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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Black Migrations Report

6th Annual Midwest Black History Month Conference, February 27, 2009
Black Migrations: Movements in Context, Community, and Faith explores both historical and contemporary migrations of people of African descent. The conference also commemorated the legacy of Katherine Dunham. Mrs. Dunham was an anthropologist, activist and choreographer. Her innovative concepts allowed her to develop dance techniques combining African and Caribbean styles. Her passion, ingenuity and teachings molded both African American and modern dance.

BADC was invited to exhibit at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. The idea for the show was born through a meeting between David Kamm, Luther College gallery coordinator, Harlee Little and TH Gomillion at ArtDC in 2007. On Friday, March 26, 2009 it was my great fortune to attend the 6th Annual Midwest Black History Month Conference with Amber Robles-Gordon. Bundled against the cold, we set out for Decorah, Iowa. The first leg of travel, we were on separate flights, meeting up in Chicago. In Chicago, we had to board a small plane; according to Amber, “It was one of the smallest planes, I‘ve ever seen”. So much so that I had to duck down to get on board and couldn’t stand up inside. The flight was a little rocky because we were just ahead of a snow storm. In the previous weeks, Decorah had experienced temperatures of 30 degrees below freezing. We were quite surprised, yet very pleased, when we arrived in Rochester, Minnesota to find a rather spring-like day.

We were picked up by a Palestinian student named Ahmed who drove us to Luther College, about 60 miles away. The school is home to a fair number of international students. The forty-five minute drive probably took an hour due to the pouring down snow and sleet. Until that day, Amber had never seen snow and lighting at the same time. We were praying that we didn’t get snowed in. The Luther College campus is the size of a small town. It’s an undergraduate liberal arts program, with about 2,500 students and offering over 60 different majors. The campus sits on 175 acres with an additional 825 acres attached. We met David Kamm, gallery coordinator
( Sheila Radford-Hill, head of the Diversity department and author of Further to Fly: Black Women & the Politics of Empowerment (

After lunch, provided by Luther College, we returned to our rooms at the Speratti Guest House to relax a bit before attending the reception given in our honor. At the reception we met other faculty and students. We were treated to a one-woman play written and performed by student Julia Mann. The one-act play, Mixed Reality, explored being a person of mixed race. It was quite well done. She had mounted the show and has been touring locally. The young lady welcomed a critique and Amber and I gave her some positive feedback. Later that evening, Amber and I had dinner and a lively discussion in town with a faculty member. From the very beginning, we received a warm welcome.

The next day, after breakfast we attended the conference. The schedule is as follows:

9:15-10:20 a.m. Panel 1: Black Migrations Historical Roots

10:30-10:50 a.m. Center for Faith and Life, Speaker Robert J. Larson, Professor of Theatre

11:00-noon Black Artists of DC Panel and Gallery Tour Amber and I gave an overview of BADC, its goals, membership and philosophy. Then, we took the audience on a 40 minute tour of the BADC exhibit. We started with Harlee’s work because the show was dedicated in memory of him. All of our works were well received and you could feel the enthusiasm in the crowd. They did not need to be prompted to ask questions. We could have talked for another hour or more.

Although we both attended the conference sessions, Amber was invaluable in representing BADC while I had two interviews with a student who wanted to know more about Washington, DC during the Civil Rights struggles of the 60’s. Julie Berg-Raymond, of Tapestry Magazine, also wanted to know more about James Brown’s work; I gave her a private tour and related how the work was created. In preparing for the gallery tour, Amber and I had collected information from each artist and prepared presentations to better represent their work.

Noon-1:15 p.m. Conference Luncheon and presentations on the Art and Science of Movements. One of the presentations was given by Sheila Radford-Hill’s daughter.

1:15-1:30 p.m. Conference Break

1:30-2:20 p.m. Faith and the Migratory Experience

2:45-3:40 p.m. Black Migration Narratives (Plenary Lecture) by Farah Jasmine Griffin,
( Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies, Professor of English and Comparative Studies, Columbia University. Her presentation was in depth and informative. She delivered it as a poet or singer with emotion, rhythm and ease.

3:45-5:00 p.m. Dance Tribute — Luther College Dance Ensemble, Musical Tribute — Luther College Jazz Orchestra. The Dance Ensemble presented an original piece influenced by the Dunham dance technique and the jazz orchestra was one of the best I’ve ever heard.

The conference was well attended, thorough, informative and non-stop! There was a high level of involvement by faculty, students and attendees. The experience was delightful. We learned so much about the Decorah and Luther College community. The students were actively involved and the faculty were genuinely engaged and committed not only to this conference but to the success of the college and the idea of diversity. At the end of the conference we had a closing reception and could relax and talk to the conference participants. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Luther…just do it!

Tapestry Magazine (February Issue), Decorah, Iowa printed Audrey Brown’s piece, Ogun’s Choice, as its cover art. Julie Berg-Raymond, of Tapestry, had interviewed Stanley Squirewell and me. Our interviews and artworks (Carbon Anomaly and Promised Land, respectively) were printed in the magazine. They also printed artwork and bio information by Amber Robles-Gordon, Ascension and Gloria C. Kirk, Looking Out. James Brown’s piece, Transference Series #3 and my interview were also printed in the Decorah Journal.

Since returning to Washington, DC, I have received a request from Professor Peter Scholl who wants to use one of my pieces as cover art for Agora; a Luther literary magazine.

The BADC artists in the Black Migration exhibit were: Deidra Bell, Daniel T. Brooking, Audrey Brown, James Brown, Jr., Anne Bouie, T.H. Gomillion, Amber Robles-Gordon, Aziza Gibson-Hunter, Gloria C. Kirk, Harlee Little, Bruce McNeil, Stan Squirewell and Eugene R. Vango.

Submitted by:
Daniel T. Brooking
Amber Robles-Gordon

March 28, 2009

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