University of Miami opens Center for Global Black Studies

Donette Francis, right, co-director of the Center for Global Black Studies, gives a tour of the new center to President Julio Frenk and Felicia Knaul, director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, on Monday. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

Donette Francis, right, co-director of the Center for Global Black Studies, gives a tour of the new center to President Julio Frenk and Felicia Knaul, director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, on Monday. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

University of Miami opens Center for Global Black Studies

By Barbara Gutierrez
The center will serve as a unifying platform to assist in the coordination of initiatives that address structural racism and inequalities throughout society.

Surrounded by the sounds of Junkanoo drums, University of Miami President Julio Frenk was joined by Provost Jeffrey Duerk; Donald Spivey, distinguished professor of history and special advisor to the president on racial justice; and a host of others in a ceremony on Monday to inaugurate the Center for Global Black Studies.

Donette Francis and Jafari Allen, co-directors of the center, were also present at Cesarano Plaza. The event, hosted during Black Awareness Month, officially opened the facility, which has offices on the third floor of the Solomon G. Merrick Building.  

“Change depends on deep commitment translated into specific plans and subject to accountability,” Frenk said. “Today’s milestone, which has been championed at the highest levels of both the administration and our Board of Trustees, puts our shared values into practice and our words into action. We remain committed to creating a more just society and the launch of our Center for Global Black Studies exemplifies our efforts.”

Duerk, who is also executive vice president for academic affairs, said that the center will help the University continue to chart a path forward.

“The administration became more attuned to the needs of an area where students and scholars interested in Black studies could meet to collaborate and engage in thoughtful discourse, pursue collaborative interdisciplinary studies of important topics of the experience of the global Black diaspora, and come together to assist in finding solutions,” he said. 

An audience of deans, faculty members, students, and other members of the University community joined the celebration.

“This is a great way to conclude Black History Month, with the birth of the Center for Global Black Studies,” Spivey said. “We are laser focused on what we consider to be the number one challenge here at UM, which is to continue to improve the racial climate at the U.”

H.T. Smith, University alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees, shared that the calling of this center should be a consistent commitment to excellence.

“The opening of this center represents a transformational moment in the 97-year history of this great research university,” Smith said. “It is a critical, important step on our racial justice journey.” 

 

Catalyzed by a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and support from University leadership, the center will serve as a unifying platform to assist in the coordination of initiatives that address structural racism and structural inequalities, both at the University and across society, said Francis.

The center is a key initiative in a plan unveiled by Frenk detailing the University’s pursuit of racial justice. 

“I see it as both a crossroad and an incubator,” said Allen, associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “This is a place at the crossroad between the U.S. south and the global south—including the Caribbean and Latin America—and in the city of Miami, which is a place where all the Black cultures and ideas meet,” he added. “It is an incubator because it is a place where new ideas that impact all of those areas are born and nurtured and where we can discuss them.”

Francis, an associate professor of English, said one of the center’s main goals is to highlight the research being conducted by Black faculty members and foster interdisciplinary collaborations. It will also invite faculty members from other universities working on projects that address the complexities of Black lives across the globe.

The facility will house a community of scholars who can use the venue as both a platform to unveil their research and a networking tool, she pointed out.

“We knew from our disciplines the vast disparities that existed [in society] and we could see them,” she said. “We wanted to talk about this collectively so that we could learn from each other and develop interdisciplinary language.”

Through Africana Studies, a course titled Black Miami Studies was developed to complement the center’s vision. Taught last semester, the course highlighted Miami’s significance in the Americas and its longstanding ethnic and national diversity, which makes it a perfect model to study, Francis said.

Among the lecturers in the class were Laura Kohn Wood, dean of the School of Education and Human Development, who spoke about the inequities in education both nationally and locally, and Germane Barnes, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, who spoke on inequities in housing.   

One of the center’s main goals is to think about blackness in the city and beyond, noted Francis.

“We are interested in thinking about what Black lives look like throughout the globe,” she said. “What are the everyday lives of Black folks wherever we find them? We will learn from our similarities and our differences.”

To that end, upcoming events for the center will include a lecture by Savannah Shange, assistant professor of social sciences at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who will speak about her book “Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Anti-blackness, and Schooling in San Francisco.” The book explores issues of gentrification and schooling disparities told through a Black feminist and abolitionist lens.

Allen is excited to hear the discussions that the talk will elicit from University faculty members, who are also doing scholarship on schooling and Black feminism.

“People who study different cities are important models and points of comparisons for scholars,” he said. Events in the fall semester will include a lecture and visit by Mercy Romero, whose book “Toward Camden” focuses on the Black and Puerto Rican community in Camden, New Jersey.

The center will also strive to become a highly visible public-facing link between the University and Black communities, both locally and globally, making it integral to the intellectual and cultural life of the University.

As part of this initiative, the center has appointed Nadege Green as its first scholar-in-residence. Green, a former Miami Herald reporter who is now director of community research and storytelling at the Community Justice Project, has been a storyteller of Miami’s Black communities. Green, who has given several lectures on campus during the past year, has said she believes in the power of teaching community storytelling as a way to educate, solve problems, and heal. 

“Nadege joining us as a colleague and discussion partner signals our serious intention to be an active part of the Black Miami community,” said Allen.

Allen and Francis both encourage students to visit the center, where they can study or engage in conversations with faculty and staff members, or to apply to undergraduate research fellowships supervised by faculty members. In the future, both co-directors hope to be able to offer student internships, as well as study abroad and other opportunities.