A Tale of Two Conferences

Journal of Pan African Studies, April 2018 | Go to article overview

A Tale of Two Conferences


This special edition of Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies sheds light on why the Black Arts Movement (BAM) is important to African American and American history by focusing on the research, art, and scholarship of two BAM Conferences.

The first conference, 50 Years On, took place at UC Merced in March 2014 with the support of the Associated Students of the University of California Merced, the Office of Student Life, the Center for the Humanities, the California Endowment, Building Healthy Communities, Merced County Arts Council, the Merced County Office of Education, and donors and volunteers throughout the country. The second conference was held at New Orleans' Dillard University in September 2016, and would not have happened without the support and guidance of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.and Abby Wolf, the Director of Harvard's Hutchins Center. A group of earth angels in the forms of Dr. James Smethurst, Jerry Varnado, Ishmael Reed, Eugene Redmond, Dr. Nathan Hare, Askia Toure, Dr. James Garrett, Director of Tulane University's Amistad Center Kara Olidge, UC Merced's Dean Jill Robbins, Vice Provost and Graduate Dean Marjorie Zatz, Vice Provost for Faculty Gregg Camfield, Professor Nigel Hatton, Dillard University Professors Mona Lisa Saloy and Zella Palmer, Bernadette Gildspinel, Nikki Madfis, Bev Young, Jim Chong, Doug Ridley, Vincent, Janie, Chet and Marlena McMillon, Itibari M. Zulu, Reginald Martin, Necola Adams, Marilyn Johnson, Dr. Doris Derby, Carolyn Vara, Marvin X, Charlotte "Mama C" O'Neal, Necola Adams, Avotcja, Shellee Randol and countless other beautiful souls ensured the success of the conference.

When asked about the differences and similarities between the conferences, the word community comes to mind. Each conference opened doors to history and culture for all. New Orleans was an exhaled breath encompassing attendees with the warmth, pain, and power of African history. I sought out a historically Black college to understand how the story of the Black Arts Movement might be told differently. I was in search of the very voices that birthed the Black Arts Movement. I wanted to hear their stories in an environment that spoke of African Americans' historic past. Vestiges of slavery mingled with everyday life bearing twenty-first-century fruit for the reasons for the Black Arts and Black Power Movements. The 50 Years On conference did not have the history of African Americans on full display, but rather the men and women of the Black Arts and Black Power Movements in attendance were our monuments, our cultural libraries.

With that in mind, the Dillard University-Harvard's Hutchins Center International BAM Conference on the Black Arts Movement commenced on Friday, September 9, 2016, with a celebration of music, dance and African rituals. The New Orleans Black Indians began the conference with the prayer chant, Indian Red that has Native American and African roots. Big Chief Clarence A. Dalcour led the tribe of Creole Osceola Mardi Gras Indians.

An African Ritual Invocation with iconic Louisiana spiritual leaders was performed by Luisah Teish, Nana Sula, Charlotte "Mama C" O'Neal, a revered former Black Panther, and awardwinning musician Avotcja playing percussions. Tears ran down the faces of audience members as ancestor spirits were called and memories of what it meant and what it means to be Black in America were acknowledged.

This special edition of Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies celebrates the history, achievements, culture, art and research of scholars and artists of all backgrounds dedicated to the study of a race and a culture that stands firmly on American soil in celebration of the art of Black America.

Kim McMillon, Conference Organizer

Our special thanks to: Adrian Richwell for her editorial support and to the University of California, Merced Undergraduate Research Journal coordinator, Dr. Iris D. Ruiz and her editorial team for editing several essays in this issue. …

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