Black Studies Conference addresses struggles of the black community

Anusha Lalani and Autumn Sanders

The narrative of hardships for people of color stretches back as far as the history of the nation itself, from slavery to modern-day racism, according to panelists this weekend at the first annual Black Studies Conference. 

The conference, a two-day event involving discussions about black citizens and their role in society, was sponsored by UT Black Studies — a program consisting of the African and African Diaspora Studies department, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis — and featured a diverse group of speakers, from writer Rahda Blank to Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer in August 2014.

Black voices and what to do with them dominated the conversation of the panelists. Multimedia artist Pierre Bennu said openly discussing the issues black people face helps people become more informed.

“I feel like we are really in a moment where we need to communicate, to talk with one another,” Bennu said. “And we have our own answers, we’ve given our answers to people who don’t have our best interest in mind.”

Each panel was constructed around a different aspect of the black experience and how it affects obstacles the black community is now facing.

“We are sitting in the front row of a beautiful performance of black resistance,” said Lisa B. Thompson, associate professor of African and African Diaspora studies.

Topics of the panels included the role of black artists such as Blank, who said she wanted to use her art to portray the black community’s experiences in America. 

“The first person I want to speak to is myself, and as an artist, I feel like I owe myself that freedom,” Blank said. “I wanted to tell contemporary black stories. Stories that did something to me. I am my first audience.” 

Panelists also discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and how the movement has raised awareness. 

“When Black Lives Matter begins to speak, all of a sudden the world begins to take notice,” said Kaye Whitehead, an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland.

The conference created a sense of community for some students, such as Dwuana Bradley, an educational administration graduate student, who said she felt inspired by what she learned at the conference.

“As a first year doctoral student, I’m trying to imagine my own dissertation and what my scholarship is going to look like,” Bradley said. “So to hear from people who already have long-standing and respected careers was reaffirming.”

Students who missed the conference can follow the hashtag #BlackMatters2016 for recaps and highlights.