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Howard Professor Calls Upon the Community to Discuss Black Studies

(Pictured left to right) Austin Anderson, K. Rene Odanga, Sarah Jenkins, Cecily Duffie, and Joshua Myers begin setting up for the event. Photo by Eliana Lewis.

When Joshua Myers attended Howard University as a student in the School of Business, he found a community for himself as a member of the Kwame Ture Society for Africana Studies (KTS). Thirteen years later, Myers is now an associate professor of Africana Studies in the Afro-American Studies department at Howard teaching alongside his former professors and continuing to carry on the legacy of KTS.

Myers released his latest book, “Of Black Study, Jan. 20. He celebrated the release with a two-part book launch sponsored by local bookstore Sankofa: Video, Books & Cafe

Part one of the launch took place in the Undergraduate Library on Jan. 19 and was hosted in partnership with KTS, a student organization that seeks to create spaces focused on “African memory and intellectual thought,” and the department of Afro-American Studies. The second launch took place and was live-streamed at Sankofa on Jan. 21.

Originally, Myers hoped the event would take place in Founders, the preferred meeting location for KTS when Myers was a student. However, the event was moved to the Multipurpose Room in UGL. Guests were also treated to dinner provided by food services company Sodexo.

Myers and the panelists engage in discussion with the audience. Photo by Eliana Lewis.

Rather than have a book launch with the author as the central figure, Myers instead chose four graduate and Ph.D. students to give their thoughts on “Of Black Studyduring a panel discussion moderated by Howard alum and American University professor Natalie Hopkinson.

Howard English Ph.D. student Austin Anderson was the first to give his opinion of the book, focusing on Myers’ critique of academic institutions in its attempt to regulate radical scholars. 

“The overwhelming whiteness of it all is staggering…it affects all,” Anderson said. He then called attention to the conflict between Black scholars and universities, noting how many scholars feel they must “leave our radical views at the door in hopes of getting tenure” or face being punished by their universities for views that were deemed “too radical,” he said. 

For Iyelli Ichile, director of the African American Studies Institute at Prince George’s Community College, the historical conflict between radical scholars and universities causes uneasiness when thinking of how her own institution might respond to her radical politics.

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She explained, “There is a very proven track record of radical scholars, radical teachers who don’t fit neatly into a discipline, who teach from the perspective of African people, from marginalized people… who are [then] pushed out, who are marginalized, who are undervalued within these traditional African-American institutions.”

The conversation around the restrictions of academia led some to wonder how Myers found the energy to be persistent with his research. Myers explained that it was his belief in community that kept him going, stating “without community, there is no work.”

Myers captures the audience’s attention. Photo by Eliana Lewis.

In Myers’ case, the people in his community extend from his undergraduate Howard experience and have continued to be mentors to him throughout his career. 

A 2007 Study Abroad Course with Afro-American professor Greg Carr and Dean of the Graduate School Dana Williams exposed Myers to the work of Black scholars such as Cedric Robinson, who is known by some as one of “the father of Black Studies.” 

Carr expressed that it has been satisfying to see ideas and figures in that genealogy that we introduced Dr. Myers to during his time at Howard form the thrust for his work to date.”

Myers graduated from Howard University School of Business in 2009 with a degree in finance, though he chose to follow in the footsteps of Carr, who also acted as a KTS faculty advisor while Myers was a member, by attending Temple University for a master’s and doctorate in African-American Studies. 

Carr would later invite Myers back to the university to teach as an adjunct professor in the department of Afro-American Studies.

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Myers considers the opportunity to teach students at his alma mater “a prize.” 

“I get to teach Howard students,” he explained. “I get to be in the Howard community. I don’t know if I could do it without that connection.”

Myers chose to dedicate the book to KTS as it influenced him to join the field of Black Studies. Photo Courtesy of Dr. Joshua Myers.

Calling KTS the “incubator for thinking about the Black experience,” Myers dedicated “Of Black Study” to the past, present and future members of the society and is currently still involved with the organization on campus. 

Junior communications major Jy’Mir Starks from Crescent, South Carolina, credits Myers with introducing him and his friends to the organization. “KTS did nothing short of save me,” Starks said, noting that some might find the statement dramatic. “This is the class I assumed I would have here at Howard University,” he added. 

The current students of the Kwame Ture Society pose for a photo after their meeting at Sankofa. Photo Courtesy of Samuel Anthony.

Joseph Sturgeon III, a history major from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, echoed a similar thought saying, “I feel like coming to an HBCU like Howard, you expect there to be this liberatory energy emanating from the campus..but you don’t really get that energy from the campus – you get it from grittier spaces like KTS.”

Starks and Sturgeon, along with KTS members Solomon Brooks and Folly Kouevi represented the organization during the opening remarks.

Jy’Mir Starks, Solomon Brooks, Joseph Sturgeon III and Folly Kouevi represent KTS. Photo by Eliana Lewis.

According to Myers, Black Studies can best be understood as “invoking the notion that we’re educating ourselves to free ourselves from oppression.” Black Studies, sometimes called Africana Studies, was created during the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. It differs from the discipline of African Studies, a discipline that historically uplifts neo-colonialist ideals while deemphasizing African thought and knowledge. 

Both disciplines exist at Howard, however, the Afro-American Studies department is a product of the 1968 Howard student protest that demanded courses based on African-American history and culture.

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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