I had the honor of sharing about Creative Morning's global theme (#CMPreserve) with the good people of the Boston chapter. In addition to being a researcher and writer, I’m an absolute ham when I get a mic. 😂
It was such a blessing to meet so many people with stories on their lips - stories about ancestors making their ways to the States, stories about how some hope to parent, stories about what they hope to leave behind. As I chattered into the mic up front, I kept thinking about all the circumstances that had to unfold exactly the ways they did *how* they did...to not just leave room for our existence, but to gather us in the Boston Moo offices over coffee and reflection in 2019. I hope I left a positive, meaningful impression on the #CMBOS attendees 'cause they sure left one on me. It was an honor and a privilege to share about my worldview and my work with the Cambridge Historical Society, Harvard's History Design Studio, Tufts University, and my book Roseland: 1820-2019 (Belt Publishing, Fall 2020). These are the conversations I crave on a daily basis.
Ten years ago, I gave myself permission to imagine a different kind of life. In 2008, I ran out of money for college and slipped into a season of extreme depression. I was sleeping for 13-14 hours a day, lived with a relative struggling with her own issues, and was socially isolated. After a year of this, I secured a job in Cambridge and moved from Chicago with $12 and a one-way ticket.
I didn't want the end of college to be the end of my education, so I started attending lectures all over New England. I also started The Ideologue, a website to chronicle all my experiences. I'd eventually attend 500+ lectures, conduct 100+ interviews with scholars, faith leaders, and entrepreneurs, and volunteer with great organizations - building community and affecting social change along the way.
Learn more about my journey on Caroline Aylward's Get a Helmet podcast.
I'm so excited to be part of the History Design Studio community at Harvard's Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. I'm part of the 2018-19 cohort of scholars, curators, practitioners, and entrepreneurs using design theory to craft cool projects. I'm developing an ancestral migration map, timeline (1788-2018), African American Vernacular English glossary and etymology section, and curated exhibit related to my upcoming book, Roseland (Belt Publishing, Fall 2020).
I'm currently snowed in back home in Chicago, but I'm excited to continue working on my project once I'm back in Cambridge. Shout out to our nifty director Dr. Vincent Brown, and our fearless advisers Robin McDowell and Amy Alemu for helping us interpret our shared past.
I'm one of City Bureau's public newsroom guest curators! On 11/8, I had the pleasure of interviewing my college friend Tanikia Carpenter, founder of Black Owned Chicago. BOC was created in 2016 to be a resource for people who desired to support Black owned businesses. My guest curator in crime (and fellow Belt Publishing author) Daniel Kay Hertz and I are interviewing snazzy Chicagoans and facilitating conversations about the Chicago We Inherit (11/1 audio here), Inhabit (11/8 audio here), and Impart (11/29). We'll explore the ways we build narratives and monuments—physical or otherwise—out of people, events, and memories. We began with neighborhood histories that are sometimes buried under decades of change and displacement, move on to how we reconcile history with our present, and then look forward to how future generations of Chicagoans will learn their history. Many thanks to Andrea Hart for wrangling us all (and taking this photo) and Build Coffee for being our gracious host.
Check out the livestream audio here.
I had the pleasure of returning to 20x2 Chicago to share a piece called “Under An Empire of Fear”, a title I drew from Paul Klee’s 1938 painting “Dancing Under the Empire of Fear”. As you might remember, 20x2 is a storytelling series that invites twenty speakers to wax insightful in response to a single, ambiguous question…in two minutes each. Now, I have tried twice - and both times, I’ve failed to come in under the limit. Last year, I shared about how I fell in love with humanity through our theologies. This year, I sobbed on stage about fear, fascism, and the radical and redemptive hope that’s usually pooled at the underside of history.
I always need more than two minutes.
On 10/6/18, a great group of folks gathered at Schuba’s Tavern to be enraptured. Andrew Huff and James Allenspach were our snazzy hosts with the most…s.
Check out all the videos here.
I couldn’t be more honored to be the inaugural guest of Julian Johnson’s South Side Talks podcast.
During a recent trip home, I scampered over to Woodlawn and shared my story with a lovely gent and fellow grandchild of the Great Migration. It was so incredibly refreshing to share my appreciation and complicated love for a place as wonderful and vulnerable as Roseland.
When I tell non-Chicagoans about my neighborhood, I usually begin with the original Potawatomi (Bodewadmi) folk and Dutch settlers from Eenigenburg. Well, on that rainy day, I started with my mother, who was part of the first generation in our family born up north. From her, I fan out and pay homage to a greater community from the Mississippi Delta who informed everything from my accent to the values that undergird every facet of my life.
I hope you enjoy this journey down 200 years of memory lane.
Spanning 200 years, Roseland tells the story of the last seven generations of Gray’s family through her direct female ancestors, alongside the arc of U.S. history. Using research and oral histories, Roseland explores that tender place where myth meets memory - and the meaning between. In her essay, “Chiasmus: A Narrative of Ascent,” published by South Side Weekly and in Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology (Belt Publishing 2017), Gray opens with an ancestral roll call that Roseland will continue:
“It’s 1986 and I’m born on the South Side of Chicago. My mother Sharon’s a Chicagoan too—born in 1964…six years into her parents’ northern life. My grandma Pearlie Mae is born in 1942 in a Mississippi Delta town founded by formerly enslaved people. My great-grandmother Wyona’s the first of us to be born in the twentieth century and would be eleven when white women got the vote, forty-five when segregation fell on paper, and fifty-nine when Dr. King was shot. Her mother Trudy was born in 1887 just up the road in the town where WC Handy first heard the Blues. Her mother Lucinda was born in 1862, one year into a war that’d color the conscience and collective memory of a nation. Her mother Martha was born in 1820, part of the generation begging for that slouch toward justice and would be forty-one years old when it began.”
Read more about Roseland here.
I dug into the histories of about sixty African American and Indigenous communities in Oklahoma for Growing Up with the Country: Family, Race, and Nation after the Civil War (Yale Press, 2018).
Order here (£35.00 / $45.00 USD)
Following the lead of her own ancestors, Kendra Field’s epic family history chronicles the westward migration of freedom’s first generation in the fifty years after emancipation. Drawing on decades of archival research and family lore within and beyond the United States, Field traces their journey out of the South to Indian Territory, where they participated in the development of black and black Indian towns and settlements.
When statehood, oil speculation, and Jim Crow segregation imperiled their lives and livelihoods, these formerly enslaved men and women again chose emigration. Some migrants launched a powerful back-to-Africa movement, while others moved on to Canada and Mexico. Their lives and choices deepen and widen the roots of the Great Migration. Interweaving black, white, and Indian histories, Field’s beautifully wrought narrative explores how ideas about race and color powerfully shaped the pursuit of freedom.
The Black Law Students Association (BLSA) at Vermont Law School presented “#BlackGirlMagic: Black, Intelligent, and Educated—Now That’s Power,” a celebration and panel discussion from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, in Yates Common Room at VLS.
Panelists: Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Araujo Kahn; District Superior Court Judge Melanie Cradle; and Rayshauna Gray, coordinator of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School and a historical researcher at the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University.
The mission of the Black Law Students Association is to articulate and promote the professional goals and needs of minority law students, to encourage and foster professional competence, to focus on the relationship between minority law students and the law structure, to instill in minority law students a greater awareness of and commitment to the needs of the minority community, and to influence American law schools and legal associations to use their expertise and prestige to bring about change within the legal system in order to make it responsive to the needs of the minority community. BLSA collaborates with other student groups at Vermont Law School to promote diversity and enhance cultural awareness, and to make an impact on the institution, community and region in accordance with the missions of BLSA and the National Black Law Students Association.
What happens when you take 20 handpicked creatives and luminaries, give them each two minutes before a live audience and the same (fuzzy) question to unravel? That's the premise behind 20x2, the popular event staged since 2001 at SXSW Interactive —20x2 has grown to an ever-expanding pantheon of participants. Founded in Austin by Kevin Newsum, Chicago's own Andrew Huff produced the first permanent satellite 20x2 Chicago show in 2013, with shows now happening twice annually.
On 10/20/17, a great group of folks gathered at The Hideout to be enraptured. Andrew Huff hosted 20x2 Chicago, a show in which 20 people from all different walks of creative life get two minutes each to answer the question of the day in whatever way they like. The results were as varied as the emotions and reactions they evoked.
Check out the Storify article (complete with tweets and all the videos) here.
Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology is the ninth book in a series of city anthologies that shines a light on the common ground Chicago shares with the Rust Belt through essays, memoir, journalism, fiction, and poetry.
On 8/13/17, great folks gathered at The Hideout to celebrate the release of Rust Belt Chicago, a collection of essays, journalism, poetry, and fiction edited by Martha Bayne. This collection tells the vibrant and culturally rich history of this great city, all together singing a forlorn love song to a place similarly marked, if less evident, by deindustrialization and economic decline as Rust Belt sister cities.
In addition to researching in Tufts University's history department, I'm also part of the team behind the Boston African American Freedom Trail. Inspired by the scholarship of the late Tufts Professor Gerald R. Gill (1948-2007), the project aims to develop African American historical memory and inter-generational community across greater Boston.
The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD) is devoted to conceptualizing the intersection between race and democracy at the local, national, and international levels. It focuses on the pivotal contributions of ordinary activists, iconic anti-racist political activists, intellectuals, elected officials, and cultural workers. Based on the belief that history informs contemporary struggles for democracy and public policy, the Center seeks to participate in a public conversation about the very meaning of racial, social, and political justice.