank you.
LaTonya Cooper: My name is LaTonya Cooper. I’m a grad student at George Mason University in Virginia. I was a teacher for 15 years. So I know university I think. I have to agree that one of the things that kind of bugged me about DH is that here is university, here is student, you bypass the teachers. I’m not saying it’s deliberate, but there’s a whole body … and if you want to talk about Black Studies, there’s a tradition of black teachers in the middle class. I just feel like there is … sure there’s bureaucracies going on where you might not be able to initiate district-wide change, but I would love to hear you guys kind of imagine out loud what that looks like. One) in the grad program on a university campus that has a school of education. Where are those connections at? You’re working with free services, but also not thinking just about the public school system. There are black children in Catholic schools, in the [KIPP (?)] schools, in charter schools as well as neighborhood public schools.
LaTonya Cooper: I would love to hear you guys think out loud about what that future might look like, doing DH in a school space with teachers as opposed to kind of like excluding them. I think it would actually also help with learning in the actual classroom, as opposed to it being an [auxilliary] activity or an extra-curricular activity.
Dr. Steele: Fantastic question.
Kevin Winstead: Thank you for that question I’m going to let the Catholic priest over there answer the Catholic portion of this. I do think … I absolutely 100% agree with you, the role of teachers. In fact, I don’t think as we think about college and universities producing DH or encouraging cultivating DH out in the community, I don’t think us being there in long-term ways is sustainable. So really like a perfect kind of model for me is teaching teachers how to teach the thing. Because I don’t know the nuance of even locally, I don’t know the nuance of Bowie. But the teacher does.
Kevin Winstead: I can give you the skill set and you already know the thing. You go and replicate that as how you see fit. I think that would be the exact model for what I would hope a future DH looks like. So we’re in harmony that way. I do think also not just thinking about private institutions but the other sites where education has happened historically for black communities. So I did more homework in libraries because of library programs than I did in school. School was easy, the library stuff was like the fun thing I did when I didn’t play sports was at the library.
Kevin Winstead: It’s interesting how DH has, in a lot of ways, developed in the university library system that I think that we could better exploit the relationship university libraries have with local library systems, the local community, the local library systems that way. Then, again, this kind of thing around extra-curricular. So I actually one of my first computer training courses happened at a local Y. You know we went to play ball, but there was always that one hour before the gym opened. So there was always this way that they would scheme us into doing other things. I’m actually a very big proponent of using scheming as a teaching tool.
Dr. Brown: Really?
Kevin Winstead: Oh yeah, any of my students know that I will scheme them into the work. That’s for sure. I think the future of DH must include K through 12 teachers. If it doesn’t, I struggle to see a more efficient way of producing the critical mass at the higher education level that so many of our university administrators want. I just don’t see any other way of doing it that makes sense.
Dr. Steele: Next I want to talk about … sorry, moderator privilege. I mean talking about ourselves, the University of Maryland being situated in Prince George’s county, and the history of terrible relationships that this university has with local schools, with local folks and communities. Why it is that the enrollment rate of black folks at the University of Maryland is going down, instead of up in a county that is predominantly black and middle class and should be sending their kids to the University of Maryland.
Dr. Steele: So a lot of the work on the part of the university is on rectifying relationships and part of that would have to be through trust that’s built with educators and administrators, if we want to have those kinds of relationships with schools.
Dr. Steele: We can’t jump into schools and create after-care programs and after-school programs to teach kids when our relationship is so damaged with the community that we’re hoping to reach. So I think that part of that is a respect for the community but a respect for what teachers do, as well. So I’m partnered with an educator that I talk to. Oh she’s “Oh people should go in the schools and teach.” You don’t know how to teach kids. I don’t know how to teach kids.
Kevin Winstead: Exactly.
Dr. Steele: I’m not trained in that. This is a skill set. This is what people go and spend their lives mastering the art and skill of doing. So respecting educators and people who design curriculum is something that universities have to do a much better job of. That DH has to do a better job of, if we want to start partnering with students early enough to get them interested in what we’re doing at the undergraduate and graduate level. It’s too late by grad school sometimes to say, “Hey here’s this thing called …” “I’ve got to finish my dissertation.” Then you get into tenure. Now I’ve got to get my tenure now.
Dr. Steele: So if we start talking to kids about digital humanities with teachers who actually know how to talk to kids about curriculum and how to do things in the classroom, then we might have a sense of how to not only cultivate some cohort of faculty who are DH-ers but actually put into practice and into regular, ordinary curriculum the humanities and the digital in ways that are palatable for schools who really want their students to learn technology but who I think are misguided in that only being STEM education.
Dr. Steele: So how do we get teachers onboard who I think would be more onboard to say, “I don’t necessarily think that my students need to learn everything there is to know about coding, but I sure would like them to learn about history.” If you can make learning about history work in ways that tap into skillsets that they already have and tap into memory that they already have using the digital, there’s a natural kind of connection there. But there has to be a willingness on the part of the university to take some accountability for the damaged relationships that we’ve created.
Dr. Brown: You want to talk about your Douglass project?
Dr. Rambsy: Oh yeah, I was going to say, so I got an NEH to do a Douglass, Fredrick Douglass-
Dr. Brown: Oh [Maryland] guy.
Dr. Rambsy: -on Fredrick Douglass at the summer institute but it’s for school teachers. So that’s cool. So we have 25 school teachers will be over the weekend session on Douglass. What I’ve been fascinated most and taking most of my time is the kind of recruiting I have to do for this. So I’ve pushed myself to email 1,000 principals in every state in the country. All the states in the country just to encourage them to ask their teachers and following up like that.
Dr. Rambsy: It occurred to me this is the first time I have even had an interest and incentive to even reach to that many teachers at one time. Like literally every state. But it also caused me to start paying attention, what are different school systems looking like. What might they look around Douglass, interest in Douglass.
Dr. Rambsy: I think one of the things I’m learning too is teachers, like you, you said you taught for 15 years. I already know one of the messages that I have to send to professors who will be teaching and let them know teachers have more experience teaching than they do. On average-
Kevin Winstead: Always.
Dr. Rambsy: On average.
Dr. Steele: And we’re not trained to teach.
Dr. Brown: Thank you.
Dr. Rambsy: On average, I think the majority of the teachers that apply to this institute have 20 or more years teaching. Whereas the professors who are going to presenting have around 10, only have 10. You know it’s not the same kind of thing at all. I think that’s why you have a big distance between DH teachers and even students because often DH is like people who are in DH talking to each other. Professors, in general, just don’t have to be as practical on things.
Dr. Rambsy: You probably noticed that in your shift. So yes, I think that’s one of just getting it. To be fair, I will say sometimes that the kind of things you gain in grad school … for me before DH, I was into something called Afrofuturism. One of my big mentors [Alondra Nelson 01:24:32] who created this kind of space to talk about it. So I remember being in grad school and that’s what we would do on that. They had this list search and you would just talk about technology and interactions between black folks. Now African futurism has become a little different now, which is fine. It was, I was glad to have gone into it like that, so there was some value to me to be theorizing about what I thought it was and imagining things. Because I wouldn’t be in the space I am now, but yeah, you’re absolutely right, figuring out that distance and recognizing it and inserting incentives to make contact. I’m so glad about this NEH grant because I didn’t have any other reason to contact so many teachers until now.
Dr. Steele: I do want to be respectful of the time of the folks in the space. I think our panel will likely be around and here for conversation afterwards, but I do want to be respectful of the tech staff. Thank them very much for their work in setting up microphones and cameras and getting this recorded for us. So let’s thank them as well. [applause] Thank you all for being here. [We’re gonna wrap] now. We will continue the conversation after we get out of here.