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Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture

Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture

Connected Cores

HK on J was a tremendous moment in time that we got to experience. The march was held in Raleigh and the air was filled with opportunity. We got the chance to speak out against a plethora of injustices and utilized it.  I was with the Duke NAACP and many other Duke students as we took to the streets with the NAACP banner and chanted out against marginalization of black bodies and the ways in which structures in NC and the US help devalue the lives of other oppressed peoples.

Then we were able to hear the many activists speak out against these injustices with a concluding speech given by the NC NAACP President Reverend William Barber. He spoke of the heart as being a core and related that to the fact that we have to use our hearts to have true compassion for the folks who experience these injustices and how the lack of that compassion was very dangerous in and of itself.  As we think about what this march really meant to us and what issues we could personally relate to, it is also important to realize why the people marching beside of us are marching as well. For as we think about our fight against injustice, if we forget about the reasons that others are oppressed in the process then the fight has meant nothing. 

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Black Popular Music - CLG workshop at IHouse

February is Black History Month. It was created to understand the history of African-Americans from the time they were displaced from their homeland, the hardships they faced and their ongoing struggle to make this land their home. Their resilience and rebellion found expression in the form of music. In celebration of Black History Month, IHouse offered a workshop last Thursday about “Black Popular Music from Spirituals to Hip-Hop”, hosted by Lisa Giragosian, with a presentation by Alec Greenwald, Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.

The origins of Black music can be traced from the historical context. When people were brought as slaves, they lost their identity and tried to keep their culture alive through music. Their musical traditions began as a form of communication - call and response and their artistic creativity came to the fore when they made musical instruments like the banjos and drums from gourds and hollow tree trunks/ animal skin. The theme of early Black music was mostly coded messages seeking freedom from slavery, conveyed through simple lyrics (“Follow the Drinking Gourd”).

Alec took us on a historical journey through various genres that evolved under the secular traditions of Black music – from the melancholy notes of the blues to the vibrant and energetic beats of hip-hop.

  • Game Song / Play Song: Created by children, involving distinctive imagery and complex dance steps
  • Work Song / Field Call: Lifted spirits, offered encouragement, coordinated the movements of workers
  • Rural Blues: Three phrases performed in simple harmonic foundation, expressing feelings of sadness
  • Boogie Woogie: Evolved in barrelhouses, railroad camps inspired by rhythmic clacking of steam locomotives
  • Urban Blues (Electric Blues): Amplified form of Rural blues that evolved in urban areas
  • Rock ‘N’ Roll: Filled with teenage sense of rebellion, independence, and an aggressive beat
  • Soul: Gospel influenced music with passionate vocalizing, powerful rhythms and honest lyrics appealing to the younger generation
  • Disco: Dance music (soul, Latin-soul, funk) played by mobile DJs in discotheques; recordings exceeded the standard three minute length to keep the dancers moving
  • Funk: Instrumental, vocal dance music based on jazz, blues, R&B, soul; the rhythm helped them dance
  • R&B: Dance music incorporating various styles like jazz, blues; encompassing all types of popular Black music other than hip-hop
  • Hip-hop: Original poetry based on range of experiences and world views sung in rhythm and rhyme; four essential elements are – DJ, rapper, dancer and graffiti artist

Just reading or talking about music may not be that interesting. But Alec kept it lively by playing some music (on the laptop), humming tunes and dancing a few steps. In order to fully appreciate and enjoy Black music, it is important to understand their history and culture. As Lisa nicely summed up, the presentation was not only about music but a combination of history, geography, anthropology, sociology, culture, dance etc.
 

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Live Jazz at the Mary Lou

Weekly Jazz Wednesdays add music to study sessions and coworker meetups

John Brown perched on a stool, his fingers flying across the thick strings of his bass. He closed his eyes as the drums, piano and trumpet conversed with each other, taking turns carrying the melody.

Across the room at Duke’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, students studied notes on laptops and visitors watched the jazz ensemble, bobbing their heads to the beat.  The tradition of “Jazz @ the Mary Lou” is 10 years old, and Brown, director of the Duke Jazz Program, brings different musicians to the center every Wednesday evening, from professional performers to up-and-coming high school students.

Read more.

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The Other

In 2008, Ghana hosted the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the most prestigious pan-African football (soccer) tournament. When the Ghanaian Black Stars defeated Nigerian Super Eagles in the semi-finals there was so much jubilation nationwide, you would have thought we won the whole AFCON or finally achieved Kwame Nkurmah’s dream of Pan-Africanism. Why the craziness? Because Ghana and Nigeria are archrivals and we beat them on home soil. I remember how my heart pumped as I watched Nigeria’s demise. We had defeated them.

The idea that Nigerians were ‘the other’ came so naturally to me as a child. They had distinct accents, different names etc. But are they really? I will skip my ‘our-borders-were-defined-by-cruel-colonial-masters-dividing-ethnic-groups-indiscriminately #agape #weareallonebigfamily’ rant and concisely conclude that we should care equally about all human beings. Why does it matter that I was innocently brought up to see Nigerians as ‘the other’? Because, the mentality that people are ‘the other’ is partly the reason why the recent killings in Nigerian have received no potent response from Ghana or any other country.

In the past few weeks, the horrors of the ongoing brutal killings in Nigeria have struck a vein in me. We all know about the instability that has long plagued the North and we all know that it is escalating. What are we doing about it? As my Nigerian friend Bamidele Rebecca Iyanuoluwapo put it, ‘The killing of innocent people and destruction of properties in Wukari, Taraba State is low-key. The killing of people everyday in Jos, Plateau State is low-key. The fact that ethnic genocides are going on in some parts on the North is low-key.’ She is right. There are pictures of the horrors in Nigeria floating around but where is the outrage from the UN, AU, ECOWAS and Ghana? Why is it ‘low-key’?

I present no solutions to the crisis in Nigeria, but I would like to share two quotes from past Ghanaian presidents that I think articulate the progress of pan-africanism from independence to the present day.

1.‘Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.’
-President Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana, on independence day in 1957.

2.‘Mind your own business’
- President Atta Mills, on post-election crisis in Cote Ivoire in 2011.

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50 Shades of Black: A Small Piece of My Black Experience

Throughout this piece, Black will be referring to all descendants of the African Diaspora, a definition I first heard given by Ms. Guinn. Maybe this dispersal (both forced and voluntary) can be seen as a means to understand the almost schizophrenic fluctuations of the definition of Blackness and the subsequent complexity of my people. It is a complexity that the majority of Black folks are unaware of. We seem to forget that the different shades of brown we wear are not the only variations amongst Black people, which can be seen in the ‘light-skinned’ vs. ‘dark-skinned’ feud that has followed us from the plantation. Each individual comes to define and reflect Blackness differently based on their experiences and environment. My arrival to Duke has caused me to look at my own reflection questioningly.

Back home, Blackness is characterized by grammatically incorrect sentences, dope boy dreams, athletic prowess, and ‘being about that life’, or at least that’s the way it seemed to me then. My story is like many walking the quads of Duke. I was called an Oreo, and when I spoke, I was told I ‘talked white’. Regardless, I continued to use Standard English, and I refused to take part in activities that made you ‘about that life’. My life may have been easier had I given in and went further to fit in, but I found myself taking pride in the fact that I didn’t. I looked down upon those who did. The story changed at Duke.

Duke was where I was supposed to fit in. Finally, there were Black people that understood that my culture was a reason to obtain excellence not debauchery. I was amongst some of the biggest and brightest Black minds in the country. Grades suddenly mattered to Black men, and Black females wore business jackets to class. The Mary Lou, which effectively acts as a community center, encouraged professionalism, class, and community rather than hoop dreams. Let’s not get it twisted. I am aware of the ‘ratchetivity’ that can take place; but somehow, it doesn’t come to define us. What transpired in response to these facts was shocking. My private speech got even more ‘ratchet’, and I yearned for the small talk conversations of the country. Suddenly, I realized that it needn’t be either or. I could be both a black scholar and be at home at home a) because it was my desired expression and b) because they function as different sides of the same dice, not opposite entities. It also dawned on me that my picture of home was not complete. Just because it is not Duke does not mean that each male is a thug and every female a breeding ground. I had to make my understanding more nuanced. In reaction to this, I have reached a few personal inferences.

I have come to the conclusion that my people needn’t be saved from themselves, as I had believed before Duke. Like we admonish students for going overseas with a savior’s complex, I had to chastise myself for thinking that my presence and education should somehow teach other people, my people how to live. In reality, my only job is to expand their options and learn from the experiences that are unfamiliar to me. I had to reconcile my ignorance to historic hip hop performers and the intense dependence that others had on their message and power with the shared understanding that you can’t walk around a store for hours and not buy anything when your skin looks like ours.  In other words, it’s about realizing that though some reflections of Blackness are a different shade from mine, they are still black.
After my own moment of fleeting enlightenment, I am curious. Do we accept and acknowledge the hues of Black culture being represented in the ‘hoods’ and ‘country bumpkin towns’ many of us are trying to break out of? More importantly, do we appreciate them? Should we? Or am I wrong? Are we all representative of one grand Black culture, because of our shared subordination? As Black Duke graduates, what shade of black will we be? It is my hope that, once we are out of this space, we will not forget to acknowledge each person’s shade of Black with understanding and openness, as we are equipped with the understanding that there are gradations, there is no one color.

Audience: 

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#Twitter

“The British are coming!” “I had a dream” “That's one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind” “Sharkeisha! Noooooooooooooooooooooo” “Go to hell Carolina, go to hell, eat…you know the rest”

What do all these phrases have in common? They are all under 140 characters, but are memorable messages of great importance (depending on who you are). Twitter is a website and application that gives its users the agency to declare a thought, feeling, opinion, fact, picture, and so much more, so long as it fits within the limit. Twitter is great for having your voice heard amongst those that find you interesting enough to follow, but does it encourage fellowship, or hinder it?

Every Thursday night at 10 o’clock hundreds of thousands of people gather on twitter in front of their TVs ready to retweet, favorite, or reply to the best tweets about Olitz and Mellie, or of how annoying Quinn is, Scandal’s biggest stars. There are also Duke basketball days or nights on which twitter timelines are filled with tweets about how bad UNC is and how Duke basketball can’t be touched (whether true or false). One of the biggest highlights for many of us avid tweeters in the Duke black community occurs at random times. These occasions include late nights doing homework, on snow days, or bored on a weekend night. We all gather together to form what is called #BlackDukeTwitter. Often times you won’t even see the hashtag, but all who call themselves a part of it know when the entity is at work. Topics of discussion in the past have included possible new SAT questions, the poor living conditions in some of Duke’s dorms as told by some of their residents, and gratitude towards Larry Moneta for our many snow days. #BlackDukeTwitter meets to discuss everything from Scandal, Duke basketball, and food point struggles to the LDOC lineup, micro aggressions on Duke’s campus, and the struggle bus.

While these vibrant discussions are the highlight of many students’ paper and problem set filled days at Duke, I found myself asking the following question during spring break: “Imagine if we got together and kicked it and joked around in real life like we do on Twitter when Scandal comes on “slash” there's a trending topic.” While I joke around often with my friends, I have never had the opportunity to joke around like I do on twitter with a population as big as the people I regularly interact with in real life. During an event for the Black Women’s Union, a large group of us were together, but we also had our heads in our phones and laptops waiting for the next funniest tweet. What happened to discussing current events together while hanging out without our phones and laptops in hand? I sometimes find myself talking more about how funny a trending topic was, then about the topic itself.

In the end, we are all extremely busy here at Duke, and I don’t think lightening your mood by scrolling through tweets is detrimental, in fact, I think everyone should have a twitter. I just encourage people to not forget their friends behind the twitter handles. Be a part of #BlackDukeTwitter, but don’t forget what it means to be Black at Duke.

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