Welcome Back Black Studies: Lunch with Presentations from the Petrucci Family Fund Summer Research Fellows

On Friday, Sept. 20, the Black Studies program hosted an event titled “Welcome Back Black Studies” in the Intercultural Center. About 40 students and faculty members attended and soaked in the research that was presented by Taylor Tucker ‘20 and Brandon “Frames” Ekweonu ‘20.

Tucker presented first, and her presentation was entitled “Into the Masters’ Hands: The Carceral Captivity and Exploitation of Black Female Bodies in Schools and Beyond.” Her presentation centered around her summer work, which was primarily executed at Chester Charter School and focused on how parental incarceration impacts children. Her research included interviews from two Black women in their 20s and an older Black woman in her 60s. Through these interviews, Tucker examined both the impact of incarceration and how the education system exacerbates trauma of Black females.

Tucker based her research around the questions: “How does the shared experience of Black girls and women in school/academic environment connect to slave legacies of misogynoir and one’s proximity to carceral captivity? If so, how?” and “What would/could it look like to transform schools into spaces that focus on reparative justice and healing for centuries long practices of violence against Black women and girls?”

Tucker’s findings ultimately revealed that Black females who have incarcerated family members end up facing alienation, whether it be because of mental health stigma, adultification, and/or being labeled an ‘angry Black woman.’ As a result, Black females become isolated and learn how to repress their reactions to trauma. 

The second half of her presentation explored imagining reparations. Some of these imaginings of reparations were the placing of cultural and trauma-informed counselors in schools, providing educational programming on incarceration and its impact on children, destigmatizing incarceration and uplifting empathy, and adding more Black educators as mentors and support systems for Black females.

Moving forward, Tucker remarked that she is now working more on her formal thesis research. One of the areas she hopes to delve into more is the addition of sexual education and trauma-informed counseling in schools. She also hopes to bring her research to Black girls in Chester so that they can take the resources and knowledge they gain back to their own schools. 

When asked about her favorite part of her research process, Tucker was quick to name the interviews, which she referred to as “very special and very impactful,” and an opportunity to listen and learn from others while also serving as a sounding board. 

Tucker ended her presentation with a quotation by Janet Mock: “I believe that telling our stories first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community.”

In an email to Voices, Tucker shared some tips for other students looking to do research. “I encourage any student who is interested in doing research to go for it, and to find a professor who will serve as a mentor for that project. However, it's also really important that if you are doing research in a community to make sure that you have community partners, and that you do not enter a community planning to solve their problems.”

Ekweonu followed with his presentation, titled “Hip-Hop InFluence: The Fluency of Hip Hop as it Communicates Knowledge within a Black, Urban Epistemology.”

He explained that he decided to look at Hip Hop because of its rich historical significance in the Black community, and the ways that it has been used to communicate knowledge. He also described how the Black community informs and is informed by the evolution of Hip Hop. In addition, he remarked that Hip Hop is a performance of history, and that performance is a way of doing and a way of being. 

Ekweonu stated his thesis: Hip Hop communicates knowledge. It exists within Black, urban epistemology, and through sound engages with Diasporic traditions and a Black way of knowing.

Ekweonu then shared three themes he found in his research: ancestor worship and veneration, time travel and nonlinear time, and the symbol of the vinyl in Hip Hop as it relates to the Cosmogram in the Congo.

He observed the theme of ancestor worship and veneration in Hip Hop through studying the samples of producers and DJs as well as through traditions of MCing, and played a snippet of Rapsody’s Nina as an example. He found time travel and nonlinear time to be evident in the manipulation of samples in Hip Hop, which reveal that music itself can be a vehicle for time travel. The song Ekweonu picked as an example of time travel and nonlinear time was Common-Time Travelin’ (A Tribute to Fela) (prod. by J Dilla). The song was picked for its literal association to time traveling, as seen in its title, but also its direct references to Fela, a past figure. Before delving into his study of the vinyl in relation to the cosmogram, Ekweonu first gave a brief description of a cosmogram, which connects the living and the dead and is 2-dimensionally represented as a circle with a cross in the middle, and 3-dimensionally represented as a spiral. Ekweonu then pointed out the similarities to a vinyl, which is in the shape of a circle and the needle of a record player moves across it in a spiral. Ekweonu found this theme predominantly embedded in DJs who actively bring the cosmogram and vinyl in conversation together by evoking the spirits of those who are dead and challenging our perceptions of time. 

Next, Ekweonu treated attendees to his sampling of Sibongile Khumalo’s The Untold Story. As he played a portion of the sampling, he explained the different techniques he used to produce it: changing the pitch of the original song, chopping the song into pieces and manipulating them, and adding percussion.

When asked about how his research project impacted him, he pointed to his reading of literature connected to his project as one of the biggest impacts. He remarked that it changed how he approaches producing music and caused him to pay more attention to producers. In addition, Ekweonu remarked that he gained a deeper appreciation for Hip Hop scholarship.

These presentations provided greater insight into social and cultural aspects that often go overlooked. In addition, they provided scholarship from a Black lens which is often lacking in academia. Overall, the presentations were not only informative, but were also a celebration of Black excellence at Swarthmore.

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