The Welcome Table: Tiffany Willoughby-Herard
In this episode of “The Welcome Table,” literary journalism majors Sydney Charles and Tatum Larsen interview Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, associate professor of African American studies and equity advisor in the School of Humanities at UCI.
Sydney Charles (0:09–0:21): Hello everyone. Welcome back to another episode of “The Welcome Table.” Today we are joined by UCI Professor Willoughby-Herard, and she is an associate professor of African American Studies. Thank you so much for joining us, Tiffany.
Tiffany Willoughby-Herard (0:23–0:27): Oh, so happy to be here. Really glad you guys are doing this.
Tatum Larsen (0:29–1:24): Yeah, before we get started with the interview, we usually do a little show and tell to get the audience warmed up and just so they can get us get to know us a little better. So we’ll go first. This week, it’s my turn. I brought a pair of my mom’s old glasses. She used to wear these while she was teaching. She was actually a college professor as well. One of my favorite outfits that she would wear was her teaching outfit. So she would put on these glasses, she would have her hair all done, and then she would put on her nice little pinstripe suit. I just thought that she looked so beautiful whenever she wore that outfit. I don’t know. Whenever I saw her, I thought she looked so powerful, like I thought, “Wow, you look like Xena, the warrior princess. Like, oh my goodness” Whenever I saw her in that, I was like, “I want to be like you.” And that still holds true today. So that’s what I brought this week. What did you bring?
Willoughby-Herard (1:25–1:30): I just want to ask you one hundred questions about your mom.
Larsen (1:30–1:32): Of course yeah, shoot.
Willoughby-Herard (1:34–1:45): With her power suit and how much you admired her. That’s super beautiful. I brought a poem. I’m a poet and so I’m going to read my poem. Is that ok?
Larsen (1:45–1:46): Ok, awesome.
Charles (1:46–1:47): Yes.
Willoughby-Herard (1:46–1:58): It’s called “School News. Mrs. Dorothy Mulkey versus the Pervert’s in Blue or Stop Calling the Police.” That’s the title of it.
Larsen (1:58–1:59): I love that.
Charles (1:59–2:02): Yes, that’s good. I’m already intrigued.
Willoughby-Herard (2:03–4:10): If only I were as brave as Mrs. Mulkey, who fought her neighbors and her city and the state of California and the Supreme Court to stay. To not be evicted, to not be displaced. If only I were brave enough to ask the friendly young officers why they were talking to my 10-year-old skateboarding child on his own block. I might ask, why do you drive on my street? Why do you cruise and lurk? Who can I call and tell and scream out to? Where is the list of state employed predators, because I want to register something on a Web database. The men in blue have come to watch my child grow up, to stunt the life I’m trying to cultivate. Forcing me to be terrified and curtailing the movements of this reborn passport carrying new African here. Here are the lessons of fugitivity and marinas. Here are the lessons of campus climate and school boards and no place to hide, no refuge, no protection. Just out here. Exposed, available to be seen skateboarding on your own block. I feel so very profoundly watched. If only I could ask Mrs. Mulkey’s spirit to gather me up and teach me to organize my neighbors because I know this. Somebody called the perverts in blue. So you gather and lurk and watch under the watchful eyes of my neighbors. The police came to troll on our block and pour out their leering, hateful, titillation seeking offensive eyes all over my son’s bodies, sweat dripping down from helmet’s kickflips and alleys. And, “Momma, I got something to show you.” They came into my house, my Irvine raised children agree that these were friendly young officers until they aren’t anymore.
Larsen (4:14–4:16): Dang, that was amazing.
Charles (4:16–4:17): That was amazing.
Larsen (4:18–4:19): We’re like, “Wow.”
Charles (4:20–4:23): I don’t even know what to say. When did you write that?
Willoughby-Herard (4:23–4:25): In 2018.
Charles (4:26–4:50): In 2018. Wow. Everything that you wrote down really holds true today. So thank you so much for sharing that with us, with our audience, and yes, thank you so much. And that gets me even more amped to start asking you some questions. We wanted to first begin with with what inspired you to begin your teaching career?
Willoughby-Herard (4:51–9:00): So, I have these wonderful, wonderful people who I love, who made me want to become a professor and made me want to teach. So some of them are like people from way back in history. So there’s this cat called Monroe Trotter, and he was a civil rights activist. And Monroe Trotter was one of the founders of public education in the United States for people, any people, like any people. This dude was out there advocating that schools shouldn’t just be like little private schools run by churches and Sunday schools, so he’s somebody that comes to mind. But Monroe Trotter is also really exciting because he wanted to go to the treaty meeting that was happening at the end of World War One. He knew as a black person like even W.E.B. Dubois was being denied a passport and a visa by the State Department because they didn’t want any Black people to go there and say, “They’re lynching us. There’s segregation happening.” They didn’t want any of that. So, he hired himself on as somebody working on a ship. That’s how he got to the meeting. Like, he basically went undercover so he could be there at the Paris Versailles Treaty meeting that was going to end World War One because he was like someone needed to be there to speak up for Black people all over the world. So, it was something really inspiring to me about that kind of person who is smart enough to realize I might have to go undercover because we actually are in a battle and there’s people who don’t want us to be alive. And sometimes you gotta use the spooky set by the door, kind of Sam Greene kind of response. Sometimes you have to be guarding your peace and preparing for war. So he’s really inspiring.
I’m also really inspired by this guy, Kassahun Checole. Kassahun Checole is the founder of Africa World Press. So you probably have heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates, right? Ta-Nehisi Coates published all of these books, he is a really famous journalist, he writes a lot, he’s really well regarded. He was raised in the house by somebody like Kassahun Checole . He was raised up by a dad who back in the ’60s and ’70s decided I’m going to start a publishing company and republish all the great books of black writers from hundreds of years ago, Black Classic Press. Kassahun Charcoal in New Jersey, he’s an East African immigrant who came to the US in the ’60s with like nothing in his pocket and he said there’s all of these books that are out of print that I want to make sure can be taught on the African continent to school kids, to teachers, to researchers. I got a chance to go and meet him. Several years ago, I was at a conference on the East Coast. I said, “Kassahun, can I come and talk to you?” I knew Africa World Press mostly from catalogs that came from buying their books. But I went to this downtown Newark spot and it was this massive warehouse and it was just bigger than our campus; wall to wall with books he had published, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of books that he had published over the years. He said this thing to me, talk about being inspired. He said to me, “Tiffany, we’ve always been in the Black. We’ve never been broke, not one year.” He said, “I started out selling my books at mosques, at Sunday school and at after-school programs. People say that Black people don’t read and reading is not important in our cultural life.” And he’s like, “Never one day our company has never been in danger of failing.” He said, “The majority of books that we sell, we sell on the African continent and in the Caribbean and Europe.”
Larsen (9:00–9:01): Oh, wow.
Willoughby-Herard (9:02–9:22): It was so, so deep. So I’ve got people like that in my life who are like me. They’re book people. They’re writing people. They’re sneaky people, who know how to win. That’s why they inspired me.
Larsen (9:22–9:23): That’s amazing.
Charles (9:23–9:27): Thank you for sharing that. It gives us a little insight into you.
Larsen (9:27–9:32): That’s amazing that you have that connection to. I’m actually reading The Water Dancer right now.
Willoughby-Herard (9:32–9:36): See, see, see?
Larsen (9:37–10:07): So, that’s so cool. We’re very interested in all of your research and obviously you’re talking about what inspired your teaching career. We were wondering, what was the moment that you got really interested in some of your most prevalent research topics like diaspora and feminist pedagogy? When was the moment where you decided that those were the subjects that you’d really like to go deeper into?
Willoughby-Herard (10:09–12:37): Thank you so much for that question. So I was raised by activists. On my mother’s side, they were housing activists who are responsible for people being able to integrate public housing in Long Island, New York, after decades of sustained protest. My mom used to tell these stories about how before they won, like the Black people who lived in Long Island lived in shacks. I mean, they just lived in terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible housing. So, that was on my mother’s side.
On my father’s side, they were third-world leftists. My stepfather left Haiti, where he was from, to escape the Duvalier regime. They were doing things to activists like my stepfather like putting them in coffins for two weeks at a time to try to just kill and just torture and frighten people. So, he left and was able to escape Haiti and his whole family came with him and then he moved to France and was able to pursue his education at the Sorbonne, so I am not a first generation student.
I went to my mother’s undergraduate graduation because I was in third grade. Like, I took the picture of her walking across the stage. So, some of the things that shaped my experience and the kind of work that I do has to do with being raised by activists and actually watching them. How the process of struggle, trying to become educated themselves. I didn’t come to it like by accident, I didn’t fall into it, I didn’t get recruited into it at college. My family struggled for education. They believed in education. They thought education was really important and they were not willing to have the whiteness and the white supremacy of higher education stop them from getting what they needed because their idea was always, “We’re fighting because we are trying to change conditions for our people.” I mean, that’s why I do what I do.
Charles (12:37–12:40): Right, it’s carried down through the family.
Willoughby-Herard (12:40–12:55): I get it, that’s not everybody’s experience, there’s no way we weren’t going to school, there’s no way that we weren’t going to be scholarly people, there just there wasn’t any way.
Larsen (12:57–13:02): Sometimes, it’s just written in the stars. You’ve got to go forward with it. That’s amazing.
Charles (13:03–13:28): That is so amazing to hear about your research and then to hear about your life’s work. Where that comes from is super powerful. Going into your work, your most recent novel, we wanted to talk about sort of the inspiration for the Waste of a White Skin. The inspiration for it, what moment stood out to you in the creative process and yeah, we wanted to hear a little bit about that.
Willoughby-Herard (13:29–16:29): So Waste of White Skin is a study about the Carnegie Foundation and their support for apartheid in South Africa. You will hear the Carnegie as an underwriter on National Public Radio all the time. Their tag line is something about supporting democracy and peace and freedom. Not always, right? In the earlier part of their history and some people would argue even now, they have their hands all in supporting the suppression and repression of Black people all over the planet.
So, in the 1920s, the Carnegie Corporation was conducting research and supporting researchers really all over the world, but particularly on the African continent, because their idea was, if you want to have a society that has different races in it, you have to segregate them. You have to separate them from each other. You have to have them be in different work categories. One of the Carnegie projects that they funded, you got to imagine somebody wrote a proposal for this and then mailed it in to the Carnegie Foundation and got money for this. There was a group of sisters in Malawi in the 1930s and they thought that they were going to get the opportunity to go to school so that they could enter the professions. But the Carnegie School, the only thing they were funding were domestic education, like learning how to be a proper domestic worker. That’s the kind of stuff that Carnegie funded.
Well so, the study in South Africa that I was looking at found they funded the “Poor Whites Study” and in it the Carnegie Corporation had been funding research on these people that they they called “waste of white skin.” They were people who were poor and they were white and the Carnegie Corporation, all the way, all the way over here, was like if there’s poor white people, we won’t be able to establish and really maintain white power in Southern Africa. So, I read that study. I found it in the archives and I had nightmares for weeks. I had nightmares because so much of the language about poor whites and the questions about them reminded me of the really brutalizing words that policymakers had used during my childhood and teens about poverty in Black communities around the United States. So questions like that were in the study, and these were like actual research questions. People got paid to ask these research questions. Are these people poor because they are lazy? Isn’t there something defective about their culture or defective about their biology that has led them to experience poverty? Just like zero empathy.
Larsen (16:30–16:31): Wow, that’s awful.
Willoughby-Herard (16:32–18:16): No, I mean, it’s like it was pretty devastating. The nightmares in some ways saved me because they enabled me to reconcile with having grown up with poverty that was not at all abstract, but was based on very specific experiences, like having shoes that were too thin and getting near frostbite. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and winters there are serious even with climate change, winter there is like nobody’s business. It’s like snowing like this, this for real. My mother, every winter would burn her legs carrying pots of hot water upstairs to try to heat a bath for us. I knew she wasn’t like a lazy person or defective culturally or biologically because I had been at her graduation. I knew that she had earned her degree. I knew that my father had earned his degree. I knew that they were working people. So the myth and the contradiction of the way we were framed as Detroiters as less than, as not as valuable. That’s the kind of stuff that I was trying to work through and work out in that project. It’s kind of like very public attempts that I took very, very personally because the kids at school would talk about us as being from Detroit, as if we were not human.
Larsen (18:18–19:01): Wow, that’s such an important story and so close to home, too. How do you go about writing about issues of race and poverty and just topics all across the board when they hit so close to home? Is there an inner struggle that happens when you do that? Do you have any advice for other authors and journalists who want to go into their communities to study these things, since obviously we know when people who experience things first-hand, the information that comes out of that usually is more accurate? But it’s also painful for the person doing that. How do you go about doing that in your own experience?
Willoughby-Herard (19:03–19:42): So a couple of years ago, my friend at UCLA, Michiana Goldman and I were part of a creative writing project. I had been on sabbatical in South Africa and I was reading the newspapers here online. And there were these like fire tornados that were happening and I was like, “What the hell is happening in the United States? California is burning. What is going on?” They would interview the president and the president would say totally moronic stuff like, “If they would just sweep under the trees.”
Larsen (19:42–19:44): I remember that
Willoughby-Herard (19:45–22:20): That was mind boggling. So while I was still there, I started planning with some environmental activists that I knew here for a creative writing seminar. Michiana and I were two of the people who organized along with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a bunch of other faculty members and graduate students who are now faculty members. But we organized this workshop because I knew all these people who wrote about science. They wrote about like, about toxic water in the Mohawk land in upstate New York, they wrote about the impact of pesticides for gardeners here in Orange County. What we wanted to do was to practice creative writing. Like, what would happen if we took our science and instead of writing journal articles, we practice writing testimonials and poems and children’s stories and fiction?
So in that writing seminar one day, Michiana said to me, “Tiffany, your first language is not English, it’s actually writing.” It was one of the truest things that anybody had ever said to me before and it was right. Writing, whether it was writing letters or writing a poem or writing some creative nonfiction like a book for me, is really where I find my voice. Even though in graduate school, there was all this push back against women of color and Black women and Native women writing about their own experiences and lives. They used to tell us, that’s self-indulgent or that’s “me” search. That’s not research; that’s “me” search.” Even though I worried about being labeled by that, I had to write. It was how I could express my ideas, I had to use writing to communicate and to make meaning of how my life fit into the larger history and politics of everybody in the world. I also grew up in a house that was multilingual. So, my step father was speaking Haitian Creole and my mom was speaking the King’s English and also Black vernacular English. There were people coming through our family, through our household from all different parts of the world. And so I learned to love accents. I love to hear the way that people say things.
Larsen (22:23–22:37): Every Black creator goes through serious struggles that need to be talked about and they don’t always have to be written in the form of a research paper. I think some of the healthiest things to get things out is to do it through art. That’s what you do, that’s what Sydney does. And yeah, I think it’s important work to be done.
Larsen (22:38–22:50): We wanted to talk about, you already mentioned it, you took the question, about your new role as Program Equity Advisor. What does that role entail and why is it so important that you have this position at UCI?
Willoughby-Herard (22:50–27:00): The Equity Advisor has two different genealogies or lineages on this campus. One comes through a National Science Foundation grant for the advanced program, which was trying to expand gender equity and make sure that women earning Ph.D.s were not deprived of the opportunities to study and research and have tenure track jobs and get tenured. The second genealogy, and I say this with all sincerity, comes out of the heart of the Vice Chancellor Doug Haynes. I wasn’t here when he came here because he hired me, but he just had a heart for transforming this place and making sure that there were faculty members who actually give a damn about Black people. He had to fight for that, and he’s built this incredible infrastructure really that has to figure out how to respond to the false constraints and limitations that were put in place when Proposition 209 was passed. Because, basically what Proposition 209 did was it said Black people trying to study is a problem. We don’t want to hear from these Black people in the humanities and the social sciences and the arts. We want to shut them down. We don’t want Blackx people to be taking these Chicano studies classes or taking these courses that teach them about their family history from El Salvador. We don’t want them to be able to do that, so everybody after Proposition 209 passed, they said, “Everybody go into STEM, go into sciences” and the thing about the STEM fields is that the majority of jobs are not in higher education.
So, even if every single underrepresented minority student graduates with a STEM degree, they’re going to go work for Clorox or in Silicon Valley. They’re not going to stay on campus. So in 2070, the professoriate is going to look exactly like it looks right now. You could have an entire class that could be all Latino and all Pacific Islander and the professoriate will look the same because they weren’t actually saying we need people to stay and do the battle here in higher ed. The folks who do that are in humanities, are in the social sciences, are in the arts. That’s why proposition 209 was so damaging. So what VC Haynes did was set up programs, programs, programs, programs. If the law is written like this. What can we do to still figure out how to create pathways that recruit people who will finish their training and stay in higher education? So, that when you go into your classes, your professors at least a little bit, have more experiences or commitment to students who are the actual student body of the state of California. So he prodded, he poked, begged. You know, I’m sure he probably had to threaten some people along the way. Then, I mean, more recently, there’s people like Judy Wu and Crystal Tribbett and Thuy Vo Dang and Tyrus Miller and S. Ama Wray and Jenny Fan and Bill Maurer and Castellucci and Lisa Cornish, who retired some years ago. And, they just were badasses. They said, “We will actually listen to students of color. We will actually create programs that honor their experiences and we will teach them.” And I’m just down to be in the struggle around that. I’m really serious about making sure that people don’t get denied the opportunity to study what they came here to study.
Charles (27:00–27:26): Right. That’s amazing, and that is so powerful and some of our previous episodes of “The Welcome Table,” we have discussed the power of a Black mentor and the power of a Black educator, and this realm of study, like in terms of students and when you come to college, sometimes that’s when have your first Black professor. Like seriously. For Tatum and I, that was the case, right?
Larsen (27:27–27:31): I have my first Black professor this quarter actually, John Murillo.
Willoughby-Herard (27:31–27:32): And you’re a senior?
Larsen (27:33–27:34): I’m a senior.
Willoughby-Herard (27:34–27:36): That’s a damn shame.
Larsen (27:37–28:30): It is a damn shame, exactly right? Exactly. So even having this show and being able to talk to Black educators and to be able to be actually empathized with is so powerful as a student, so that’s why your role is extremely important, especially for creating space like we were talking about in this interview for Black students and for Black creatives. That’s incredibly important because if we’re just another cog in the machine, then we’re not really getting anything done. But, having people within the humanities who come from these experiences and are able to inform these issues that we’ve been talking about is extremely important and that’s being fought agaisnt for a very transparent reason. So thank you for your role. I think it’s very important. It’s just encouraging to talk to you.
Charles (28:31–28:53): Yes. It is very encouraging to talk to you and to hear someone actually say, “I see you.” It’s hard to go from that, but going from that, we want to ask, what are some of the ways that you’re able to create space for your students through your work and your new role? Like examples, I suppose, for like maybe an incoming Black student?
Willoughby-Herard (28:54–29:31): Ok, so there’s a program, I told you before I do this work with the medical school. It’s called Lead-A.B.C. And echoes a program called Prime LC. So, Lead-A.B.C. is the National Institutes of Health funded pathways program to increase the numbers of Black students in the medical school because for its entire history, they’d never have more than two Black students in any cohort for its entire history. So you have thousands of people being trained and they could only identify two Black students.
Charles (29:32–29:34): Crazy.
Willoughby-Herard (29:34–35:05): I know, it’s ridiculous. So Lead “A.B.C” is Lead African, Black, Caribbean and Prime L.C is Prime Latino Communities. So, Prime L.C. has been going along for a long time. They were trying to increase the numbers of doctors who both were interested in dealing with, like as a career. Like imagine being yourself right now, I’m applying to medical school and in my application I say, “I am willing and interested in learning about the public health disparities that are faced specifically by Latino communities and I want to be trained in that in medical school because I’m going to go work in a community where people really…I’m going to go work in Fresno. I’m going to go work in Vallejo.” So, the students who come and leave A.B.C. to make that commitment and lo and behold, when you allow students to self-identify and say, “Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I’m from the Caribbean. Yes, I’m African; my parents are from Nigeria.” When you allow them to say that in their application, our numbers went up. So all of a sudden, this cohort has a dozen people, some of whom are of African descent and some of whom are not, but who have made a lifelong commitment with their training to work in communities and make sure to deal with the public health disparities that are killing people of African descent.
One of the things we did is we organized an orientation training for the Lead A.B.C. cohort and some of their faculty. We brought African-American studies faculty from humanities and then we have a really good ally in Professor Michelle Goodwin at the law school. We did a daylong orientation where we talked about the history of medical plantations, right? We talked about some stuff that folks in humanities this is like totally easy for y’all. We talk about this all the time. It’s like in our classes we talk about this, right? We talked about the history of all of these medical colleges across the U.S. South and that all of their anatomy training was done by excavating Black bodies like stolen Black bodies from burial grounds. We talked about the implications of what it means to have that history and what you have to do to navigate that as a Black M.D. So we do programs like that.
There’s a training that we’ve developed with an outside company that’s like a live-theater, interactive training that’s specifically about what happens to Black undergraduate students when they bring up the Black Lives Matter protests in class. Everybody kind of deflects and pretends like it’s not part of the subject, even if they’re in a class that’s on social inequality and injustice. So we have developed this training and I’m working with professors in composition and academic English and Hum Core to offer that training in courses like this academic year, this academic year. So those are some of the kinds of things we’re doing. So the philosophy department, S. Ama Wray founded a research center, an institute called campus AICRE, it is the African Institute for Creativity, Recognition and Elevation. She and I, I’m on the board for her research institute, and she and I were sitting down and I said, “Well, what should we do for this year?,” and she says, “Tiffany, we have to work with the philosophy department.” I reached out to Annalisa Coliva, who’s the chair, and she said, “Yeah, we have a really hard time in this department talking about Blackness and about African philosophy in our curriculum. We don’t do that. We don’t know how to do it. We don’t know how to hire people well. Well, we know we don’t address these issues at all.”
So I said, “Before you get in the business of trying to hire a bunch of people, what if I bring to you the head of the Pan African Philosophy Association of the Nordic States?” This brother has done all the research on all Black people in Norway and Sweden, all them folks. What if I bring to you the black woman who founded The Collegium of Black Woman Philosophers? What if I bring to you the brother who founded the organization of Azanian Philosophers, that’s the Southern African Philosophy Organization. So people of that caliber are going to be giving lectures to the faculty, lecturers, and the graduate students in that department because we want to train them so that they have a different kind of vocabulary, so they can themselves say, “You know what, I learned something in this lecture. I think I can probably help with a hire. We are looking for a professor of Africana philosophy that does such and such.” But I wanted to make sure that the colleagues had information because I don’t want to recruit people to campus that are treated in ways that are actionable. I want them to be able to hire people that they know how to evaluate because somebody else has taught them what the work is about and its relevance, so that’s the kind of work we’re doing.
Larsen (35:06–35:19): That’s huge. It definitely goes beyond performative activism. What you’re doing is real, it’s tangible. It’s not just like putting a diversity sticker on something that’s so toxic from the inside.
Charles (35:19–35:22): It’s truly an internal process.
Willoughby-Herard (35:22–35:40): You’ve got to clean up the inside. Yeah, you’ve got to deal with the problems happening here. We’ve got to deal with the problems here. And then we got to compel each other to do something different when it comes to who we expect to be on the campus.
Charles (35:42–36:05): Our final question will be, what are your personal hopes for the future? I know that question is very large, but it doesn’t have to be just your professional career. It can just be maybe the future for UC Irvine, the future of African American curriculum or just yes. Just tell us what are your hopes?
Willoughby-Herard (36:06–41:33): OK, so in terms of the future of African American curriculum, for a really long time in African American studies people had switched their focus. I’m talking about faculty members at PWI institutions, not faculty members at HBCUs and campuses on the East Coast, but perhaps it’s because of the context of Proposition 209 or the kind of very anti-Black multiculturalism that’s so predominant out here in California. But the faculty really wanted to focus only on their research and not on activism or community-based research or community engagement. They were very hesitant about doing that because it’s hard to get tenure if you’re also doing community-based research and your colleagues think that’s not important.
It’s hard to get full professor, if your audience is podcasts and Black Twitter. And so people were really dis-incentivized and even punished professionally for doing work that is the reason why we came here in the first place, to create what would be the intellectual arm of the revolution. That’s really why most, what most of us are motivated by.
And so you have to make these really hard decisions to do that work anyway, even if you know, your white colleagues look at you or put their nose up or your Black colleagues are like, that’s not a book. That’s not important scholarship. Right? So, I guess one of the things that’s been a welcome thing that I can imagine being developed more is many more many more young Black scholars are coming to the professoriate who are both excellent in terms of their writing and research and publishing books but they’re also incredible activists and they also do community-based, community- engaged, community-led and community-centered research. And that has been really beautiful to behold.
So, when I think about the future of African-American studies, I think about my colleagues who come out of ethnic studies at San Diego, where the scholarship is excellent, it’s extraordinary, and their work is really grounded in community-led practice and community-engaged research. The other thing that I’m doing is looking forward to a project that I’ve been part of for the past 15 years. When I first got my first tenure track down some years ago, one of my uncles reached out to me and said, “I’ve been holding this land that is the land that your grandparents lived on and it’s the land that my grandmother was raised on and her parents in Honea Path, South Carolina. Land that has been in our family since like the 1910s.” And so each year when I would get my tax refund, I would put a little bit of money towards improving the land. So I’m building a place like the Highlander Center in Honea Path, South Carolina, where my family is from. The Highlander Center was a historical organizing and training center for activists. So, people like Septima Clark, who’s known as Freedom’s teacher, taught movement people there, right? Dr. King was taught about organizing at the Highlander Center.
So because I come from a movement people and because I was raised and like literally fed by people who were exiles from South Africa, because I was a hungry child. It’s literally my duty to fight for my freedom. It’s my duty to win. I must love and support all beings and I have nothing to lose but my chains as the miraculous Assata Shakkar taught all of us. So, in my future, there’s more spaces for us to do the work of organizing because make no mistake, our two options of being young Black girls who one day can become like Kamala Harris or one day can become like Amy Coney Barret, those are not the only options we have. Those are not our only options as incredibly competent and brilliant and accomplished as those two individuals are. There’s a whole world of other options that we have to know about and take up, right? And you all are doing that, Sydney and Tatum, right now. You’re creating other options for us. So in my future, people like you are in positions like the Supreme Court and running for the presidency and the vice presidency because I believe in your hands.
Larsen (41:33–43:35): Wow, I’m like so flattered.
Charles (43:35-41:38): Thank you so much.
Willoughby-Herard (41:38–41:41): It’s not flattery, it’s not flattery. There’s work to do, girl.
Larsen (41:46–41:47): Thank you so much for that.
Charles (41:47–41:54): And for this conversation. It was very, very enlightening. I enjoyed this very much.
Larsen (41:54–41:59): Yeah, it was amazing. Thank you for all the knowledge you shared and for what you do.
Willoughby-Herard (41:59-42:02): Thank you. Bye!
Larsen (42:07–42:20): Thank you so much for watching this episode of “The Welcome Table” and a special thank you to Tiffany. We enjoyed that conversation so much. We will catch you guys next week for our next episode but in the meantime, this has been Tatum.
Charles (42:21–42:22): And Sydney.
Larsen (42:22-42:24): And we will see you next week!
Watch all episodes of “The Welcome Table with Sydney and Tatum” here.