On Thursday, Jan. 28, the University of Maine Alumni Association in collaboration with the Black Student Union (BSU) hosted a virtual talk about Black studies in 21st century higher education. This talk was part of UMaine’s Cultural Affairs/ Distinguished Lecture Series and was moderated by Lauren Babb, a chemistry Ph.D. student and staff advisor at BSU. John Bracey, Ph.D. and Sonia Sanchez, Ph.D. two individuals who were responsible for initiating the movement for Black studies in the 1970s, presented the talk. The goal of the talk was to reflect on their respective journeys of commitment to racial studies and racial justice, as well as discussing the present movement of “racial reckoning.”
The talk began with Bracey, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who has been teaching in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies since 1972. Bracey was born in 1941 and grew up on the campus of Howard University which is known as the capstone of Black education. He learned a lot about the campus and the community there through word of mouth, where he got the chance to learn more about the importance of culture, humanity and the community around him. Given the vast amount of cultures that make up the United States, Bracey has been speaking on the importance of recognizing all of the cultures around us and being more open to them.
“To pretend that we live in a monocultural society is absurd on the face of it,” Bracey said during the talk.
Since leaving Howard, Bracey’s passion for Black studies has grown, and he strives to inform people on how to look at the world differently.
“The purpose of black studies is to get people to look at the world and at relationships in a different way,” Bracey said.
Sanchez is an American poet, writer and professor, and like Bracey, has been a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement. She has also been the recipient of the Robert Frost Medal of Poetry. In the talk she spoke about her journey to teach Black studies and its impact on the education system. Her journey took her to San Francisco State University to teach, which her father did not approve of at the time. Her goal in starting the Black studies program was to help teach Black students to read, learn and write about themselves. This process of self reflection would help them take their ideas and thoughts, and bring them into the bigger picture.
“It’s about teaching them to have pride, walk upright and say, ‘I am a human,’” Sanchez stated.
Sanchez also delivered powerful poetry throughout the talk, which helped show the importance of Black studies and their impact throughout the education system.
Bracey and Sanchez spoke eloquently on the importance of Black Studies in our education system. Those wishing to listen to the talk for themselves will be able to find it on Youtube or through links on UMaine’s website.