Cover “Capoeira” Designed by Kushagra Kar Words by Diwe Augustin-Glave Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown
COVER Capoeira — a game, a martial art, and a dance — represents a legacy of Black-embodied liberation. While the art form was transplanted from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afrika, during the transatlantic slave trade, Brazil is the home of Capoeira. For centuries the movements of the discipline developed from the struggle against chattel slavery and apartheid. Capoeira can easily be disguised as a dance — an expression of the inner child. But as a Capoeirista articulates their Ginga into a Meia-lua, with breathing and playful character, they equally dance and prepare themselves to strike an adversary when necessary. Associate Professor of Theater and Africana Studies Justin Emeka teaches us in Capoeira 1 that we never stop our Ginga whether we are attacked or tired — we adjust to the fluidity of the present moment and seek liberation under any condition. Capoeira was banned from the streets of Brazil by government officials in the late 19th century. The discipline provided cultural identity and when people recognize their identity, they cannot be enslaved. Besouro Mangangá, a Capoeirista who lived during the 20th century, refused to be victimized and fought against anyone threatening the liberation of his community in Santo Amaro — a town outside of Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Centuries later, Capoeiristas around the world draw inspiration from Besouro’s values not only to seek liberation for oneself, but liberation for everyone. L. Joshua Jackson Culture Editor
Students gathered in what is now known as Afrikan Heritage House, in the 1970s.
Editorial: Having Hard Conversations pg. 8
CULTURE #BlackOutSenate Iyanna Lewis pg. 12 A Call for Devotion to Black Students Chudi Martin Jr. pg. 14
Afrikan Heritage House Moves to Bailey for the Summer Kari Allen pg. 20
A Letter From the Organizers of the Duante Wright Vigil Imani Joseph Lulu Chebaro pg. 26
Juneteenth in Oberlin Mikala Jones pg. 28 In Remembrance and In Our Embrace Reginald Goudeau Imani Joseph Diwe Augustin-Glave Olivia Huntley Banu Newell pg. 30
ACTIVISM Students Balance Mutual Aid Efforts at Oberlin Anisa Curry Vietze pg. 24 Protesting: What Comes Next Zoë Martin del Campo pg. 34 Black Identity in Face of ACAB and Student Karens Nico Vickers pg. 36 Food, Community, and Black Joy Imani Badillo Vera Grace Menafee pg. 52
SCIENCE Oberlin Research Highlights Black Advocacy in Congress Jenny Garcia pg. 18
Oberlin Activism in Spring 2013 Ilana McNamara pg. 38
The Privilege of Community Kamcee Ugwokegbe pg. 42
A Conversation with Johnny Coleman Diwe Augustin-Glave pg. 50 Mama and Daughter Baba and Son L. Joshua Jackson pg. 54
Poetry Vera Grace Menafee pg. 13, pg. 25, pg. 42
How can STEM Classrooms be AntiRacist Drew Dansby pg. 44 STRONG Program Supports Oberlin STEM Students of Color Catherine Lee Juanita Alabi pg. 46
Acknowledgements pg. 56
pg. 54 Mama and Daughter, Baba and Son
Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown 7
The Oberlin Review EDITORIAL
Having Hard Conversations O
ver a year ago, the world was irrevocably changed by the murder of George Floyd. This heinous crime by police officer Derek Chauvin was captured on camera and incited public outrage. Across the country, people marched and used civil disobedience to demand justice for George Floyd and all Black Lives. In the months following Floyd’s murder, things started to change. Large cities like Austin, TX and Los Angeles, CA trimmed millions of dollars from their police departments’ budgets; other cities introduced anti-racist trainings or ended qualified immunity for their police officers. Earlier this year Chauvin was convicted and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for second-degree murder. All of these moments felt like victories, though not nearly a dent in the systemic racism that this country was founded on. That work requires a longer process of unlearning and overhauling the systems we live within. In recent months, we have seen a lot of the energy and enthusiasm in the movement die down or fall solely on organizers and activists of color. It was through reflecting on the past year that the idea to create this Special Issue was formed. At the Review, we wanted to do something, however small, to keep the conversation going, especially because we are no longer surrounded by constant protests in the streets. In general, much of this movement has transitioned to prioritizing education. Here, we hoped to create a resource to turn to — a way to envision and record experiences of race at Oberlin. We wanted to center Black voices and showcase the ways in which our community can do better.
In these pages, we also strove to build a public space where important and challenging conversations could take place. Too often we see in ourselves and our peers the feeling that we are supposed to have come to Oberlin fully formed, that we should have already done all the learning and unlearning that it takes to be anti-racist in the 21st century. Because of the fear of accidentally saying something stupid or uneducated or racist, we see Obies shying away from difficult conversations about race and inequality. In reality, we’re all here at this institution to do that learning and unlearning. No one comes to Oberlin fully formed. No one leaves Oberlin fully formed. In a country that was founded on white supremacy, being anti-racist is a lifelong learning process. No one should shy away from having hard conversations, because they feel they aren’t yet educated enough. We need to start having these conversations now if we want to secure a more positive future. All this is something we’re trying to overcome in this issue. In these past months while putting this magazine together, the Review’s Special Issue staff had some hard conversations. There have been some embarrassing blunders and awkward miscommunications. Making this issue was a learning process for us as well, but it is exactly this kind of vulnerability and mistakes that are so pivotal to both our personal development and the progression of the world we live in. This issue is about creating a space to have those conversations – to do the learning and unlearning. As student journalists, we believe that hearing the stories of individuals in their own voic8
Because of the fear of accidentally saying something stupid or uneducated or racist, we see Obies shying away from difficult conversations about race and inequality. In reality, we’re all here at this institution to do that learning and unlearning.
Right: Illustration by Anisa Curry Vietze
Anisa Curry Vietze Editor-in-Chief
Kushagra Kar Editor-in-Chief
es is a crucial tool for harnessing and building empathy across differences. When you read this magazine, we hope you’ll hear just how many ways there are to be Black at Oberlin College. In these pages, we see moments of triumph in our community through #BlackOutSenate. We explore a sense of place, understanding how the physical location of Afrikan Heritage House impacts both the history and future of safe spaces for Black students. We remember and honor the lives lost to violent acts of policing and the struggle of organizers to honor their memory. We appreciate moments of celebration like Juneteenth. We learn from individual stories in fighting oppression, from marching the streets of New York last year to responses to Ku Klux Klan sightings in Oberlin, circa 2013. We pause to look at racism in academia and consider ways to adopt anti-racist pedagogy and appreciate the successes of ideas like the Science and Technology Research Opportunities for a New Generation program. We close in gratitude to people and their everyday work in telling stories, building communities, and bettering lives. So here we are, we hope this issue will make you think about the generations of Black activists, organizers, artists, visionaries that got us to where we are today. Too often stories around racial justice are reduced to only the struggle; we wanted this issue to reflect and highlight the happiness, fulfillment, and success, of Black Obies as well. We hope these voices inspire you the same way they have us. We intend to keep learning, educating ourselves, and using our platform for the benefit of marginalized communities. Everything to come, we do together. 9
Nico Vickers Managing Editor
pg. 34 Protesting: What Comes Next
Photo by Anokha Venugopal 11
The Oberlin Review CULTURE COMMUNITY
#BlackOutSenate Iyanna Lewis
spent my first semester in Student Senate hiding on the sidelines. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the qualifications to be on Senate, but I felt like I was in over my head. Honestly, I never expected myself to be a student senator; I just knew that I cared about my Black friends, and I wanted everyone to hear and support the amazing things they were doing. Recently though, the success of the fall 2021 #BlackOutSenate campaign represents an important step towards centering Black student voices in the decisions made for and by the College. I’ve become more confident using my voice and speaking up, but I still had doubts about how people perceived me and my actions. Because of COVID-19, we were constantly challenged by issues that previous senators never had to
face. I felt like I was expected to fix everything that was wrong with Oberlin. The imposter syndrome I faced made it difficult for me to accomplish much in my first semester. Thankfully, I have gained a lot of knowledge and confidence by watching and working with former Senate Chair Henry Hicks, OC ’21, and former Senate Vice-Chair Jasmine Mitchell, OC ’21. They tackled every single issue head-on and positively impacted the school as a whole, despite the odds stacked against them. We all owe them a huge thanks. I think that the first #BlackOutSenate campaign was a nice wake-up call for the school to recognize the need to support Black students on this campus. But we also need to realize that changing the demographics was not the end of the work, but the beginning.
Right: Photo of Audre Lorde. Courtesy of www.poetryfoundation.org. Below: Photo courtesy of Iyanna Lewis
from audre Vera Grace Menafee the radical thing is to love without fear
Although I am thrilled that Black students will make up the majority of the Senate in the fall, I can’t help but worry that a predominately Black Senate with no white students will be met with even more resistance from the administration and student body. Fighting for racial equity and justice should not always fall on the backs of marginalized students — if that had been the goal of Senate, there would not have been a need for the #BlackOutSenate campaign in the first place. This work should be continued and institutionalized, regardless of the racial makeup of Senate. That being said, we have some amazing students making up the 2021– 22 Senate who will all accomplish exciting and necessary things, and I hope Oberlin is ready for us.
love myself without fear of who i’m gonna be or who i was preserving my heart & soul like the jars of jams packed above the stove in mama’s kitchen — to be black to be blue to be in this skin in a world that wants nothing to do with u is to be beyond comprehension or government intervention, so we grow self-preservation in our windowsill gardens and mold our bones into gold cuz bLACK gIRLS cOME fROM tHE fUTURE!
where else can we live when our existence is fugitive? we had nowhere else to run to but the arms of an infinite sky where we never had to decolonize our minds because we were never colonized in the first place and never had to prove that we mattered in the first place because the earth held us in her waters and reminded us that our worth does not disappear just because white folks refuse to see that it’s there. don’t worry baby u ain’t got to prove nothing no more. u are sacred & u glow ya hear u are here.
The Oberlin Review CULTURE COMMUNITY
A Call for Devotion to Black Students
Above: Chudi poses with his grandfather, Van Hudson. Courtesy of Chudi Martin Jr. Right: Chudi poses with his friends. Photo courtesy of Chudi Martin Jr.
Chudi Martin Jr.
rowing up as a Black person in Englewood, Chicago, I’ve always been aware of how people perceive me, ’cause if I wasn’t, it would cost me my life. Because of this, I always think about how I conduct myself in white spaces. I’m an extrovert and try to make any space that I’m in inclusive for everyone. Despite this, I feel nervous about entering new spaces, because I don’t know the degree to which nonBlack people support Black people. Throughout my first year at Oberlin, I was greatly supported by the Afrikan Heritage House, the Africana Studies department, and by my Posse Studies Program cohort. But the work of helping Black students find their safe spaces and support systems is too often placed onto the backs of older Black students, faculty, and professors. I can easily say that A-House is the best support system and resource that any Black student can have at Oberlin. The big sibling program that paired first years living in A-House with Black third- and fourth-
year students helped me immensely, along with the support from Director and Faculty in Residence of Afrikan Heritage House and Professor of Africana Studies Candice Raynor. This support proved invaluable when my grandfather passed away on Sept. 28, 2020. I have lived with my grandfather, grandmother, mom, and four siblings for my whole life. My grandfather was one of the people that I loved the most in this world. A week before he passed, I went back home to be with him and my family. I told my friends and Candice that I’d be going home, and I didn’t know if I’d come back that semester. The care and support that I received from my peers during this time proved that I made the right choice to live in A-House. During such a terrible time, I found comfort and support in people that I’d known for a very short time. My grandfather, Van Hudson, was the brightest light in my world, and we both shared a love that will live on through my actions for my whole life. 14
He made it his life’s purpose to give to others, build community, and share his love. All that I do is aimed at living up to this purpose, and I can easily say that the communities I have found at Oberlin help me do this. I decided, very regrettably, to return a few days after my grandfather passed. As soon as I returned to campus, I was quarantined in Fairchild House for 10 days. These 10 days were easily some of the worst in my life. My grandfather had just passed, but as per usual, I was expected to be my best. I had to take exams and makeup assignments, but I couldn’t see anyone. All I had was a virtual connection to the people who supported me before. Almost every day that I spent in Fairchild house, I’d fall asleep and wake up crying. No matter how prepared you are, college — especially college in a pandemic — will always present new challenges. For many students, these challenges include an increase in academic difficulty or living on your own for the first time.
I wish these challenges were the only ones Black students faced at school, but across the country, we are exhausted from having to cautiously navigate the spaces that we occupy in order to ensure our safety. Our challenges in life aren’t as simple as having to work hard to ace a class. The question of doing well in class turns into, “Does my professor support Black students? Do they understand the trials and tribulations that we go through?” Feeling unsafe in my classrooms, my car, and in every other space is destructive for my health. White people, you must understand that while your biggest complaint may be that your room is hot or your shower is cold, Black students’ biggest concerns exist in a different space, a space which requires different attention, and without that attention the consequences can be fatal to us. COVID-19 has deeply affected everyone, but articles, such as Reggie Goudeau’s piece for the Review – Obie Safe Policy Enforcement Harms
Black and Brown Students – show how Black students have faced more complex problems because of COVID-19. These concerns are precisely why programs that support Black students are so important. It’s tiring to live an existence that is consistently challenged, and it is simply annoying that Black students can really only seek help from others who’ve experienced similar things. With historic racism and white supremacy causing the murders of our kinfolk, our only problems aren’t just about living in a new dorm or meeting with professors. These assaults on our humanity affect our mental and physical health, and they are seen as too ordinary for us to get real help for them. As students of Oberlin College, we are expected to live up to the College’s ideals of academic rigor, but the support that we receive in return is limited. It’s not wrong for the College to expect the best from us, but it is wrong for the College to expect
these things from its students without truly supporting them, whether they are on campus or at home. Issues that affect Black students must be taken seriously by other people at Oberlin and have to be understood on a deeper level. We need more than platitudes like, “We understand you and we stand with you,” and black squares on Instagram. Despite all that I mentioned, I finished my first year with a good academic standing, worked two jobs, was the only first-year elected to Student Senate in fall 2020, will be Senate’s vice president of academic affairs next year, and I’ve joined OSteel! There are challenges that I still face at Oberlin, but I have triumphed over many. Still, there must be continuous work and support devoted to Black students. We do so many great things, but much of the support for us only comes from people who have been through what we have.
pg. 52 Food, Community, and Black Joy
Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown 17
The Oberlin Review SCIENCE A SENSE OF PLACE
Oberlin Research Highlights Black Advocacy in Congress Jenny Garcia Editor’s Note: Assistant Professor of Politics and Comparative American Studies Jenny Garcia’s work focuses on the representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. government. Here Garcia summarizes recent political science research she conducted with several of her Oberlin students on how race shapes the behavior and strategies of Black members of Congress.
y research aims to better explain the relationship between race and legislative behavior and political representation. In my work, I ask questions like: How does race and racism influence what representatives prioritize and how they advocate for those priorities? How does a representative’s race shape the constraints they face? How does this influence the tactics they use to try to advance their policy priorities?
What implications does this hold for policymaking and representation? For many, it may seem apparent that these questions should be asked. However, in the field of legislative studies, these questions are not only infrequently asked, but they often run counter to key assumptions made by foundational scholarly work. Like many fields of study, the subfields in political science aren’t always 18
great at speaking to one another. While scholars of race and ethnic politics have long highlighted the important role of racial identity in politics, other subfields — like legislative studies — haven’t engaged much with this work. Not to mention, legislative studies is whiter and has more men than almost any other subfield in political science. Through my work and my presence, I seek to push the boundaries of what tradition-
al legislative scholars study and to ask questions that upend previously held expectations. I do this in my book project, which looks at the legislative strategies of Black members of Congress from the 1950s to the present day. When trying to explain legislative behavior, scholars have long assumed that all members of Congress should behave relatively the same under the same set of conditions. That is to say, if you replace one Democrat with another and they both hold similar ideological positions, constituencies, committee positions, etc., they should act in the same way. I argue that Congress isn’t a one-size-fits-all institution. Race and racism, and how they shape experiences, priorities, opportunities, and constraints outside of Congress, shape them within Congress as well. More particularly, I argue that race shapes legislative behavior in two important ways. The first is through “linked fate” — the belief among African Americans that one’s own fate is ultimately connected to the fate of the entire Black community. This leads Black legislators to prioritize and advocate for issues impacting Black communities more than non-Black legislators. Second, Black members of Congress, both historically and today, face distinct constraints within Congress, which ultimately limits how they can pursue their priorities. For instance, studies have shown that Black legislators are less likely to be placed on prestigious House committees and that they — and in particular Black female legislators — regularly encounter racism, silencing, and marginalization within the walls of Congress. Moreover, as a permanent minority in a majoritarian-run institution, whose policy priorities are often racialized by others, Black legislators face an uphill battle in advancing those priorities. In practice, this means that Black legislators are always advocating for Black communities. They do so even in situations where they’re unlikely to receive credit for their work. And they do it when other supporters of the policy issue, namely white Democrats, have abandoned the fight because of the low likelihood that their hard work will result in policy change. While traditional legislative theories dismiss such behavior as symbolic and irrational, Black
lawmakers behave strategically by rationally channeling their legislative advocacy to fit the particular conditions they face. In order to demonstrate this, I look at the floor speeches made by all members of Congress and their participation in committee markup sessions, where a bulk of congressional lawmaking occurs, on select policy issues from 1948–2016. Even when Black lawmakers are pushed to the outskirts of the policymaking process, they continue to find ways to fight for their policy priorities. Instead of placing the issue on the backburner and waiting for a more opportune time to advance their policy, as white Democrats do, they advocate for the issue outside of traditional policymaking avenues — namely through floor speeches. While this will likely not result in substantive policy change, it forces an issue before Congress that would otherwise go unheard. When Black legislators are more included in the policymaking process, they shift their energy from these external strategies to more internal ones with which they can directly shape policy — like working in committee mark-up sessions. Ultimately, my work holds several important implications. First, there is an inherent value in electing Black legislators to Congress. Their persistent legislative advocacy for Black communities is unparalleled by any other group of legislators. Second, it shows that the Congress experienced by one is not the Congress experienced by all. This must first be acknowledged and addressed if we really want to understand how
to enhance political representation for historically marginalized and underrepresented groups. Third, and relatedly, this work contributes to a small but growing body of research which identifies the ways in which Congress is a racialized institution, impacting policy and representation. Oberlin students have played an instrumental role in this work. Not only have many assisted in the coding of thousands of pages of floor speeches, they have also brought in their own ideas and skills, which has allowed me to expand my work in various ways. For instance, in order to better explore the ways in which racism enters Congress and lawmaking, Oberlin students helped me code congressional tweets which allowed me and a co-author to demonstrate a correlation between anti-Obama tweets and the level of racial resentment among constituents in Republican districts. In another project I’m co-authoring with a student, he’s using his quantitative skills to help find a new way to identify ideological differences between white and non-white Democrats using the content of floor speeches. The field of legislative studies could certainly use more Obies! Left: Assistant Professor of Politics and Comparative American Studies Jenny Garcia at a conference. Photo courtesy of William Bradford Below: Emma Lia Mariner, OC ’19, Vincent Montoya-Armanios, OC ’19, Jenny Garcia, and Jacques Forbes, OC ’19 at the annual conference of the Western Political Science Association in San Diego in spring 2019.
The Oberlin Review CULTURE A SENSE OF PLACE
Afrikan Heritage House Moves to Bailey for the Summer Kari Allen
midst mounting renovations on South Campus, Afrikan Heritage House has been temporarily moved from its historical location in Lord House to Bailey House. The move has resulted in awkward, uncomfortable, and sometimes harmful interactions between non-Black, usually white students and staff and Black students, to the point where Black students are expected to justify their need for a safe space. Upon our arrival to Bailey House, many students found the building to be astonishingly filthy. College third-year Qayyum Ogunsanya’s room bordered on gruesome. “It was actually disrespectful in a way,” Ogunsanya said. “Like being gone all that time — excited to be back with the community — and to have that all go away as soon as I opened my door. I mean c’mon, eggs on the windowsill, Band-Aids on desks, garlic and mayo in
bags, and no one cleaned? No one told me? I felt disrespected, for real. Which ain’t new for Oberlin, but, damn, they need to do better.” When Ogunsanya went to the Office of Residential Education about this problem, they told him they had switched his room and forgotten to tell him. Yet, this room was not the only room with items left in it. Another room had a drawer full of books left behind, and a few others were reported to have food and trash in them. The fact
Black students continue to fight for the better treatment of all students on this campus, and we deserve to live together in peace while feeling protected and cared for.
that these items were left by the person who was in the room before, in addition to the space not being properly cleaned before we moved in, is disheartening. Despite our sour first impression, living in Bailey House has been very fun so far. The lounge has AC, so lots of people spend their time there. There is a ping-pong table, a nice TV, and a wonderful table that residents utilize for doing homework and eating. We added some artwork to the lounge and around the house that reminded us of Lord House so we would feel more at home. That has been a nice touch to the space. Another factor students have been aware of is that Bailey House normally serves as French program housing, and it is not lost on residents living there this summer that the French have a complicated relationship with the global Black community. They participated in the transatlantic slave trade and
colonized several countries in Africa. Although political independence has been achieved in most of these places, the French still maintain various levels of economic and political control over these countries, and in some instances, continue to benefit from the exploitation of these colonized peoples. Colonialism is not a thing of the past, and it is now our responsibility to reckon with our place in this space. The fact that we were able to have A-House and continue to build community this summer has been a huge blessing with its own unique trials. Black students continue to fight for the better treatment of all students on this campus, and we deserve to live together in peace while feeling protected and cared for. It has been a new experience living on North Campus, and it is nice to gain a new perspective of campus life. All we ask is that our space — no matter where it physically resides on campus — is respected along with all of us who live there. Right: Photo by Diwe Augustin-Glave. College second-year Donnie Harris sits on Bailey House porch doing homework. Left: Students in South Bowl in the 1970s. Above: Students gathered in what is now known as Afrikan Heritage House, in the 1970s. Photos courtesy of the Oberlin College Archives. 21
pg. 28 Juneteenth in Oberlin
Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown 23
The Oberlin Review ACTIVISM STUDENT ORGANIZING
The Revolution That We Want: Students Balance Mutual Aid Efforts at Oberlin Anisa Curry Vietze Editor-in-Chief
Below: Illustration by Anisa Curry Vietze
ver the past year, mutual aid, once considered a radical practice, suddenly entered into the mainstream conversation around racial equity and reparations. Mutual aid systems involve people working together to meet the needs of the broader community. Distinct from charity, which involves relying on philanthropists or the government, the goal of mutual aid is to build shared and reciprocal networks among neighbors and strangers. With a pandemic that created the most unequal recession in recent history, a summer of protests addressing systemic racism, and health crises that caused a rise in healthcare-related debt, the need for mutual aid became blatantly apparent. “I think [we are] recognizing that the system was never designed for the things that certain populations need,” said Associate Professor of Africana Studies Charles Peterson. “The system was never designed to embrace and provide a fully vested citizenship for African Americans. The need for mutual aid is because the issues mutual aid addresses were never meant to be addressed by the society.” But mutual aid is not a new concept; for generations, Black activists have built on the practice. At Oberlin multiple mutual aid efforts, the first being the Coronavirus Oberlin Mutual Aid fund, popped up in the past year. “Mutual aid has been happening for a really long time within the Black community,” said a representative of the COMA fund. “We do what has to be done to help our communities, going back to the Black Panther party. We are just doing what our ancestors and what the activists before us have taught us is necessary.” When COMA first launched on June 30, 2020, they received over $10,000 within the first 24 hours. The fund hit its $30,000 target in less than three weeks, so they made a new goal of $60,000. Using these funds, COMA
has aided hundreds of students during the 2020–21 school year. All students’ applications are considered anonymously, and the representatives of COMA are anonymous as well. “People were really mad that we decided to stay anonymous, but we felt that, you know, that was our right,” the COMA representative said, “We didn’t want to have people coming up to us personally, and we also felt that it would help us eliminate bias in our own distribution of the money.” While COMA works to support students only, another mutual aid organization, the Oberlin People’s Assembly, has dedicated itself to supporting community members. College first-year Vera Grace Menafee first had the idea for the organization on election night 2020. “We really felt that no matter what the outcome was, frontline communities, Black communities, Indigenous communities, low-income and working class families, were still going to be at risk,” Menafee said. “So we were real24
ly trying to make things accessible, and we’re trying to meet the needs of people in the community.” For Menafee, President Joe Biden’s victory would not bring a solution to the inequities that she saw — both across the country and at home in Oberlin. After President Biden took office, there was still a pandemic that disproportionately affected Black Americans. There were still tens of thousands of families without enough disposable income to weather a car breaking down or an emergency trip to the hospital. In response, Menafee and her co-organizer started the Oberlin People’s Assembly, a mutual aid organization dedicated to community self-defense and mutual support. “We’re giving people in the community a platform to be able to request things without having to necessarily reveal their identities,” Menafee said. “Usually, most mutual aid stuff on Instagram, you’ll see someone’s face and name and their CashApp and like really specific things, but that’s all han-
Special Issue dled through us as the organizers and through our members.” For both the Oberlin People’s Assembly and COMA, having Black, Indigenous, and other people of color at the forefront is a central part of the organizations. “We’re all BIPOC, and a lot of us are either first-gen or low-income or both,” said the COMA representative. “We know from experience that Oberlin doesn’t always do the best job of making us feel included or taking care of our needs. It was really hard for a lot of us to be sent home so quickly, having to up and leave and purchase tickets — everything was so expensive. ... We saw that this is a need that Oberlin is not meeting. If the school’s not going to do it, then somebody has to.” In many ways, students hold a unique role that allows them to see the needs of themselves and their peers. “Students’ ability to recognize the needs of their community and then to begin to strategize and organize ways to meet those needs — it’s necessary,” Peterson said. “It’s probably always been there in some form. I think about the structures of support that existed
among African-American students, or within Black students, back in the ’60s and ’70s, before you had a much more robust student-affairs approach to the needs of that community.” For Menafee, Oberlin’s student population also impacts the way she sees mutual aid efforts on campus, especially at a school where 70 percent of students come from families in the top 20 percent, according to a report from The New York Times. “I think that there’s always more wealth redistribution that can be done,” Menafee said. “Especially for wealthier white students on campus to tap into their financial funds and their generational wealth. I think it’s really important for it not to just be BIPOC and low-income students on campus. Of course, we want to be the ones leading a lot of the efforts and our voices being a part of the conversation, but it also becomes a burden if we’re the only ones who are expected to be financially supporting people in the community when we’re also financially struggling.” For organizers at COMA, mutual aid efforts will always be inherently tied to racial justice and Black activism.
from tricia Vera Grace Menafee
on sundays, i turn off all the lights and let the sun walk through my window and show me how to glow
like the cocoa butter & vaseline mama taught me to rub from my arms to my feet. tricia says the body is a site of liberation, a defiance of corporations and gentrification and privatized education. so if our bodies are a site of liberation, then our communities are the site of revolution and the revolution is rest. no more plantation politics or cottonmouth rhetoric
cuz blackness radiates like coconut oil and lip gloss which reminds me to take care of myself to love myself the way mama loves me and feeds me biscuits & honey. this body can liberate me heal me love me when rainbows ain’t enough and damp washcloths are drying in the sun. it’s time to liberate ourselves liberate our minds and sleep until the sun don’t shine to rejuvenate ourselves and learn to shine shine shine.
Right: Photo of Tricia Hersey. Courtesy of triciahersey.com 25
“Capitalism and racism, they feed off of each other,” the COMA representative said. “Racism is perpetuated by capitalism. Capitalism is perpetuated by racism. I think that’s why it’s so important to redistribute wealth; ... it’s all interconnected.” Still, running a mutual aid organization on top of being a full-time student is a lot to balance. Some organizers find it frustrating that so much of the work falls on students from marginalized communities. But for Menafee, mutual aid is necessary and worth it. “I do want to emphasize the effort; it’s no small feat,” Menafee said. “I don’t want to say that to scare off people who would be interested in doing this work, but I say that to be realistic. I feel like that is something that has to be reckoned with in terms of how much we need to put into these efforts if we’re going to get the revolution that we want.” Anyone can donate to COMA through Venmo: @comaoberlin and CashApp: $comaoberlin and to The Oberlin People’s Assembly through Venmo and CashApp: $obpeoplesassembly.
The Oberlin Review CULTURE STUDENT ORGANIZING
You Will Not Ignore Us: A Letter From the Organizers of the Daunte Wright Vigil Lulu Chebaro Imani Joseph
nd as they took it over, it lost its militancy. They ceased to be angry. They ceased to be hot. They ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all.” -Malcolm X We found ourselves suffocating under the pressure of constant Black death. The names piled against each other. The 2020 presidential election had passed, and we still felt hopeless. Oberlin feels like a liberal utopia we will never truly have full citizenship status to. We felt policed, seen but not respected. Assignments piled on assignments, names piled on names, and we felt like we were drowning. Everywhere we saw Black death and performative white empathy. We began to feel small — not at all empowered by the prestigious education we were supposed to be receiving. We felt unsafe in our Black bodies. We were saddened by the world around us and isolated in this strange liberal bubble. Daunte Wright was murdered by police on Sunday, April 11, 2021. While his family was informed of the tragic news, as the loss of a mother’s son became a reality, it was just another day on Oberlin’s campus. The wealthy, white student body that makes up this private liberal arts school took all but five minutes out of their day to post a “R.I.P. Daunte Wright” Instagram story, and then they went on with their lives — laughing in the cafeteria lines and sitting under the sun in Wilder Bowl. Daunte was 20 years old, the same age, if not younger than many Oberlin students. I remember feeling so fucking angry. Yes, we were angry at the pig, Kimberly Potter, who shot Wright, but we were also enraged by what is supposed to be our community and their lack of interest in the murder
of a young Black man. The next day, Monday, April 12, we began working on creating a space so loud, so disruptive, that it would be impossible to ignore. We were motivated to plan the vigil, because we were fed up with feeling helpless. We were fed up with seeing mirages of activism poorly executed by white “allies.” We wanted to create a space for civil disobedience that centered Black voices without the guise of respectability politics — Black voices that could be angry, bitter, sad, and joyful without interference from the white ego. Once we publicized the vigil and word began to spread, it wasn’t long before the administration wanted to establish their control over the event. When pressured to register with student activities, we respectfully declined, as we wanted to ensure the event stayed student-run and unadulterated by the administration. Community action in response to police brutality is inherently rebellious. To mourn the deaths of Black people murdered by the police is to protest the state. Allowing the administration to sponsor the vigil would pacify the movement, and it would no longer be an act of civil disobedience. It was clear to us from the beginning that we were not going to ask a white institution for permission to take up space as Black people, and we’re proud to say we stuck to that decision. There were many moments when we felt like giving up. We took upon this burden while being full-time students and workers. The lack of support from the administration was predictable, but we were most disheartened when the lines were drawn by the administration and many of our peers wavered in their commitment to the cause — leaving us to rely solely on each other. We were disgusted by the Oberlin administration’s threats to retaliate against us, 26
Once we publicized the vigil and word began to spread, it wasn’t long before the administration wanted to establish their control over the event. but ultimately, we weren’t surprised. Oberlin loves to monetize Black labor and activism, but it in no way affirms Black students on campus. The emotional labor and hardships we had to endure to create this space was definitely worth it, but why must we Black femmes sacrifice our mental health to advocate for our community? Through this experience we’ve learned to trust our community. The joy we felt at the vigil surrounded by our peers as we shared prayers, prose, and songs in grief was indescribable. Our unapologetic displays of happiness, the names of our murdered brothers and sisters graffitied across the Memorial Arch, these are memories we will cherish forever. The vigil proclaimed the death of all white supremacist structures. It was a ballad of freedom spelled out in roses and tulips. It was a place where the light of our fallen comrades shone despite white supremacy’s insistent need to snuff them out. It was a call to action, to free all our people. The vigil was not just a singular moment, but a continual effort to memorialize and honor Black life. We are currently in talks with the administration about funding a permanent memorial on South Campus. If it was not for the amazing community turnout, we would not have this opportunity, and we greatly appreciate everyone who attended the vigil and provided materials. Also, thanks to everyone who donated funds. With our
Special Issue community’s generosity, we were able to reimburse ourselves and compensate performers. We raised a total of $1,943 for mutual aid. $971.50 was raised for Daunte’s funeral GoFundMe, $485.75 to Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte’s son, and $485.75 to The Bail Project National Revolving Bail Fund. I would like to thank Director and Faculty in Residence at A-House Candice Raynor for supporting and guiding us through this process. I would also like to thank all the people who helped us with this event: Chudi Martin Jr., Vera Grace Menafee, Diacos Love, Tyler Ried, Micaiah Fox, Banu Newell, Nasirah Fair, and Diwe Augustin-Glave; and for all the performers and speakers: Imani Badillo and the Blackberry Poets: Cyril Amanfo, Max Addae, and Mark Ligonde. Free our brothers and sisters in chains at home and abroad! Free our comrades in Occupied Palestine! End the system! Destroy the pigs!! Sincerely, Lulu Chebaro and Imani Joseph Left: Photo by Diwe Augustin-Glave. A rock on Tappan Square facing College Street reads, “R.I.P. Daunte Wright 2000–2021.” Below: Photo by Diwe Augustin-Glave. College third-year Banu Newell lights a candle at the vigil for those lost to police brutality.
The Oberlin Review
CULTURE STUDENT ORGANIZING
Juneteenth in Oberlin: Looking Back and Moving Forward Mikala Jones
began my first Oberlin Juneteenth in Tappan Square with a game of Jack in the Bush with Ms. Jessie Reed, a longtime resident of Oberlin who has lived in town since 1960. She learned how to play this game from her father, Major Holley. The goal of the game is to accumulate the most peanuts to become the “Champ.” Although the origins of Jack in the Bush are widely unknown, she hypothesizes that it was born from fugitive slaves hiding in the bush as they were escaping slavery. “Jack in the bush,” Ms. Jessie Reed said to me. “Cut ‘m down,” I responded. “About how many?” She asked. “Seven.” She smiled, gave the peanuts in her hand one more shake, and revealed eight peanuts on the table between us. I handed her one peanut and we kept playing, switching roles each round. Professor Emeritus Adenike Sharpley served as co-chair along with Thelma Quinn Smith and Frances Walker
to organize the first Juneteenth festivities in Oberlin in 1995. The theme in ’95 was “Family Reunion.” There were over 1,500 people in attendance. “It is hard to find information about Juneteenth,” Steve Hammond wrote in the Oberlin News-Tribune, June 25, 1995. “It doesn’t get a listing in the Encyclopedia Britannica, nor can you even find the word in Merriam-Webster’s [Dictionary]. That, in itself shows how important it is that we have revived Juneteenth celebrations in Oberlin.” The City of Oberlin officially recognized the holiday in 2004, after the City Council passed a resolution that resulted in an event name change from Oberlin Heritage Days to the Oberlin Juneteenth Celebration Festival. However, it took a few years for the City Council to embrace the holiday. The council was concerned that white Oberlin residents would feel uncomfortable celebrating a a holiday that commemorates the liberation of formerly enslaved Black peo28
ple. In an article for the News-Tribune, Phyllis Yarber Hogan shared her support for Afrocentric Oberlin events and ended the article asking, “If Oberlin’s Black and white populations cannot come together to celebrate one of the stellar events in Oberlin’s history, how can we expect to move forward?” Twenty-five years later, Juneteenth can now be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and the Encyclopedia Britannica. And on June 16, 2021, it was declared a federal holiday. We stopped by the Black owned businesses: Gee Gee’s Kettle Korn stand, purchasing incense from Ms. Ade, and winter berry cream from Touched by Grace. Next, I boarded the trolley to the Juneteenth Bluesfest at Lakeview Park in Lorain. We made a stop in Elyria to pick up the first elected African American and Independent Mayor of Elyria, Frank Whitfield. At Bluesfest, I enjoyed performances from the New Orleans-style second line with
Special Issue Left: Photo by Anokha Venugopal. Students dance after Light in the Tunnel. Left (far): Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown. Students do a line dance at Juneteenth Block Party.
In fact, the entire day I wondered when more Oberlin students would show up to all of the activities planned that weekend. Da Land Brass Band and Audacity For Sale. I had my first Polish Boy sandwich from Uncle Mike’s Catering and the best banana pudding I have ever tasted. In between musical performances, Mayor Whitfield and Mayor Jack Bradley of Lorain addressed the crowd. Mayor Whitfield expressed his desire to make future Juneteenth celebrations a countywide event, to knock down the barriers between Oberlin, Elyria, and Lorain.
I took the trolley back to Oberlin and attended the Maafa Memorial Service in Westwood Cemetery. Maafa is a Kiswahili word that means “terrible occurrence” or “great disaster.” The ceremony is a national movement that commemorates the loss of life of Africans in the transatlantic slave trade. The ceremony began with a Yoruba libation and a performance by Daniel Spearman. Then, those in attendance were asked to recognize the United States Colored Troops who served in the Civil War who are buried in Westwood Cemetery. After singing the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Black elders in the community put white candles on the memorial of Lee Howard Dobbins, a young fugitive slave who passed away from sickness in Oberlin in 1853. We then listened to Margaret Chris29
tian’s speech, “Claiming the Unclaimed” — one of the most resonating moments of my Juneteenth. She preached the importance of preserving our histories and told her own story as well as the story of Marie DeFrance, 1874–1926, and her daughter, Mary Elizabeth DeFrance. They purchased the millinery at 31 West College Street and owned that business for over 30 years. Marie DeFrance was born in New Orleans but grew up in Oberlin. She was baptized at Christ Episocopal Church, attended Oberlin schools, and studied at Oberlin Conservatory for a year. I could hear the passion in Ms. Christian’s voice as she spoke of how much Oberlin has changed; there was a longing in her voice for a time when she felt true community here. Ms. Christian asked the small crowd to look around us and see how many College students and faculty were in attendance. There were not many. In fact, the entire day I wondered when more Oberlin students would show up to all of the activities planned that weekend. As an institution that loves to tout our history on every admissions tour and talk about how the town and College of Oberlin were founded together, this disconnect was frustrating to witness. Ms. Christian ended her speech by asking us to think of our loved ones as we sprinkled flower petals on Marie and Mary Elizabeth’s graves. When it was my turn, I thought of my late grandmother, Alice Samuels Jones, and my high school mentor, Brittany Noelle Chase. Both women have helped me along my path and are instrumental to my own history. As I look back on my first Juneteenth, I had to remind myself that it was the first large event I have gone to since COVID-19 shut down everything in March 2020. We are all currently experiencing a collective moment of transition. We must ask ourselves, “What histories are we going to tell and remember from a year where we suffered such an enormous loss? How are we going to learn and grow as a community, country, and world, and continue to fight for Black liberation?”
The Oberlin Review
In Remembrance Illustration by Diwe Augustin-Glave and Claire Wang
Power by Reggie Goudeau
Exodus by Imani Joseph
My Blackness My power It’s beautiful My flower No matter how the world is dark You’ll never see me sour Even if I wasn’t perfect You can never say I cowered From the power
I have scrubbed my soul for a failing to remember
Always ready to fight My fist in the air Clutching onto hope so hard It’s like I’m gripping the air As reality hits hard like A kick and a snare I have my power My power reigns supreme Over American dreams And my power allows me To bear any extremes And as whiteness plagues the world I battle any disease With my power
When the bells of reckoning chime Where will you hide I’m dancing in the streets Lighting candles along the middle passage We’ll flood a field with light For our sisters to swim across It be a beacon To the promised land I have visions of bloodlines Drifting from the bank shores Of Atlantic tidal waves to wreak havoc, the reckoning When liberation comes The bonfires for the fallen Will cleanse the land And I’ll plant a seed for each slain A forest alight To celebrate homecoming
Blackness is the Beauty it Be by Diwe for the love of being now and then flesh and phantom me and we, let’s stay here in the shade slowly swaying saying nothing beneath this tree we were left to be finally alone each swing erases a worry erases a thought we wither away in the wind together black turned blue skin to blue skin our sins lay buried beneath us waiting for our bodies to return to the earth
& Our Embrace LAVENA LYNN JOHNSON A Love Language by Olivia Huntley
Is a list of those forgotten Pressed beneath a tongue, the paper Soaked until the words remember to run
SANDRA BLAND MA’KHIA BRYANT
Into the back of the throat, ringing the bell Of the uvula on the way down, coating The esophagus with music until the stomach sings
MICHAEL BROWN GEORGE FLOYD JR.
A digestion dirge that marinates memory back To the swallowed taste. Today it is a mix of bird wing And burial. Your name finds a final resting place on my lips
That murmurs and hums on the fireflies’ wings. I mourn you Each time the crickets’ legs creak out the sounds of violin And the floorboards at night. I feel your absence in that darkness
BREONNA TAYLOR OLUWATOYIN SALAU
’Til the mouth cracks to show teeth gleaming in the twilight, Bones gripping confessional-tongue like starlight. The glow says I love you while the dusk relieves
DAUNTE WRIGHT TAMIR RICE
The sigh left unreleased.
decomposition by Banu Newell dear death we come together to trance faced up locked insidelong it will take we long for this dirt submit to suffocate to stillness salvation seeks out many deities we hold all the way down hole plant the body precision a soul of seed will see light again
pg. 28 Juneteenth in Oberlin
Photo by Anokha Venugopal 33
The Oberlin Review ACTIVISM FIGHTING OPPRESSION
Protesting: What Comes Next Zoë Martin del Campo
fter George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, protests against police brutality occurred all over New York City — collective rage and pain came together in demands for the abolition of a system that marginalizes Black and Brown communities. With this collective action came immense pushback from the New York City Police Department. During my time protesting, I saw zero acts of violence committed by protesters. I received sandwiches and water from store owners as we marched past stores; people sang and read poetry to remember George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Oluwatoyin Salau, and countless others who were victims of police violence. I heard the ring of pots and pans as people who could not protest showed their support. At the height of the protests, there was a curfew, and the NYPD would block off the entrances of the nearest subway stations about an hour beforehand. As a result, protestors could not get home and therefore could be arrested for “breaking curfew.” Our homemade signs were met with riot gear and pepper spray, and I saw the police beating on fellow peaceful protestors in broad daylight when we tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. I asked an officer
in riot gear if he was proud of himself for hurting people; he laughed and said, yes. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” I replied. His grin disappeared. Liberal New Yorkers tend to believe that our city is somehow better than others; their arrogance is evident through their thinking that New York was inherently a leftist safe haven. It didn’t matter if the mayor and government were Democrat or Republican, blue or red — they brutalized protesters just the same. As I got ready to head back to Oberlin, I continued to ask myself what was next and how I could use my privilege as an educated, non-Black, cisgender woman to enact change within my communities. Every action has an equal and oppo-
I asked an officer in riot gear if he was proud of himself for hurting people; he laughed and said, “Yes.” “You should be ashamed of yourself,” I replied. His grin disappeared. 34
site reaction; we can start that change within our circles. For me, this took shape in a variety of ways. As Sports Editor of the Review, my fellow co-editor and I found ways to integrate activism into our sports coverage. We wrote about the ways that sports can be a catalyst for change. We wrote about the WNBA and their protests against police brutality, Oberlin’s Black Student-Athlete Group and how they work to create a supportive environment for Black athletes, and the importance of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander athletic representation, but this was just the start. Within my academic communities, activism has taken the form of having continued conversations about diversity and inclusion within science, technology, engineering, and math and how Oberlin can do better to support students of color in STEM. With every action, I can only hope that the reaction fields from these communities is one of acceptance and learning. I hope that everyone, particularly non-Black people, remembers these systemic inequalities are ones we can not and should not allow to continue without a fight. As allies, our work is never done. We should never feel satisfied in our activism, be-
Special Issue Below: Courtesy of Zoë Martin del Campo. Protesters holding several signs featuring phrases like “Black Trans Lives Matter” and “ACAB.” Photos by Anokha Venugopal Protesters in New York.
cause we will never understand what it means to be Black in the United States. Remaining satisfied with the status quo and our current comfort level will only harm Black people on this campus further. We should always be working to uplift and support Black activism, liberation, and joy. Adhering to this means not only posting on social media but putting your money where your mouth is: paying reparations to Black people, giving monthly contributions to mutual aid, and supporting Black activists, leaders, and organizers who are doing the work for Black liberation. Admittedly, these suggestions have been made by Black people and activists for decades before this piece. The fact that a non-Black individual like myself still feels the need to echo this sentiment at an allegedly liberal institution speaks volumes. Even if I’m not the first to say these things, I will continue to do so until I’m the last voice needed before a change comes. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and it’s our responsibility to demand tangible systemic change and to uplift the voices and work of Black communities, activists, and individuals. 35
The Oberlin Review ACTIVISM FIGHTING OPPRESSION
Black Identity in Face of ACAB and Student Karens Nico Vickers Managing Editor
ne Friday evening this semester, I was laughing and talking with my friends in a common dorm space when three white Campus Safety officers approached us. One of the officers seemed to have come along solely to make everyone feel uncomfortable. He came up from behind and ruffled my Asian friend’s hair. He dropped a crass joke insinuating that my female friend was a dog, or a bitch. When I called him out, he stared me down. He used his power against me with no purpose other than to unsettle me, a Black student because I caught him behaving out-of-line. I hurt his ego. The officers were there because another student called Campus Safety for students being too loud. It wasn’t even past midnight. In this country, over the last year we watched as public opinion turned against the police; “All Cops Are Bastards,” echoed throughout our social media circles and scrawled on cardboard protest signs. We shook our heads and spitefully scorned the emergent “Karens” — white women who call the police on Black people they feel “threatened” by so often. We laughed when Karens and cops alike ruined their reputations after proving their racism to the world. Campus Safety is not the police, and whoever called Campus Safety on my friends and me was probably not a 42-year-old republican named Karen. But structural imbalances and racist policing can be easier to see out in the world — bring it to a smaller scale, focus on “our community” at Oberlin College, and the issue becomes less visible and “nuanced.” It isn’t just the police that cause the incidents, tragedies, and murders that fuel the Black Lives Matter movement. The power structures of any badged rule enforcement can easily result in abuse, which can be motivated by racism, sexism, transphobia, or any kind of misattributed
aggression. Would you or your friends call Campus Safety on a student who is breaking the rules or in some way disrupting your “peace?” Potentially. I know from personal experience that despite the systemic anti-racist tirade that seems to be saturated in our media, students at Oberlin aren’t selfaware enough to see the role they play in these systems because even after all the learning and unlearning, they still call Campus Safety on their Black and Brown peers.
When Campus Safety was called on me and my friends, the interaction was not cordial or professional or appropriate. It did not make me and my friends feel protected; it made us deeply unsettled. Because the Campus Safety officer had behaved out of line, I went to report the incident to Campus Safety. After my first meeting with Campus Safety, I felt that they didn’t condone the offending officer’s misconduct. Still, I was not allowed to know his name because the other security officers who were present for the incident had already opened up a report on the situation without consulting any of the involved students. Instead of protecting us in the moment, they stole the nar36
rative for their colleague, leaving us in the dark. I insisted on a meeting with Assistant Director of Campus Safety Clifton Barnes, where he explained that they could not give details about how The Officer was disciplined, as it violates personnel privacy. Instead of more information, I insisted on a personal apology from The Officer that holistically acknowledged his abuse of power and dedication to reform. This was promised to me by Barnes, but I have yet to hear back. From my meetings with Campus Safety, I couldn’t help but feel that, when conflict arises, this cohort values protecting each other over protecting the students. Other Campus Safety officers claimed they had worked with The Officer for over 20 years and had never heard such reports about him; that it was unusual for a student to come forward against an officer. I suggested that perhaps The Officer behaves this way more often than they realize, and students have been historically disinclined to report him because of how his power has always protected him. They thanked me for my courage in coming forward. Reporting an offending officer should not be a courageous act. It was not a rewarding experience; it was fraught with frustration, emotional retelling, vulnerability with none received back. I have no way of knowing exactly how this behavior is dealt with. On top of prejudice that I already anticipate feeling from authorities as a Black student, I now feel like I have a target on my back for going against Campus Safety. Since the incident, I have been locked out of my house, but I have not called Campus Safety even when it felt dire because I do not feel safe to contact them for any reason, no matter how blameless. The Officer is still out there and probably still very angry at me. Officers who sympathize with him will also know my name
Above: Illustration by Anisa Curry Vietze
and feel resentment that they can use against me every moment I am in their domain. Failure of authority always hurts Black people the most in this country. Black people — Black kids specifically — are more likely to get in trouble due to racism, implicit bias, or privilege that people are not aware they are participating in consistently. In my experience, in class, Black students are more likely to be ruled “rowdy” and “disruptive;” At stores, we are more likely to be followed for suspected shoplifting; On campus, we are more likely to be reported to or sought out by Campus Safety for being loud, skateboarding, “loitering,” and smoking marijuana. I’ve experienced that we are more likely to be reported to Campus Safety by fellow Oberlin students. Students call Campus Safety even when they know nothing about us, our actions seem implicitly more wrong, wild, and dangerous because we are Black. White students at Oberlin aren’t always aware that this is why they’re uncomfortable,
which makes it so insidious. There’s a lot of rhetoric on campus about meeting people at their comfort levels, but being a Black student at this school too often means navigating white comfort. Finding ways to speak to my white friends that put them at ease. Molding to the “professional” rhetoric of academia to make a comment in class. Obies assure me that they don’t want to silence me, they post information about anti-racism on social media, and insist they’ve changed after every “learning experience” often at the expense of a Black student. But there needs to be recognition that Oberlin still exists within a broader, racist world. Campus Safety is a microcosm of law enforcement in America. Despite our best efforts, we are all affected by systems of oppression much larger than ourselves. Ultimately no one can be certain that they aren’t affected by racial bias stereotypes when asking a person of color to adjust their behavior. That is for the person of color in question to determine. 37
Open conversations must ensue, calling Campus Safety is a weapon that privileged students can wield recklessly. If the selfish choice to call Campus Safety for your own comfort is made, the consequences for a Black or Brown student in that interaction can be far more serious than for any white person. There needs to be outside recourse against Oberlin Campus Safety. We need a mediator to stand up for students against workplace camaraderie. It is senseless that for a student to file a complaint against an officer, they must appeal to their coworkers and trust them to handle it from within. As security officers, the trust that students give Campus Safety needs to be earned and maintained through transparency. At the very least, their pictures should be with their names on the staff website. We should know the faces that we’re supposed to trust and identify the officers that abuse that trust like The Officer. Students, instead of needlessly calling on Campus Safety, hold them accountable.
The Oberlin Review SCIENCE FIGHTING OPPRESSION
Oberlin Activism in Spring 2013 Ilana McNamara
t was Feb. 2013 at Oberlin College. Students and faculty had just come back to campus after Winter Term. Suddenly, mysterious, hateful posters started to pop up around campus. Islamophobia in the Science Center, racial and homophobic slurs at the Multicultural Resource Center, antisemitism in King Building. Julie Christensen, OC ’13, was a premed fourth-year in spring 2013 and remembered feeling “mostly shock and the sense of, ‘Why would somebody do that?’” Then, on March 4, students saw a
robed Ku Klux Klan figure walking across South Quad before dawn. This was very upsetting to many, including Chinwe Okona, a fourth-year Neuroscience major at the time. “I just remember there being this feeling of intense fear and people feeling unsettled on campus,” Okona said. “I had friends who were like, ‘I’m not coming out of my house.’” The College suspended class for the day and students gathered in Finney Chapel for a teach-in with the Africana Studies department and planned student-organized solidarity marches and speeches. Student activism continued after these events. Okona and Christensen helped organize a natural sciences listening session. “We presented grievances people had in terms of thinking about natural sciences from a more diverse perspective,” Okona said. “That was one of the few times we had dialogue with professors.” According to Okona, this session was remarkably successful, but administrative action was desperately needed.
“Professors listened and were open to feedback, … [but] you have these conversations, you have these listening sessions — how do things actually get instituted?” Okona said. Shortly after the incidents and subsequent gatherings, a white, male Chemistry major, Dylan Bleier, was caught putting up racist and Islamaphobic posters in the Science Center at midnight. According to an Oberlin Police Department report, Bleier told an officer, “I’m doing it as a joke to see the college overreact to it as they have with the other racial postings that have been posted on campus.” He was expelled from Oberlin and police reports detail his involvement in many of the hate speech incidents that occurred around campus. Many students were still unsettled on campus even after Dylan Bleier was expelled. “It felt less important … who did it than the fact that it was done,” Christensen said. “And I wouldn’t say that there was a sense of resolution after that student was suspended.” At the time, Oberlin had numerous
Left (near): Photo by Gus Chan. Over 1,000 people turned out for the demonstration. Above: Photo by Mollie N. The rally included traditional Afrikana music. Left: Photo by Mollie N. A demonstration of solidarity was held in Wilder Bowl the day of the Ku Klux Klan figure sightings. Left (far): Photo courtesy of Julie Christensen.
websites, like oberchan.com, where some users posted hate speech anonymously. “I think, because people could be so anonymous, it felt like it was an era of ‘These are things that people are really thinking,” Okona said. “My classmates think this is dumb or don’t value intersectional, diverse perspectives — they felt comfortable enough behind these anonymous forums. It didn’t feel like it was one person.” To many students, the physical fly-
ers and Klansman sighting felt like an extension of the vast online presence of hatred and bigotry in the Oberlin community. The police eventually came to the conclusion that the KKK member was actually just a student wearing a blanket over their head. However, some students still felt disturbed and frightened by the recent events. Other students, including Okona and Christensen, worked hard to create events and demand changes from the administration. The bulk of the orga39
nization for solidarity and change was led by Black students, and the March 4 programming specifically was planned by students in the Afrikan Heritage House in conjunction with members of the MRC. The burnout experienced by these students of color was tremendous. But now, the impact of these efforts on Oberlin is largely unrecognized. It is important to recognize our biases and work towards more open communication, so that we don’t have to implement things like this only after acts of hate happen on campus. Christensen hopes that current Oberlin students can learn something from the events in 2013. “Keep having conversations and gathering with each other and organizing in the way that feels right and needed at the moment,” Christensen said. “Sometimes we don’t know the outcome of our efforts, but I think it’s still important to make those efforts. And if we’re still needing to ask these questions around equity, race, structural racism, then that means they’re still important and there’s room to improve.”
pg. 28 Juneteenth in Oberlin
Photo by Anokha Venugopal 41
The Oberlin Review
from sonya Vera Grace Menafee the day before i cut my hair i thought no one would ever love me again. i thought no one would ever look at me again the way the sun does and thought eyes would only see me through fear or disgust happy nappy locks locked me up in stereotypical chains i never asked for. it’s hard enough being in this body but sonya says the body is not an apology or a question mark. i do not have to bend just because others want me to break i do not have to cover my scars because the sight of them would make people uncomfortable. led me to realize i can’t give to someone else what i can’t give to myself.
i was waiting for somebody else’s love to prove my worth, to prove that i exist and am more than a shadow. so instead, i washed my new old hair with cold water and roses to find that freedom is mine this body is mine embracing holy communion to nourish what white folks said did not deserve to grow. listen to how ur hair is telling u to grow and keep growing. to take care of our whole selves means to love who we were, who we are, and will be unapologetically until we feel free again.
The Privilege of Community Kamcee Ugwokegbe
he mellow sound of the night’s lofi playlist echoes through the room. It’s kind of repetitive, but anything beats the deafening silence of Wilder 112. I look up at the four Brown faces surrounding me, brows furrowed in distress and a bit of anger as we head past hour three on the week’s sapling homework. We’ve only done five questions. The phrase, “What does this even mean?” has become the statement of the semester. During the fall semester, I spent most of my time in the windowless study rooms of the Burton Hall basement. With both the Science Center and Mudd Center closed, there weren’t
a lot of options. If we were lucky, we’d get the room that offered a glimpse of some natural light, and along with it, a show of the different shoes people wore as they walked along the side of the building. But the two Black women I worked with during this time made the experience of taking four STEM courses less daunting. The majority of my experience in Oberlin’s STEM community has been filled with moments like these, both with Black and non-Black students. Principles of Organic Chemistry leaves you with no other choice than to build community. For the most part, my experience has been a positive one. There 42
were occasional times when I did feel alone, despite the 35 other students surrounding me or, in some cases, the six students who bothered to keep their cameras on. When I reflect on times like those, I realize the importance of having a community standing beside you. I’m not a person who can say that I’ve always felt drawn to the sciences; in college I got a late start. As a result, I found myself trying to get involved in the Biology and Chemistry and Biochemistry departments to make up for lost time. Before the fall 2020 semester, I decided my newest endeavor would be research. The following semester, I be-
gan working on a research project with Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Jason Belitsky, which I am continuing this semester. Our research surrounds catechol-based coatings that change color when they bind with different metal ions such as lead. These could potentially act as sensors for metals in water. We are still trying to create a streamlined system to build an understanding of the chemical composition of the materials. My past two years in the STEM field have taught me a lot. Along with a wide array of new lab techniques, I’ve finally learned how to succeed in these courses. The trick is to find a community to go through the class with. But the thing is, your experience in the STEM field at Oberlin might be based purely on luck. I’ve been fortunate enough to have always had peers who shared a similar identity with me in these courses. But I know others haven’t been as fortunate. Oberlin has made a somewhat admirable effort to provide Black students
with the resources and spaces they need to succeed. Yet, progress such as the creation of the Roots in STEM Living Learning Community, one meant for underrepresented minorities in STEM, can be overshadowed by the addition of non-people of color and non-STEM students. As a result of such mistakes, the responsibility is often placed on Black students to create and defend their own spaces. So, as students try to navigate this field on their own, it’s all about luck. 43
Above: Photo courtesy of Kamcee Ugwokegbe Above (Left): Sonya Renee. Photo from The Scripps Voice.
The Oberlin Review
Above: Illustration by Clair Wang
How Can STEM Classrooms Be Anti-Racist? Drew Dansby Science Editor
iscussions of race are commonplace in Oberlin departments like Politics and Ethnomusicology. However, in natural science fields, conversations about diversity and equity are often precluded by an illusion of objectivity, as if the scientific method somehow absolves STEM fields of implicit biases and racism. In truth, many students of color in STEM fields at Oberlin are met with barriers like toxic peer environments, lack of acknowledgment of racial experiences, and a broader culture of academia that defaults to whiteness. Still, some Oberlin STEM professors are working to support students of
color and make their classrooms safe, open spaces. In her book Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks defined education’s purpose as “the practice of freedom.” When she taught at Oberlin College, hooks led a series of discussions for Oberlin professors, including STEM professors, to assess how their teaching strategies could adjust to be more inclusive. “We proceeded from the standpoint that the vast majority of Oberlin professors, who are overwhelmingly white, were basically well-meaning, concerned about the quality of education students receive on our campus, 44
and therefore likely to be supportive of any effort at education for critical con sciousness,” hooks wrote. Oberlin’s new Director of the Center for Learning, Education, and Research in the Sciences Sabriya Rosemond, a biologist, will lead the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence program to support inclusion in STEM at Oberlin, largely through peer mentoring programs. “As [hooks] was saying, I realized, actually, that I am not entirely interested in asking students to conform to a system that requires their further oppression,” Rosemond said. “The stu-
Special Issue dents are fine. They come in brilliant. … The problem is that you have these institutions that were not built for the student.” Leslie Kwakye, OC ’06, is an associate professor of Neuroscience and director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. She has been struggling to find a balance between fighting the norms of science education and ensuring her students are prepared for a successful future once they graduate. “That’s generally what makes people who are underrepresented successful — they’re expected to conform to certain types of systems and understandings of knowledge and evidence and all of that,” Kwakye said. As a Black, tenured professor, Kwakye herself has navigated a STEM career and says that many in her position might not remember the struggle it takes to get there. “It’s harder for the people who make it all the way through to really see the shortcomings of the system, because we figured it out,” she said. It is also difficult for faculty to see or control many of the toxic interactions among students that harm people of color in STEM. “Students can make other students feel excluded in a way that professors are never going to be able to access,” Kwakye said. “Sometimes there can be a little bit of a level of showing off that really can be toxic. Students have a huge role to play.” Rosemond is concerned that science classrooms will default to reproducing and reflecting the injustices of broader U.S. society. Often, marginalized students are forced to be more preoccupied with their own safety than with absorbing course material. “There’s a whole system of hierarchy in class that is resulting from larger societal hierarchies, and we just recreate them in class and actually make them a little worse,” Rosemond said. Gathering scientific knowledge can also be informed by the biases of individuals. Kwakye points out that it is always a human guiding the process and making decisions on what to study and who to exclude. “I think it’s really important to think about each choice that you’re making and how that might be propagating different forms of oppression,” she said. Kwakye believes that because people of marginalized identities do not see
themselves reflected in meaningful research, such as medical or public health research, science has lost the engagement of a diverse population and retreats further into irrelevance. Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Lisa Ryno believes that this underscores the need for the natural sciences to become more diverse and for scientists to become better communicators. “You have to be reflective about who your audience is, and I think when we are trying to reach this diverse world,” Ryno said. “It makes sense that we need to have a diverse body of people doing that.”
Rosemond advocates for more hands-on approaches like course-based undergraduate research experiences, to even opportunities in the classroom. She recalls her postgraduate research experience designing an introductory chemistry course for a class of largely first-generation students and students of color. “It wasn’t a lecture, it was all working [in a lab] Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 50 minutes,” Rosemond said. “A lot of the students came to more of this practice-based idea about what chemistry is because science is a set of practices. It’s not just a memorization of things. For the people who were able to see it just as a set of practices, they were able to see themselves as people who were good at chemistry.” Ryno, who is white, emphasized the urgency of calling out racist aggressions in the classroom and in labs. “I would say I am a very passive person,” she said. “I don’t like conflict in general. However, my mentality has 45
changed considerably in the last few years. ... I would not allow that type of behavior to happen because I would be outwardly, vocally, wildly, reeling against it. I am sort of in a position of privilege to do that, because I’m a faculty member; I have power. I think using my power for that is the only use that really matters.” In her efforts at creating an inclusive classroom, Kwakye has her students write out their personal learning goals for the class, which she uses to give individualized feedback on assignments. She also gives special attention to quieter students and helps them prepare something to say ahead of time that they would be confident contributing to class discussion. Rosemond says that she learns from the knowledge students share from their classes in other areas, like Africana Studies or Anthropology. “The fact that we’re at a liberal arts college and being able to pull in things that you’ve learned from all of your other classes in the discussion — it just makes the discussion richer,” she said. Professors can also learn from students’ assessments of their teaching. Rosemond argues that ensuring student voices are heard in listening sessions and other spaces is a central goal of institutional change in STEM, and this is beginning to be incorporated through Oberlin’s HHMI Departmental Action and Reflection Teams. The purposes of fostering an inclusive classroom are profound and multi-dimensional. For Ryno, teaching is a way to express her own authenticity in hopes that her students will be open to her in turn. “I don’t know how else to say it,” she said. “I like taking care of people. I’ve learned to share parts of myself.” Rosemond argues that her purpose as a science educator has everything to do with exploring how to fulfill her responsibilities to others. She is driven by an urge for justice, an admiration for biology, and a desire for students to see themselves as more than enough. “Think about your why,” she said. “And let that guide you when you’re having to do something that’s really new and hard. … Where some people try something and it doesn’t work, they just go back to what they used to do — as opposed to thinking about what didn’t work. That’s taking a more scientific approach to teaching.”
The Oberlin Review SCIENCE ACADEMIA
STRONG Program Supports Oberlin STEM Students of Color Catherine Lee Juanita Alabi
nderrepresentation of people of color in science, technology, engineering, and math fields has been a persistent issue all over the world. Oberlin is addressing this problem by encouraging students from historically underrepresented groups to become more involved in STEM through the Science and Technology Research Opportunities for New Generation program, now in its sixth year. STRONG is made up of both a learning community and the Roots in STEM residential community. We sat down with a STRONG faculty mentor, Leslie Kwakye; an alumnus of the program, Marcus Hill; and a current participant, Tosh Phoenix; all of whom are making strides in their respective research fields. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Leslie Kwakye Leslie Kwakye, OC ’06, is an associate professor of Neuroscience and director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, conducts research in multisensory integration and is actively involved with STRONG as a faculty advisor. She places a particular importance on the mentorship component of STEM.
research in that time. It’s more like an on-campus get-to-know-each-other and start building some of these soft skills for being successful in college: What are optimal study habits? What are good test-taking habits? Things that shouldn’t make somebody more or less successful in STEM, but they do. Then they’re in a first-year seminar together, and they’re in the same Pell Grant program together and living together to really try and focus on adapting to college. Then they would still do research, but for Winter Term rather than the summer. What do you hope for the future of STRONG? Right now we’re looking for funding to make STRONG not just a first-year experience, but a whole four-year experience. My dream for STRONG is to have students who are very confident in their ability to be scientists feel reason-
ably comfortable in STEM. Give them the confidence and leadership abilities to go into their STEM career paths, to go in as a leader who has the ability and the will to change them and make it better for everybody. I love STRONG students; they’re my babies. I try to have a family environment, where people feel comfortable with everybody. There are 16 students a year now, so that will be a very sizable family. Marcus Hill Marcus Hill, OC ’19, was a Geology major at Oberlin. Throughout his four years, Hill was able to conduct research both at Oberlin and abroad. After graduating, he was an AmeriCorps fellow involved in K-12 STEM education programs. Now a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence Fellow, Hill is working to help lead a departmental effort to promote equity in STEM at Oberlin. What was the Roots in STEM residential component of STRONG like for you? The residential experience was one of the most important aspects of the whole program for me. I became friends with the members of my cohort while we were living together over the summer, and that bond easily transferred to living together in Price House — Third World program housing — during the academic year. It made the transition from high school to college so much less intimidating knowing I had nine other friends already in my hall.
What was the original initiative for STRONG, and where is it headed now? STRONG is in a little bit of a transition right now. It was initially created as a summer research program, which brings students in the summer before they start college for a onemonth long research experience with a research mentor in STEM, and then they would live together their first year. What we’re doing now is transitioning STRONG to be more of a customized first-year experience. We’re still bringing in students a little bit early — just one week early — and this year they won’t be doing
What role has mentorship played for you, both as a student and a scientist? My mentors from STRONG, Professor of Geology Amanda Schmidt and former Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Research and Assistant Profes46
Special Issue this path or have found it so early. Tosh Phoenix College second-year Tosh Phoenix, originally from the Cleveland area, is a prospective Neuroscience major and Chemistry minor on the pre-med track with an Education Studies concentration. She is a member of the American Medical Student Association, a Bonner Scholar, and a Center for Learning, Education and Research in the Sciences coordinator. After college, she hopes to become a developmental behavioral pediatrician to work with children who have ADHD and other learning disabilities.
sor of Comparative American Studies Afia Ofori-Mensa, have helped and continue to help me in ways I am still discovering. As a student, they both encouraged me to take full advantage of the liberal arts aspect of Oberlin College. As a STEM major who was on the track to go to grad school, it felt like, if I didn’t plan my courses just right, then I couldn’t be successful post-Oberlin, and that’s just not true. Both mentors highlighted the fact that a crucial aspect of being a scientist is being able to communicate your work to broad audiences. That means taking classes in the arts and humanities and more than just STEM. How has STRONG shaped your interests and career pursuits beyond Oberlin? Doing research for four years was so fundamental for me as an Oberlin student, but also in thinking about next steps and where I wanted to go. That research experience showed me that the lab setting wasn’t fulfilling to me if I don’t also have the ability to communicate the work to the communities it’s impacting. Knowing that, I’ve been chosen to pursue more science communication positions like in the National Parks Service and prospects like the HHMI STEM Fellow, which allow me to connect science and people in a way that feels good. If I wasn’t in STRONG, I’m not sure I would have considered
How did you become interested in neuroscience, and how did the STRONG program help you pursue that passion? I knew I would do something different than what most of the people in my family do. I was just really fascinated with the brain and how complex it is and also how I can study the brain relative to marginalized identities, particularly Black people: Black children, Black girls, Black women. As a STRONG scholar, I conducted research with Assistant Professor of Psychology Travis Wilson back in 2019, focusing on adolescent and child development within minority groups. It was five weeks long. That program was so amazing. I was able to do research as a pre-first-year student. What role have your peers and mentors played during your time at Oberlin? Beyond my research with him, Professor Wilson is such a great mentor. He’s helped me a lot. In STRONG I met some of my now-best friends. In
that program we also did a variety of reflections. One of my favorite ones was thinking about what we value most. That helped me a lot through my first year, coming to Oberlin terrified. Because of STRONG, I had a boost of confidence, knowing that, “Okay, I’ve been on campus, I know a lot of departments, I have friends, I got this.” How did STRONG help you meet the challenges entering Oberlin as a Black woman in STEM? I didn’t even realize I had imposter syndrome until the end of my first semester here. I was just working hard, studying all the time. But once I realized I had it, it was a matter of reflecting. Once again, I came in feeling pretty confident, given my STRONG experience. I’m already a hard worker by nature, but I was going hard. I was trying to prove that I could do well. STRONG definitely contributes to that initiative; it’s the only College-based thing that I could think of that made students of color and students from marginalized backgrounds feel more comfortable in STEM here.
Far Left: Photo courtesy of Leslie Kwakye, associate professor of Neuroscience, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, and STRONG mentor Above: Photo courtesy of Marcus Hill, OC ’19. Hill at Commencement in 2019 wearing the STRONG stole Below: Photo courtesy of Tosh Phoenix, College second-year
pg. 50 A Conversation With Johnny Coleman
Photo by Anokha Venugopal 49
The Oberlin Review CULTURE CELEBRATING INDIVIDUALS
A Conversation with Johnny Coleman Diwe Augustin-Glave Culture Editor
ohnny Coleman has been a professor of Studio Art and Africana Studies at Oberlin College for the past 28 years. He is an artist who specializes in the mediums of sound, sculpture, and space. His Oberlin course offerings include Blues Aesthetic, Talking Book, and Something from Something, and cover the skills of woodworking and storytelling. He is one of my favorite teachers, and this Juneteenth, I borrowed some of his studio time to talk about his current and past works, as well as his many inspirations and aspirations. His work, an alter titled “A Landscape Convinced: For Nyima” is featured on the back cover of this issue. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. What drew you to Oberlin? To be honest with you, I didn’t trust Oberlin. I didn’t. There’s too much talk about the Underground Railroad. You took that as a red flag? I didn’t trust it. I ain’t see enough Black people talking about the Underground Railroad. It seemed like maybe this was performative. But my then-wife applied, and she came and told them her husband was also an artist. She called me and was like, “They’d like to see your work.” Long story short, they offered us both a position. So I said, “Okay I’ll come for two years, then I’m getting the fuck out of Dodge.” And I got out here, and at my interview, in fact before I came, I let the Art department know I was interested in interviewing the Black faculty.
And I got snowed in, and I could not leave. There was a blizzard that blew in behind me. So I came in on Friday, and Ms. Ade, [Assistant Professor of Dance], kept me at the [Afrikan Heritage] House until 11; Black students had come to my talk. And the chair of the Art department lived across the street from the House. There was no room at the inn, so I’m sleeping on the couch in her living room. They walked me across the street at 11, and I’m snowed in for the next three days. Saturday morning, James and Mildred Milette met me in a blizzard for breakfast, and we’ve been in love since then. This was no surprise to me. After-hours in Afrikan Heritage House are bound to make anyone fall in love with Oberlin. But I did appreciate Johnny’s candor and perception of the College. 50
Above: Photo by Anokha Venugopal. Professor of Studio Art and Africana Studies Johnny Coleman
Many of us were not so intuitive as to see the mirrors behind the smoke. What else did you notice in your introduction to Oberlin? There was nothing about admitting Edmonia Lewis. Nothing. Ain’t nobody even mention her name. So, the first mention of Edmonia Lewis in the Art department — at least in the time while I was here — was in Blues Aesthetic. Blues Aesthetic happened because Black students came to me my very first semester here. They came and were like “Johnny, will you teach a class on Black art?” “Hell no! I’m in the studio, and I’m teaching my classes, and I’m getting the hell out of here!
Special Issue Y’all know I’m not an art historian.” But they didn’t take no for an answer. I’m glad they didn’t. They kept coming in, and I kept saying no. Then finally this one sister from Cleveland got her hands on her hips and said, “Then why are you here?” [laughs] Beautiful sister. So, my first spring here, Blues Aesthetic was started, and I’ve taught it for 28 years. Only when I’m on sabbatical has it not been taught. In thinking about constructing the memorial for Toni Morrison, and also the work you’re doing with the women who came through Oberlin, you’re archiving Black women’s stories and helping them share their narratives. How do you position that within your work? Is it something you think about consciously or is it just who you are? I think about it consciously, but I wouldn’t exist except for Francis Wilma McCoy — my mom. And my mom would never call herself a feminist, ever, ya know? Feminists, when that stuff came out it didn’t involve Black women. Not at all. I was a little boy reading Maya Angelou, and my mother took me to see her. I saw her with my family a couple of times, and I saw James Baldwin with my family a couple of times. But then I took my mom to see Maya Angelou when I was an adult, and we got to sit and talk with her. We can’t talk about Black people without talking about Black women. Period. My work is about my relationship to my culture, and my culture is related to people, so that’s what I work with. When [my son], Iyo, was four, Toni Morrison asked me to compose a piece in response to Beloved. This is 1995. The first time I read Beloved was in ’89 or ’90. I read it a couple of times, and I thought it was a masterpiece. So I read it again, and at this time I had a child — I had a son and a daughter — and it made all the difference in the world. I did two pieces, one for Paul D. and one for Sethe. I brought them both. She took both of those pieces. I grew up reading Maya Angelou, and — you’re not gonna believe me — but I grew up reading Angela Davis’ talks. She was young, really young. So we had at home, not only Ebony and Jet that every Black family had, but we also had the newspaper that the [Black]
Panthers put out. My parents made sure my brother and I both read. And I’m dyslexic. I could read before I went to school, and my brother was younger than I was. I grew up with two parents who realized that their kids were growing up at a really critical moment in American history. Toni Morrison is a giant, and she had that insight into Black culture, and she just meant everything to me. You read her statement about what her work is, “Site of Memory”: I wanna imagine the interior lives of my ancestors. That means everything to me. She will always be a foundational figure for me. John Coltrane will always be a foundational figure for me. Black people couldn’t exist without both of us — both of those energies. So it’s not a conscious thing to tell Black women’s stories; it’s a conscious thing to explore Blackness, and you can’t do that without Black women. Period.
How would you describe your work to someone who’s never encountered it before? It’s a story; I’m a storyteller. Mostly, I work with sound; I work with spoken [word]. That’s what I do. But, if I’m using physical material, I’m using material that I see as alive and sentient — material that can witness. Like instruments? Yeah, absolutely! Language is an instrument; it carries the story. If I were to describe my work, I would say, “I’m invested in keeping the story alive,” but all I’m doing is paraphrasing August Wilson. Ya already know: tell the story; tell it now; tell it in a manner so that others will tell the story. That’s how it stays alive. If a part of our history has been eliminated, we are not complete until we have done everything we can to bring it forward. This is exactly what Johnny’s most recent work is centered on: recovering lost stories. He has set out on a nearly 20year journey to uncover the names and stories of eight escaped African American women who accompanied Lee Howard Dobbins on his journey north. He was left here, in Oberlin, where he soon died from illness in 1853. All we know is that these eight women continued on their journey north to Canada. The exhibit is now available for viewing at Transformer Station in Cleveland. You can check out Johnny’s previous work on his website peasandricepress.com. Are there any last words you can share with us? The Blues is everything for human beings. The story is everything, and the Blues is our story. I was taught to make sure you water your garden and hold the door open. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
Left: Photo courtesy of Johnny Coleman. Her Marks (for Toni Morrison), Sculpture by Johnny Coleman. 51
The Oberlin Review ACTIVISM A SENSE OF PLACE
Food, Community, and Black Joy: The Legacy of Black Agriculture in Cleveland
Imani Badillo Vera Grace Menafee
uring his speech, “Message to the Grassroots Movement,” Malcolm X declared, “Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.” The reality that we live in today has been built upon a history of genocide, exploitation, and displacement. For the descendants of enslaved Africans, tending to the land is intrinsically tied to the history of chattel slavery in the United States and the plantation economy that is the backbone of this country. While this painful history of land dispossession and discrimination against Black farmers exists, there is an even stronger history of how these communities have resisted endless forms of oppression by maintaining their connection to the land and honoring ancestral knowledge. Throughout the 20th cen-
Above: Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown. The hands of Vera Grace Menafee and Imani Badillo in the soil of Vel’s Purple Oasis.
tury, Black communities in the South formed “land trusts” and cooperatives, like Fannie Lou Hamer’s Freedom Farm, to combine their resources and become economically, politically, and socially independent from the American white supremacist state. These farms were extremely important to the Black freedom movement, as many Black-owned farms provided food and housing for activists while also putting together campaigns for voting rights and desegregation. This community responsibility has strong and deep roots throughout Black and Indigenous communities and has been carried out by elders and their descendants for centuries up through the present day. During what is called the Great Migration, recently freed Black people in the South migrated to northern urban centers throughout the 20th 52
century to escape Jim Crow laws, job discrimination, and rising acts of white supremacist violence, carrying with them their deep agricultural knowledge. Urban farming organizations rooted in Black agricultural wisdom carry on this history of beautiful resistance. Some of the ones in the Cleveland area guiding the way are Vel’s Purple Oasis and Chateau Hough. Vel’s Purple Oasis, based near University Circle, was founded by Ms. Vel Scott and her husband Don Scott in 2008. A former owner of the nightclub Vel’s on the Circle, Ms. Vel is a wellknown elder in Cleveland; in our experience at her garden, Ms. Vel always offers a warm hug, food or produce, and a great conversation. Since 2019, her garden has grown immensely. The advice she has passed on and the community that has formed around her is
Special Issue so vibrant and beautiful. In addition to growing, Vel Scott offers cooking classes at the nearby Don Scott House, which rests across the street from the garden. Here, individuals are given the opportunity to cook with high-quality fruits and vegetables not normally accessible to the community while also addressing the high rates of diabetes and heart disease in the area. The work that Ms. Vel and many other community gardens are doing directly combats food apartheid. Food apartheid is distinct from a “food desert,” which defines a place where car access is required to shop at the nearest grocery store or supermarket or where produce remains expensive and low-quality. In contrast, food apartheid recognizes the intentional segregation between predominantly white communities with high-end grocery stores and Black, Brown, and low-income communities that are separated from much-needed nourishment. Ms. Vel connects so many individuals and communities together with her presence, her Oasis, and her love for food and people. Also based in Cleveland is the vineyard and winery Chateau Hough. Created by Mansfield Frazier in 2010, Chateau Hough rests on three formerly vacant lots. Frazier’s intent in creating this vineyard was to give formerly incarcerated individuals a stable place to work and gain experience. The winery and vineyard is located in the Hough neighborhood, historically known for the Hough Uprisings of 1966 that brought attention to many forms of racism in Cleveland, including segregation, economic inequality, and redlining. Chateau Hough works to introduce a wider audience to the Hough community and actively combats stereotypes of violence and danger in this neighborhood. Mansfield Frazier is another Cleveland elder supporting his commu-
nity through growing, and he remains dedicated to generating paychecks to individuals that are given no other support in the economic system. Connection to land is essential to the liberation movement. Much of U.S. history recognizes and details the ways in which agriculture has been weaponized against Black people. In order for communities to be self-sufficient, they must reconnect with ancestral land practices and combat this historical violence. While land ownership remains directly related to settler colonialism and the displacement and genocide of Black and Indigenous people, forming and maintaining the relationship that one has to the environment and to farming allows individuals to understand that one’s knowledge and contribution is valuable, important, and a part of revolution. The knowledge that we cannot return to freedom without the land is the basis for Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York. By using ancestral Black and Indigenous growing practices, Leah Penniman has created a community space for individuals and farmers to learn about sustainable agriculture, ask questions, and to start and maintain their own self-sufficient farms and gardens. Penniman’s work has helped create a network of Black farmers that are using their own knowledge to reconnect with the Earth, achieve liberation on and with the land, and become connected with other farmers achieving the same goal. In Soul Fire Farm’s short lifetime, the soil has been able to reach pre-colonial levels of nutrition and oxygenation while also supporting many families and communities with its produce. Penniman’s book, Farming While Black, reflects on the meaning of growing, teaches new farmers how to successfully run their own farm, and includes a plethora of additional resources that allow individuals to clearly understand
the logistical process of growing. As Farming While Black illustrates, “Each one of us has innumerable ancestors who have endured suffering and emerged intact. Our ancestors are rooting for us, loving us, and attempting to share their wisdom with us. Our job is simply to listen.” As food apartheid and food justice become more widely discussed topics, it is important to learn from the elders in and around us that have been listening all this time. Below: Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown. Imani Badillo tending to some of the plants at Vel’s Purple Oasis.
Recommended Reading List Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African-American Environmental Heritage Belonging: A Culture of Place Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering To be a Water Protector: The Rise of the Wiindigoo Slayers Our History Is The Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance 53
Leah Penniman Dianne D. Glave bell hooks Monica White Rosemarie Freeney Harding and Rachel Elizabeth Harding Winona LaDuke Nick Estes Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
The Oberlin Review
CULTURE CELEBRATING INDIVIDUALS
Mama and Daughter, Baba and Son L. Joshua Jackson Culture Editor This semester, two professors are leading classes with the support of their children. Visiting Professor of Africana Studies and Dance Talise Campbell and her daughter, Inaya Carrington, teach West African Dance Forms II, while Associate Professor of Theater and Africana Studies Justin Emeka and his son Jabri Emeka teach Capoeira Angola 1. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Strong in Our Reclaimed Culture or over a decade, visiting assistant professor of Africana Studies and Dance Talise Campbell has choreographed, costumed, and staged Juneteenth performances in Cleveland. Using her platform, Djapo Cultural Arts Institute, Campbell has taught generations of dancers — professionals and community members of the greater Cleveland area.
How has your practice developed your mind-body-spirit connection? Inaya: It has made me become aware of who I am in relation to not only Afrika, but the whole Afrikan diaspora. It’s given me a chance to see who I am as an Afrikan living in [the United States of] America — being a part of that whole diaspora. If we think about that in its entirety, then it’s so deep. Because then we have to ask ourselves this question of: What does it mean to be Afrikan? I
think I was searching for those answers only to realize that I am Afrika. It’s not about where you’re from or where you were raised, but about how can you create Afrika within your community, in your home, and in yourself. Talise: I think it enables you to have a value system. It’s an ingrained value system of support and culture. I think part of the problem with the Afrikan-American community here in the West is that we don’t know who we are — those things were stripped from us, they were taken away. As we begin to develop the “I AM,” it gives us a focal point of what’s going on with our past. You can’t possibly know your journey and your direction if you don’t know where you come from. Having these cultural experiences begins to ground an individual to know that “I AM.” We can stand strong in our reclaimed culture. 54
What does your practice mean to you, in a diasporic context and an American context? Inaya: What we’re doing right here with Afrikan dance, Afrikan culture — it’s revolutionary. If every Afrikan American at least took a class or participated in what we did, I feel like we would be unstoppable. We would have all of these people who aren’t scared of where we’re from — [people] that know the real truth about Afrika. Talise: I’m going to go back to Inaya’s statement: We see Afrika all around the world. When you’re able to identify all of those aspects, coming from experience, research, and exposure, all of those things allow you to look at these various elements with more of a microscopic eye. It allows you to be able to dissect culture — to see the effects of the transatlantic slave trade across the diaspora.
Special Issue Don’t Overlook Grandma’s Recipe ou can get new tools from different places, but don’t overlook them tools that your ancestors left for you — not too quickly. There’s also a unique Ashé in those tools that the new tools don’t have. It’s just the energy of those who came before you. And the tools can be a recipe that you might change a bit, but don’t overlook that. Don’t overlook grandma’s recipe. That’s food that kept you alive, that kept them alive to pass on to you. A song that your mother sang that gets you through or an artist that inspired your father. Listen to those songs. There’s something in there. ” – Justin Emeka, associate professor of Theater and Africana Studies
Justin Emeka, OC ’95, associate professor of Theater and Africana Studies, has been a practitioner of the Brazilian art form Capoeira for over 25 years, enough time and dedication for him to use the fluid title of mestre if he wanted. Emeka has taught Capoeira at Oberlin for 15 years and is the advisor for Oberlin Capoeira Angola. In that time he’s shaped a strong alumni net-
work of Capoeiristas, which include his son Jabri Emeka. How has Capoeira helped create the connection between your mind, body, and spirit? Jabri: Capoeira was always my safe space growing up. It was always that one space where regardless of what anyone thought of me I would always feel free. I would always be 100 times more social playing Capoeira than anywhere else. I have tons of college student friends because of helping my dad teach Capoeira I. That social aspect, in a sense, saved me from an isolation that I had either created for myself or was outcast because of my personality or the things I was interested in, growing up in Oberlin. Capoeira is a space that I use to connect to the world around me. Justin: It kind of gives me a vocabulary and a method or system to actually engage with who I am in ways a lot of us, as Afrikan Americans, cannot. A lot of us don’t have the best tools to figure out who we are. Capoeira is a system or path that strengthens my mind-bodysoul connection so I don’t have to in-
vent one. So often, Black people in the new world keep having to invent something, because we’ve been cut off from the source. Capoeira is a connection to the past and a form from the past that allows me to sync mind-body-soul. I noticed that you, Jabri, use Capoeira as a tool for syncing with the world around you, while Justin, you sync with the world within you. Has the movement deepened your connection with your family? Jabri: Oh, 100 percent! Everyone in my family does something. My mom does West Afrikan dance, my brother raps, and us with Capoeira. Having that connection of us all doing something that roots us back to our ancestors and history allows us to relate differently as a family. It’s a relationship to each other that I feel like most families don’t have, and I’m very grateful for that relationship. What does Capoeira mean to be taught at Oberlin College — a prestigious institution in the United States on a settler colonized land? What does Capoeira mean to be practiced to you in this diasporic context? Justin: One, it’s a responsibility to have Capoeira in an institution and in a curriculum like this, knowing the history of Capoeira and that it was explicitly banned and barred from places like Oberlin. Black culture wasn’t allowed in the academy or in the curriculum, let alone seen as legitimate study or legitimate anything. So I don’t take it lightly that I have this opportunity to bring Capoeira into the academy. It’s a balance of being authentic too — authentic to who I am, to who we are, to who Oberlin is and not succumbing to a pressure of trying to be Brazil in Oberlin. I recognize that I have my own culture that deserves, or rather, needs to be heard and uplifted. The way I engage with Capoeira is making sure it’s an authentic expression of Afrikan-American history, today. Left: Photo by Rachel Serna-Brown. Associate Professor of Theater and Africana Studies Justin Emeka conducts the hoda. Left (far): Photo by Anokha Venugopal. Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and Dance Talise Campbell leads her 2021 Juneteenth performance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The Oberlin Review
his issue would not have been possible without the creativity, intellect, and support of various people in Oberlin’s community. The creation of this magazine started months ago, with the with crucial input and guidance of Katherine MacPhail, OC ’21 and Kate Fishman, OC ’21. A few weeks in, Professor of History and Chair of Comparative American Studies Shelley Lee agreed to come on board as a faculty advisor, and we’re very grateful for her continued support and expertise. Professor Lee set us a mandate when she commented at the top of our pitch document: “This will be part of a historical record, so you’re doing valuable work that will resonate for years to come.” At the heart and soul of this issue are our excellent section editors, each of whom continually blew us away with their curiosity and quality of work.
They led the charge on formulating pitches, finding writers, and sculpting each article for clarity, flow, and Review standards. Behind our editorial staff are invaluable layout, production, and visuals teams. The quality of every detail — every deliberate line, precise semicolon, deeper shadow — was examined and executed by these teams. We’d also like to thank all the writers and artists featured in this issue for their passion and vulnerability. Special thanks to Johnny Coleman, whose work is featured on our back cover. As the issue comes to a close, the Review’s Senior Staff has so much gratitude for the countless hours that so many people put into this project. So much collaborative work by some brilliant individuals is what has made it possible for you to have this magazine in your hands today.
The Review reserves the right to edit all submissions for clarity, length, grammar, accuracy, strength of argument, and in consultation with Review style. Opinions expressed in editorials, letters, op-eds, columns, cartoons, or other Opinions pieces do not necessarily reflect those of the staff of the Review.
Culture Editor Diwe Augustin-Glave
Culture Editor L. Joshua Jackson
Activism Editor Reginald Goudeau
Science Editor Drew Dansby 56
Production Editor Claire Brinley
Production Editor Kush Bulmer
Production Editor Eric Shank
Production Editor Katie Kunka
Layout Editor Adrienne Hoover
Layout Editor Grace Gao
Layout Editor Danny Valero
Layout Editor Genevieve Kirk
Photographer Anokha Venugopal
Illustrator Claire Wang
Photographer Rachel Serna-Brown
Faculty Advisor Shelley Lee
CAPOEIRA ANGOLA There are many heroes, mestres, and legends that represent the legacy of Capoeira Angola and inspire our practice today at Oberlin. Heroes such as Besouro Mangangá who lived in Brazil in the 19th century and was famed for using Capoeira as a tool for protecting and supporting the people of his community in Santo Amaro. Legend says Capoeira helped make him “untouchable” to his adversaries — neither bullets, nor knives could break his skin. Some even believed he could transform himself into a beetle and fly away when necessary. Many of the older Capoeira mestres continue to share stories of times when Besouro made sure workers got their pay from employers who tried to exploit them. Capoeiristas speak proudly of Besouro using his Capoeira skills to disarm police who tried to brutalize him or his community — how he’d return weapons to the police station to shame their efforts to gain control over him and his people. Besouro is said to have died in 1924 after an elaborate plot was made by the mayor and police chief to take his power and shoot him when he was at his most vulnerable. There is an Afrikan proverb that tells us: “We live as long as we are remembered.” Truth lives somewhere between history, memory, and imagination. What is important to the Capoeirista is the revolutionary power that lives in us through the memories of Besouro. The values and principles that made him great are what we strive to embody today. Besouro’s legacy is rooted in a profound love for Black people, a people enduring hardships by seeking strength in spiritual truths buried inside ancestral traditions. The songs and stories of Besouro work to inspire new generations redefining a revolution for their own times — generations committed to protecting and celebrating those most vulnerable in our communities today. Justin Emeka Associate Professor of Theater and Africana Studies
Back Cover “A Landscape Convinced: For Nyima” Johnny Coleman Spots by Anisa Curry Vietze
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The Oberlin Review's second special issue magazine on Black identity and experiences in Oberlin.