"We are responsible," my Nana would always say, "with leaving the world better than how we found it. It is not a burden but a blessing to be able to use your time, your talent, and your treasure to be an instrument of change." It is at this moment, as we prepare to launch the second academic year of the Karson Institute, that I think about my Nana and her life. She was a fierce warrior who was one of the first Black nurses in South Carolina; a survivor of Jim Crow racism who attended one of only a handful of private boarding schools for Black girls; a deaconess who wore hats like Zora Neale Hurston and never suffered the fools like Ida B. Wells; and she was a dreamer who believed that if we kept fighting and pushing, this world would be reshaped by our hands. I thought about her last night after I reread Sonia Sanchez's "Wounded in the House of a Friend," where she wrote:
I shall become a collector of me
i SHALL become a collector of me
i shall BECOME a collector of me
i shall become A COLLECTOR of me.
I take my Nana and Sister Sanchez's words as both a prayer and a charge for the work that I am doing as the founding director of the Karson Institute for Race, Peace, & Social Justice. I shall become a collector of me, of us, of our stories, of our laughter, and our tears. I Shall become a collector of all that we have to offer, all that we have done, and all that we will do. I Shall Become a collector of the moments that we are sharing, the laws that are being passed, and the work that is being done to undo the work done to radically change this nation for the better. During this time, as America and the world open back up and the Karson Institute staff starts planning to be on campus in less than a month, we stay committed to rebuilding our campus and Baltimore City community by planning both in-person and virtual activities. We believe that the work being done at the Karson Institute is needed more now than ever. We have been here, standing strong and being collectors of ourselves and our stories for the past nine months, and we will continue to be here: to be a voice crying out in the wilderness for justice and equity; to be an advocate for those who need the strength of our Institute behind them to support, uplift, and amplify their work; and to be a lighthouse highlighting the way to a more just and verdant world.
Our 2021-22 Academic Year Theme is Stoney the Road We Trod: Conversations about Race and Peace, Slavery and Justice, and we have planned a series of activities specifically designed to address each of these issues across our three centers: The Center for Public Engagement, The Center for Teaching and Learning, and The Center for Research and Culture. We are also gearing up to celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of the Karson Institute on October 28! We are taking this moment to stand tall as Sankofa birds, looking back at what we have accomplished while moving forward. Over the past year, the Karson Institute has led the conversations on diversity, equity, and the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community:
Center for Public Engagement
- COMloquium Series: We hosted 13 COMloquium events, engaging in critical conversations with Dr. Anthony Fauci, on the impact of COVID-19 in the Black community; Representative Kweisi Mfume, on the legacy of Henrietta Lacks; Dr. Lawrence Brown, on Baltimore City and the Black Butterfly communities; lawyers and public policy analysts after the verdict in the case against Derek Chauvin; among many others.
- Students Talk Back: Throughout the year, we invited Loyola students to engage with our monthly questions that ranged from "Will 2021 be the year of the woman?" to "What is your race story?"
- Social Media: On both our Twitter and our Instagram accounts, we hosted a month-long tribute to Black leaders during Black History Month and a month-long tribute to women during Women's History Month. We will continue to expand our engagement with the public by live-streaming some of our activities and conversations in the Fall.
Additionally, we partnered with Visit Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun, Maryland Public Television, non-profit organizations, K-12th grade public schools, and universities throughout the country to host virtual Teach-Ins, Workshops, and conversations.
Center for Research and Culture
- KI Research Fellow: In June, we welcomed our inaugural doctoral Fellow, María Colompos- Tohtsonie, a doctoral student who is studying Educational Leadership and Policy at Texas Tech University.
- KI Senior Fellow: In August, Dr. Van Gayton, a retired pastor, and theology professor, will join the KI as our inaugural senior Fellow. (This is a unique opportunity for retired academics to work with the staff of the Karson Institute to complete a research project.) Dr. Van Gayton will work on a series of research papers exploring the intersections of race and Christianity.
In her paper "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action," Audre Lorde wrote that what is important must be spoken, made verbal, and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. We take her words seriously as we move into year two, and we look to create spaces that will have meaning, which will help us build community, allowing us to share our work. We have planned a series of in-person and virtual events:
Center for Public Engagement
- Koffee & Konvo: a monthly lunch-time series for students, staff, and faculty to discuss articles, chapters, and Opinion-Editorials about race, social justice, and slavery. The conversations will be held on the third Wednesday of each month and will occasionally include virtual speakers.
- COMloquium: we will continue to host virtual conversations, and we are planning to host two in-person events.
Center for Research and Culture
- KI Undergraduate Fellows: We will partner with two universities to launch our undergraduate fellows' program in the spring. Twenty undergraduate students will be selected to participate in a four-month initiative to study and write about the intersections of slavery and justice.
Center for Teaching and Learning
- Teacher Training: We have selected City Neighbors High School in Baltimore City for our year-long teacher training initiative. Teachers and staff will be trained in culturally responsive teaching and instruction, racial equity training, and the social construction of race.
Civil rights activist Ella Baker once said, "We who believe in freedom can not rest until it comes." For those of us here at The Karson Institute, we believe that this means that we must continue to challenge ourselves and everyone around us to work for freedom, justice, and racial equity. We know that the work we are involved in to transform our campus, our city, and hopefully, our country did not begin, nor will it end with us. We are simply the next movement in Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. We must use the time we have to continue to find ways to provide space to help facilitate conversations around some of America's most pressing questions. We invite you to step into this moment with us and join our conversations and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Bending Toward Social Justice,
Karsonya "Kaye" Wise Whitehead, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Communication and African & African American Studies
Founding Director, Karson Institute for Race, Peace, & Social Justice