“Sometimes the fantasy of today is tomorrow’s reality.” John Henrik Clarke, Notes for An African World Revolution

1980 Kwanzaa celebration at UVA

On the shelf above my computer sits what I frequently refer to as my “TU Collection,” critical texts in Africana studies that profoundly shaped my intellectual development as an undergraduate living, learning, and growing in North Philadelphia. These texts include but are noted limited to Chancellor Williams’ The Destruction of Black Civilization, Cheikh Anta Diop’s The African Origin of Civilization, and Molefi Asante’s The Afrocentric Idea.  Truth be told, their proximity to my workspace has less to do with their connection to my current research—though I do consult them when teaching my students about the complex histories of and myriad theories within Africana Studies—and more to do with my increasing need to feel connected to the community of students, teachers, elders, community folk, and ancestral spirits who introduced me to and shaped my connection with Africana/Black Studies.  One of the more rewarding aspects of this “Black Fire” project has been the opportunity to compare and contrast my own student experiences with those of African Americans at the University of Virginia during the mid-90s.  Of particular interest for me was the deep interest in Afrocentricity among black students at UVA, particularly those affiliated with the Black Student Alliance (BSA).

Since its inception in 1969, the BSA has been at the forefront in exposing the UVA community and the city of Charlottesville to the intellectual depth and theoretical diversity of Black Studies.  If you peruse the BSA’s administrative files, you will discover that many of the organization’s leaders have exhibited great interest in and commitment to engaging some of the hot-button issues in the field.

For example, early in the spring semester of 1991, the BSA—with the assistance of OAAA Dean Rick Turner—convened a highly successful “Afrocentricity Workshop,” which featured an address by Molefi Kete Asante, who at the time chaired the African American Studies department at Temple University. As frequently documented, the 1990s witnessed some highly contentious debates surrounding the ascension of Afrocentricity, its inclusion in public school textbooks and curricula, and Asante’s intellectual spars with Diane Ravich and Arthur Schlesinger.   None of this escaped the notice of black collegians, who organized numerous conferences and reading groups to better understand the roots of these arguments, as well as defend the legitimacy of the Afrocentric paradigm. On cue, BSA leaders decided to sponsor a workshop on Afrocentricity in 1991.  “Our intent,” wrote BSA president, Tahnee Jackson, “is to explore the methods of infusing the contributions of Africans, and those of African descent into university level curricula. The workshop will focus on defining Afrocentricity and the extent to which it should be implemented into the educational systems. Our goal, after discussion the controversy surrounding the topic, is to determine the intrinsic value of an Afrocentricity education.” On March 30, 1991, the BSA’s Afrocentricity workshop opened with a lecture by Asante followed by additional panels on the best way to advance the Afrocentric agenda within and beyond the classroom. Here’s a video of Asante’s address, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The VHS copy of this lecture is located in the Office of African American Affairs , which has an impressive collection of video related to African American Studies.  Special thanks to Roxanne Campbell for converting the file.