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The Beloved Community Series:
Reclaiming Black Pasts,
Creating Black Futures

At Humanities Amped in 2021, we are celebrating the first of our three core values: beloved community. As we look toward the future and its challenges, this aspect of our organizational vision, to nurture a dynamic, beloved community of lifelong learners and civic leaders, has never felt more essential to our individual and collective well-being. Over the next few months, we will release a series of think pieces reflecting on the theme of beloved community and how it shows up in our work at Humanities Amped. Click here to learn more about the heart of beloved community, and read on to learn about one way it shows up in our work. 

Our second beloved community reflection is from Asia Reese, Humanities Amped Community Educator, Program Manager, and Serve LA corps member. Asia is currently a graduating senior in Sociology and Anthropology at Spelman College.

During high school, she first became involved with Humanities Amped as a youth poet and peer organizer at McKinley Senior High. Asia is a Community Educator at Belaire High School and at Amped Studio Afterschool and also leads special initiatives, including the BlackFutures: A Sankofa Series city-wide Black history program.

Reclaiming Black Pasts,
Creating Black Futures

by ASIA REESE

I went to school in "The Bottom" at a high school initially named Hickory Street School, later renamed The Baton Rouge Colored High School, but you most likely know it as McKinley Senior High School. I am an alumna of a predominantly Black school system and the state's first high school open for Black people, yet I only remember ever talking about Black History once every school year. The conversation, when we did have it, focused solely on a heavily sanitized story about our Civil Rights Elders: always teaching us their sacrifices, but rarely did we hear their critiques--especially the ones they made towards the end of their lives. 

Since this erasure was so normalized, it did not feel like an erasure at all. It just felt like school. Not until one day in my Advanced Placement U.S History Class did the extent of this disservice become clear to me. We had just finished learning about all of the different factors that made British colonizers, "Pilgrims," come to the United States and lead a genocide against the country's Indigenous People. We were learning about the start of the Triangular Slave Trade that began after the colonizers got settled. It seemed like we skipped a part. My classmates and I asked, "Well...what were Black people doing before the slave trade?" Despite being one of the best teachers I ever had, even she was left unequipped to answer.

With that erasure, dissatisfaction and disinterest began to grow. As someone who always loved school, I began to grow skeptical of its purpose if it did not aim to culturally affirm the primary population that it served. This dissatisfaction is why I think many students may leave the state, as I did, in search of knowledge--and more importantly--Beloved Community. Beloved Community is only created when the space you are in is dedicated to acknowledging the full extent of your existence: your multiple identities, your past, present, and helping you create your future.

I eventually graduated from McKinley and went to Spelman College, an HBCU dedicated to educating Black Women in Atlanta, Georgia. ALL first-year students have to take two semesters of African Diaspora and the World. It was only in college that I learned about Africa's diversity, the linkages of the practices Black folks do now to our cultural practices prior to slavery, and felt AFFIRMED in the classroom. Having Beloved Community is what helped me mature from a girl to a woman and helped me heal from the precariousness of feeling like there was a larger force determining my life that I could not name or did not know. I think about Frederick Douglas’s caution “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." I think Beloved Community may be the only way we can empower children to grow into the adults the world will need. 

When COVID-19 provided me the opportunity to come back home, I knew that the time was ripe to push for a change. With the renaming of Liberty High School, an initiative that has been discussed since my good sister Tyari Heard--one of its original organizers--and I were in high school, I saw that the seeds of our dissatisfaction were ready to bloom. Thus, after becoming a Program Manager at Humanities Amped, I made it my mission to create culturally relevant work. We were asked by MetroMorphosis to partner with them in the release of their phenomenal article "Black Baton Rouge Yesterday and Today." Black History Month was on the horizon, and there was a need for programming since many of our East Baton Rouge students have not had one activity day since the transition to hybrid learning. I suggested we host a Black History Month Program that talked about what Black people have done and CONTINUED to do right here in our city. That decision was what I like to call a perfect full-circle moment: a moment where you are able to come back to a previous point of frustration or unrealized expectations and finally address them. 

Coming off the high from BlackFutures: A Sankofa Series, my favorite part was and will always be the student engagement. From their questions, art submissions, songs, and drama performances it felt beautiful to provide an opportunity for them to learn and reflect on their history, our city's shared history and showcase their talent. However, I think the embodiment of Sankofa--reaching back to retrieve what is at risk of being left behind--came from our intergenerational conversations. Listening to revered community elder Maxine Crump ask the change-agent Myra Richardson what inspired her to get involved made me reflect on my own "How did I get here?" journey. Hearing the legendary Dr. Press Robinson ask young organizer Anthony Kenney what activism means to him felt like a question to all the youth. And, in the spirit of Beloved Community, it simultaneously provided an affirmation and call to action. It recognized our potential to change the world and forced us to consider who we are when we are creating our Black future. 

Now we have set the stage for another goal. We have expanded the Black History Month narrative to reflect a localized community truth through powerful oral histories and storytelling. Still, we must push for the account that reflects many students' lived reality to not be denied to them in their classrooms every other academic school day of the year. We acknowledge the influence of the Spanish and the French. Indeed, we can make space to honor the blood, sweat, tears, and culture created by the slave and their descendants despite white supremacy. We can teach our students that slavery is not Black people's shame but our nation's unaddressed violence. I truly believe once students' history becomes accessible and an intentional part of the school curriculum, we will empower young people to see the full extent of their humanity and heal a wound that has existed since before any of us reading this were born. •

BlackFutures: A Sankofa Series Black History Month Program

Griots Dialogue: Maxine Crump & Myra Richardson
Griots Dialogue: Dr. Press Robinson & Anthony Kenney
BlackFutures: A Sankofa Series Freshhh Heat - The Griots Edition
In the spirit of Beloved Community, we hope you will join the healing circles we are offering in collaboration with BRCC in March and April. These circles are open to alumni, family members, youth, supporters, educators, and friends. All are welcome, visit our website to register.
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