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African American history

Daisha Brabham, '17

To meet Daisha Brabham is to be immediately swept up in her infectious enthusiasm for history. Brabham graduated from Southern in 2017 with a degree in history, and her passion for her discipline, along with her scholarship and creative activity, are taking her far. She has just been awarded a prestigious U.S. Fulbright – U.K. Partnership Award that will allow her to receive full funding to complete a Master’s of Public History degree at Royal Holloway University of London during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Brabham currently teaches U.S. history and an advanced placement course in human geography at the Engineering and Science University Magnet School, based at the University of New Haven. Previously, she taught for a year at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven.

Her Fulbright project will involve a play she wrote for an independent study in the Women’s Studies Program in her senior year. During her senior spring and the summer following, the play — Homegoing: A Herstory of the Black Woman — was performed on campus, but Brabham has reworked the script and says it is now “an entirely new play.” Homegoing reflects the history of Black womanhood in America, beginning with the Yoruba tradition of West Africa and going on to travel with a number of different African American women, such as Venus Hottentot, Billie Holiday, and Mammie.

Brabham says that originally, the play “was like a physical manifestation of my search for myself.” During her junior year, she studied at the University of Plymouth, U.K., where she became interested in researching the lives of women in Elizabethan England. But then, she says, she realized she was studying women who had already been studied extensively and she was “leaving out women who looked like me.”

She changed her focus to African American women and decided to write Homegoing, but as the play has evolved, it has come to be more about women in the African diaspora around the world. “I am drawing all of these narratives together about what it means to be black,” she says. She sees the play as a celebration of resistance and as bringing to the public “those stories we don’t talk about.”

The play features 10 actresses, the majority of whom are high school students from the Greater New Haven area. Brabham herself is also in the play. A teacher to her core, Brabham wants her students to learn the history of the women they are portraying in the play.

Being a teacher can be confining, she says, due to curriculum requirements, adding that she works in a school where more than half of the students are African American, and she “really wants African American people to know about their own history.” In the play, she uses traditional African modes of communication, such as song, dance, and movement.

Homegoing is now Brabham’s bridge to her future, as she’ll be incorporating voices from black Britain in the play as part of her Fulbright project. As a student at Royal Holloway, she will have access to the National Archives, the London Records Office, the Black Cultural Archives. She also plans to interview some of the women she meets.

“I’m a public historian,” Brabham says, explaining that public history is about bringing historical knowledge to the public in engaging ways, such as museums, exhibitions, documentaries, and theater. This means of presenting history is important, she says, because it makes history accessible. “It lets people learn about themselves,” she says.

Tricia Lin, who served as the faculty adviser/sponsor for Brabham’s senior independent study, wrote in her Fulbright recommendation for Brabham that her project “will be of tremendous contribution to the literature/scholarship on Black womanhood . . . The complex untold stories of Black women is . . . Daisha’s intellectual project—which is truly her calling.”

Darcy Kern, assistant professor of history, who was Brabham’s adviser at Southern, wrote in her letter of support for Brabham’s Fulbright application that Brabham was “the most enthusiastic student I have had at SCSU” and that Brabham “offers a unique, refreshing perspective on women’s history, in part because of her own background.”

Assistant Director of the Office of International Education Michael Schindel, the Fulbright Program Advisor, says that, “Those who have worked with Daisha know that she is incredibly persistent. She is receiving this award after her third attempt at applying for a Fulbright grant. There is only one slot for the U.K. Partnership Award to Royal Holloway University and it is highly competitive.”

Brabham credits the people she worked with at Southern over the years with helping her realize her goals. “The History Department really changed not only my view of the world but also of myself,” she says. “I received such loving, caring feedback, advice on life, etc. – they gave me great advice not only on how to be a historian but also on how to be a good human.”

And the Women’s Studies Program “taught me how to be a good person and not to give up and be persistent and keep going. The confidence they had in me helped me keep going,” she says.

Homegoing: A Herstory of the Black Woman will be presented twice on May 5, 2019: at 12 p.m. and at 6 p.m., in the Garner Recital Hall (Engleman C112). Tickets are $10 with an SCSU I.D. and $15 for general public. Purchase tickets online.

Frank Harris, journalism

Perhaps the most controversial word in the American lexicon is a word many do not speak. The word commonly known as “the n-word” has a longer history in the United States than many people realize, but what is behind its taboo nature and its loaded meanings?

“Everyone has an n-word story,” says Journalism Professor Frank Harris III, and a couple of years ago, he set out on a journey across America to get to the bottom of the word’s meanings and place in American culture. The product of his research, the film “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word,” combines interviews with diverse Americans, research through hundreds of newspaper archives, and surveys of today’s news media. In the film, Harris takes viewers on an informative, provocative journey that fosters discussion about “the word that persistently rattles the chain from our past to our present,” as he describes it.

On November 16, as part of Social Justice Week, Harris screened his film and led a discussion about it in the Adanti Student Center Theater.

Of his project, Harris says, “Frankly, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would receive. After all, it’s not every day that a man with a camera walks up to people and asks them about the n-word and their first or most memorable experience with it.”

The film began with his research on the many racial names by which Americans of black African descent have been identified over the years. “My focus soon shifted toward the n-word and my desire to track its origins,” he says, “as well as the experiences that Americans of all backgrounds have had with this word.”

Harris says, “It is an interesting encounter when the interviewer and interviewee are of the same race. It becomes even more interesting when the two are of a different race. The stories told by the many people I interviewed, interspersed with the word’s usage in America’s news media, provided a compelling story that I wanted to share.”

The film examines the haunting, persistent link of the word and its variant forms with the words “kill” and “death” and violence against blacks. It includes painful stories from older black Americans about their experiences with the word, along with portrayals of the experiences of younger African Americans who use it as an acceptable and different term of endearment, never having felt its sting. Harris has also captured stories from whites, Asians, Hispanics and others in America about their experiences from parents who taught them the word or told them never to say it.

Among those who appear in the film are former Black Panther Party leader Ericka Huggins, discussing the n-word and the Panthers; journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, recalling her experience at the University of Georgia in the early 1960s; Yale child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer discussing the effects of the n-word; and Mississippi civil rights workers describing the physical pain of violence that often accompanied the word in their experiences.

In addition to interviews, Harris uses original newspaper clips in the film to illustrate the striking ways in which the word has been used. The clips dispel the myth that rappers and hip-hop artists created the variant form of the word that ends in “-a” rather than “-er.” The film shows that the word was in use freely during and after slavery in America and reveals that even then, blacks were referring to each other using the n-word. Among the discoveries Harris made in his research was that Abraham Lincoln used the word during his 1860 presidential campaign stop in Hartford, Conn.

The film has been an Official Selection in the 2016 Twin Cities Black Film Festival and the 2016 Baltimore International Black Film Festival. It will be screened at a festival in Texas in 2017. Harris says of the film’s reception, “It’s quite amazing, the impact it has had.”

In addition to teaching journalism at Southern, Harris is an award-winning Hartford Courant columnist.

Watch the trailer for “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word”