Cal Humanities

"Part of resilience is finding joy, finding beauty, finding love."

— George Takei, Actor, Author, Director, Activist

"Part of resilience is finding joy, finding beauty, finding love."

— George Takei, Actor, Author, Director, Activist

Mervyn M. Dymally stands in front of the capitol building in Washington DC.

Highlighting African American Humanities Projects: A Recap of Recent Humanities for All Quick Grant Projects

In recognition of California’s African American and African diasporic communities, we amplify the work of recent Humanities for All Quick Grant projects that have explored and celebrated the richness and complexity of Black life in California. Together, these projects offer perspectives that seek to uplift the impact and experiences of African American civil rights pioneers, poets, artists, elders, community members, and scholars shaping California’s past, present, and future.

The “Mervyn M. Dymally Bridgebuilder and History Maker, Public Events and Exhibition” consisted of a three-part series of public events and an online exhibition presented by California State University Los Angeles. This project was a digital exhibit and a suite of public events that featured the work of civil rights pioneer Mervyn M. Dymally (1926 -2012), the first black Lt. Governor of California who served in both the California State Assembly and State Senate. The series included an online exhibition, community speaker panel, and virtual gallery tour. In addition, co-hosted public events with educators and curators from the Autry Museum in Los Angeles featured selected documents from the Dymally Papers. This program sought to reflect the ethnic, economic, and geographical landscape of California and focus on the power of the story by centering the community voice to foster collaboration. The virtual exhibit and public programming challenged the archival silences of the past by contributing to a landscape that finds value in people who have been erased or devalued by an exclusionary practice that has power over which narratives are told and which stories remain hidden.

A large group of persons stand and kneel facing the camera. They surround a small table. 
Black Joy courtesy of Chapter 510

Black Joy: Poetry with Young Black Men,” organized by Oakland-based Chapter 510 and Nomadic Press, consisted of twelve-week poetry workshops for young black men ages (13-18). We hired Oakland poet and teaching artist Daniel Summerhill who designed and led a workshop to explore the meaning of black joy and how it can be cultivated through poetry. This program included the expertise of Summerhill, an Oakland-based poet, teaching artist, and Assistant Professor of Poetry/Social Action and Composition at CSU-Monterey Bay. For this program’s participants, “Black Joy” offered a supportive space for mentorship and shared learning that was open to writers ranging in experience from new to accomplished and confident writers. Each week the youth participants contributed to building a positive and nurturing circle of creativity while forging bonds of friendship, respect, and growth as thinkers and writers.

Back in September 2020, California Humanities collaborated with Chapter 510 and Nomadic Press to present The Art of Storytelling: Black Joy, a virtual poetry reading that reunited youth writers Samuel Getachew and Elijah Hynson with the Black Joy workshop teaching artists Daniel Summerhill, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Darius Simpson, and Vernon Keeve III, who shared reflections on the program and original works of poetry. To learn more about The Art of Storytelling: Black Joy, click here.

BELONGING: Expressions of Black Empowerment and Possibility in San Luis Obispo,” organized by R.A.C.E Matters in San Luis Obispo, is a multimedia, multi-location project that included an exhibition of photography, oral history recordings, documentary screening, discussion events, and live storytelling. This project aimed to amplify and preserve the experiences of African Americans in San Luis Obispo County, an area where the Black community makes up approximately 2% of the county’s population. The project allowed participants and attendees to learn more about the lived experiences of a diverse sample of Black San Luis Obispo County residents and learn more about the Black community spaces and organizations in this region. Project director Courtney Haile stated, “My goal was primarily to center and celebrate the Black community, but also educate dominant white community members about the importance of cultural spaces.” Explore the portraits and oral history interviews collected as part of the “BELONGING” project here.

A flyer with three photos and details about the event.TRAUMA, TRESSES, & TRUTH: Untangling Our Hair Through Personal Narrative,” organized by Bay Area-based writer, editor, and instructor Lyzette Wanzer, consisted of a two-day virtual conference presented in August of 2021. TRAUMA, TRESSES, & TRUTH examined the politics, policing, and perception of African American and Afro Latina women’s natural hair in American culture explored through various subject matter from discussions of public policy, history, creative writing, hands-on learning and tutorials, and visual art. This conference was inspired by recent racial justice movements and new acts of legislation, such as Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing the CROWN Act into law, making California the first state in the country to ban discrimination against people based on their natural hair. Conference participants found the range of subject matter thought-provoking and rich, and as one attendee noted, “Great Conference! Great hearing so many voices talking about such a timely topic.”

Please visit the Humanities for All Quick Grant web page to read about more awarded projects.

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