CUESEF 2021: Forging Futures Through Black Educational Histories

"The artwork 'Nommo Semi, The Guardian of Space' by Mikael Owunna with text: CUESEF 2021: Forging Future Through Black Educational Histories. June 16-19 via Zoom"
"Nommo Semi, The Guardian of Space" by Mikael Owunna

Held June 16-19, 2021

Thank you to all who joined us at CUESEF 2021! Recorded sessions are available on YouTube.

About CUESEF 2021

"History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do." - James Baldwin

Conference Description

Co-sponsored by the Heinz Endowments, in CUESEF 2021, we aspire to public study: What can we learn from histories of Black knowledge traditions and educational movements in the U.S.? How do Black communal responses to schools and schooling reflect struggle toward justice and freedom? How do these histories inform and shift our current educational commitments and practices? The Akan people of what is now known as Ghana and the Ivory Coast define Sankofa as a return to the past to move forward. Our theme invites historians to join us in exploring Black educational imaginations over time as essential to forging futures of self-determination, collective responsibility, and freedom. This year's focus on Black education traditions assumes Blackness as expansive and not a category exclusive of ethnic and cultural realities. Participants will engage dynamic historian dialogues, study groups, and webinars to foster thinking about the reparative practices and systems that rectify ongoing educational injustice and inequity and build futures.

Speakers include: Dr. James Anderson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Dr. Heather Williams (University of Pennsylvania), Dr. Donna Murch (Rutgers University), Dr. Jarvis Givens (Harvard University), Dr. Linda Perkins (Claremont Graduate University), Dr. Stephanie Evans (Georgia State University), Dr. Elizabeth Todd-Breland (University of Illinois at Chicago), Dr. V.P. Franklin (University of California, Riverside), Dr. Derrick Aldridge (University of Virginia), and Dr. Michael Hines (Stanford University).

Meet the Speakers


Dr. Vanessa Siddle Walker

Vanessa Siddle Walker is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Educational Studies at Emory University (B.A. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; M.Ed Harvard University; Ed.D. Harvard University). For 25 years, she has explored the segregated schooling of African American children, considering sequentially the climate that permeated segregated schools, the network of professional collaborations that explains the similarity across schools, and the hidden systems of advocacy that demanded equality and justice for the children in the schools. Her research has garnered a number of awards, including the prestigious $200,000 Grawmeyer Award for Education and the American Educational Association (AERA) Early Career Award. In addition, she has received awards from the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools, the American Education Studies Association, and three awards from AERA Divisions, including the Best New Female Scholar Award, the Best New Book Award, and the Outstanding Book Award. Walker’s current research project, "Hidden Provocateurs," brings to light the history of Black educators in the fight for justice for Black children. It examines Black educators’ activities to demand equality in the generations before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, their interconnected story with the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and their continued advocacy after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Walker has consulted widely with media, participating in the PBS Special, SCHOOL, and has shared her research nationally and internationally for more than 25 years. In 2012 she delivered the American Educational Research Association’s annual Brown v. Board of Education Lecture in Washington, DC with the webcast viewed by more than 500 people in Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Peru, Qatar, South Africa, Taiwan, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Since the Brown Lecture, she has provided Keynote Addresses for the U.S. Department of Education; the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women; the Kansas City-Missouri Emancipation Proclamation Celebration; the University of Cape Coast, Ghana; Teachers College Columbia; Howard University; Michigan Law School; American Educational Research Association; University Council for Educational Administration; the University of Georgia; and Duquesne University. Walker is a former National Academy of Education Fellow and in 2009 was named a Fellow of AERA. She was President of AERA for 2019-2020.


Dr. James D. Anderson

James D. Anderson is dean of the College of Education, the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor of Education, and Affiliate Professor of History, African American Studies, and College of Law at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His scholarship focuses broadly on the history of U.S. education, with a subfield on the history of African American education. His book, "The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935," won the American Educational Research Association outstanding book award in 1990. Anderson was elected to the National Academy of Education in 2008. In 2012, he was selected as a Fellow for Outstanding Research by the AERA and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. In 2013, he was selected a Center for Advanced Study Professor of Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. From 2006 to 2016, Anderson served as Senior Editor of the History of Education Quarterly. He served as an adviser for and participant in the PBS documentaries "School: The Story of American Public Education" (2001), "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow" (2002), "Forgotten Genius: The Percy Julian Story" (2007) and "Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities" (2018). In 2016, he was awarded AERA’s Palmer O. Johnson Award for best article. In 2019, he was awarded the IMPACT award from the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois. The AERA awarded him a Presidential Citation in 2020, its highest award. Additionally, Anderson was sworn into the Board of Trustees at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and inducted into the Stillman College Educator Hall of Fame—both in 2020.

Dr. Derrick P. Alridge

Derrick P. Alridge is the Philip J. Gibson Professor of Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia (UVA). An educational historian, Alridge’s work examines African American education and the history of teachers in the civil rights movement. He is the author of "The Educational Thought of W.E.B. Du Bois: An Intellectual History" (2008) and co-editor of "Message in the Music: Hip Hop, History, and Pedagogy" (ASALH Press, 2011) and "The Black Intellectual Tradition: African American Thought in the Twentieth Century" (forthcoming July 2021, University of Illinois Press). Alridge has published articles in the History of Education Quarterly, The Journal of African American History, Teachers College Record, Educational Researcher, and the Journal of Negro Education. He serves as the Director of UVA’s Center for Race and Public Education in the South and the Teachers in the Movement Project. He is a past president of the History of Education Society. Social media: @DerrickPAlridge

Dr. Elizabeth Todd-Breland

Elizabeth Todd-Breland is author of "A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago Since the 1960s" and Associate Professor of History and an affiliated faculty member in Black Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research and teaching focus on U.S. urban history, African American history, and the history of education. She also organizes professional development workshops and develops curricula on African American history, urban education, and racial justice. Todd-Breland is a member of the Chicago Board of Education. Social media: @etoddbreland

Dr. Stephanie Evans

Stephanie Y. Evans, is a professor of Black women's studies and Director of the Institute for Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Georgia State University (GSU). Her research interest is Black women's intellectual history, specifically memoirs, mental health, and wellness. At GSU, she is affiliate faculty in the Department of African-American Studies as well as in the Center for the Study of Stress, Trauma and Resilience. She is author of three books: "Black Women's Yoga History: Memoirs of Mental Health and Wellness" (SUNY, 2021); "Black Passports: Travel Memoirs as a Tool for Youth Empowerment" (SUNY, 2014) and "Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850-1954: An Intellectual History" (UF, 2007) as well as lead co-editor of three books, including "Black Women's Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability" (SUNY Press, 2017). She is editor of the "Black Women's Wellness" book series at SUNY Press. Her full portfolio is available online at Social media: @Prof_Evans

Dr. V.P. Franklin

V.P. Franklin is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Education at the University of California, Riverside. Franklin is the former Editor of The Journal of African American History (JAAH), formerly The Journal of Negro History, the leading scholarly publication on African American life and history. During his editorship between 2001 and 2018, five JAAH articles received awards or prizes for “scholarly excellence in historical research” from national and international organizations. Franklin is the author or coeditor of eleven books, including "The Education of Black Philadelphia" (1979); "Black Self-Determination: A Cultural History of African American Resistance" (1984,1992); "Cultural Capital and Black Education: African American Communities and the Funding of Black Schooling, 1865 to the Present" (2004); and "Message in the Music: Hip Hop, History, and Pedagogy" (2010). He has published over 70 scholarly articles on African American history and education. His most recent book is "The Young Crusaders: The Untold Story of the Children and Teenagers Who Galvanized the Civil Rights Movement" (2021). With Mary Frances Berry and Sundiata K. Cha-Jua, he is completing an anthology "Reparations and Reparatory Justice: Past, Present, and Future." He has received many awards and honors, and in 2021 the first “V. P. Franklin Legacy Award” will be presented by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) for the best article published in the JAAH between 2019 and 2021.

Dr. Jarvis R. Givens

Jarvis R. Givens is an Assistant Professor of Education and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He specializes in the history of African American education and his first book, "Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching," was published in 2021 by Harvard University Press. He was also the co-editor of "We Dare Say Love: Supporting Achievement in the Educational Life of Black Boys," published by Columbia’s Teachers College Press in 2018. Givens is currently building "The Black Teacher Archive," an online portal which will house digitized records documenting the more than one-hundred-year history of “Colored Teachers Associations.” His research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the William F. Milton Fund, and published in peer-reviewed journals such as the American Education Research Journal, Souls, Harvard Educational Review, and Race Ethnicity and Education. Givens earned his African American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Social media: @jarvisrgivens 

Dr. Michael Hines

Michael Hines is an Assistant Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He earned his B.A. in History from Washington University in St. Louis, and his M.A. and PhD in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies from Loyola University Chicago. Prior to pursuing graduate studies, he worked as an English Language Arts and World History teacher in Washington D.C. and Prince George's County, Maryland. Hines' research interests encompass the history of education, curriculum studies, social studies education, and the history of childhood. His work has appeared both in scholarly journals such as History of Education Quarterly and the Journal of the History Childhood and Youth, and in popular outlets including TIME and The Washington Post. Social media: @hines_historic

Dr. Tambra O. Jackson

Tambra O. Jackson is the Interim Dean in the School of Education at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Professor of Urban Teacher Education. She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Africana Studies program. Jackson’s scholarly agenda coheres around equity methodologies aimed at improving schooling outcomes for racially, culturally and linguistically diverse students through teacher development and learning from the teacher identities and praxis of Black women educators. Jackson’s research on the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools is pioneering in the field of teacher education. She has published on how teacher education can learn from and build upon the work of the CDF Freedom Schools model for teacher learning and the ways in which the program offers a liberatory space for children of Color. Comprehensively, this work demonstrates how traditional teacher education and schools can learn much about equity methodologies from community-based programs. Her recent edited book is titled, "Black Mother Educators: Advancing Praxis for Access, Equity and Achievement." She is also the principal investigator for a state-wide grant project on professional learning for teachers and school leaders about Education for Liberation funded by the Indiana Department of Education. 

Dr. Donna Murch

Donna Murch is associate professor of history at Rutgers University. She is currently completing a new trade press book entitled "Crack in Los Angeles: Policing the Crisis and the War on Drugs." Her forthcoming book "Assata Taught Me: State Violence, Racial Capitalism, and the Movement for Black Lives" will be released in Fall of 2021 from Haymarket Books. In October 2010, Murch published the award-winning monograph "Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California" with the University of North Carolina Press, which won the Phillis Wheatley prize in December 2011. She has written for the Sunday Washington Post, Guardian, New Republic, Nation, Boston Review, Jacobin, Black Scholar, Souls, the Journal of Urban History, Journal of American History, New Politicsand appeared on BBC, CNN, Democracy Now and in Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI and Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Social media: @murchnik

Dr. Linda M. Perkins

Linda M. Perkins is Associate University Professor and director of Applied Gender Studies at Claremont Graduate University. She holds an interdisciplinary university appointment in the departments of Applied Gender Studies, Educational Studies, and History. Her primary areas of research are on the history of African-American women’s higher education, the education of African Americans in elite institutions, and the history of talent identification programs for African-American students. As Director of the Applied Gender Studies, she is involved and serves on the board of both national and international organizations related to gender research and activism. Perkins earned a PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and has made her career as a historian of women’s and African-American higher education. She has served as Vice President of Division F (History and Historiography) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and she has served as a member of the Executive Council of AERA. Perkins is a member of the Educational Advisory Committee for History Makers (2021-present); a member of the Ms. Magazine Board of Scholars (2012-present); a member of the board of the International Center for Research on Women ((2016-present); Co-Chair of the Board of the Africa Committee of the International Research Center (2020-present); a member of the Board of the Asia Committee on the International Research Committee on Women (2016-present). She also serves on the Advisory Committee of the Intercollegiate Feminist Center for Teaching, Research and Engagement of the Claremont Colleges. She is a former member for the Board of the National Center for Research on Women (renamed Re: Gender) from 2011-2016 and former member of the History Advisory Board of the California African American Museum in Los Angeles (2016-2019). Social media: Twitter - @lindap457, Instagram - @lindaperkins9991

Dr. Heather Williams

Heather Andrea Williams is Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought, and Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She was previously a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Williams received her B.A. and J.D. degrees from Harvard University, and her Ph.D. in American studies from Yale University. She is the author of "Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom" (2005), and "Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery" (2012), both published by UNC Press, as well as "American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction" (2014), published by Oxford University Press. Williams has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She is currently completing a documentary film series about Jamaicans who migrated to the United States in the 1950s and 60s; and is writing a book about violence in the antebellum South. She teaches courses on African American history with an emphasis on slavery and the aftermath of the American Civil War.

The Art of CUESEF 2021

"Nommo Semi artwork by Mikael Owunna" The Piece: "Nommo Semi, The Guardian of Space"

In Dogon myth, Nommo Semi (Sacrificed Nommo) is the third of the created divine Nommo from which all humanity descends. In the primordial blackness of space, he will be sacrificed by Amma, the Dogon high god, to purify the universe as atonement for the wicked deeds of his twin, Yurugu. Planets and stars spool forth from his blood along his body. He is then resurrected, and as he turns with his arms, his gesture demonstrates his role as the Guardian of Space.

"Artist Mikael Owunna"Meet the Artist

Mikael Owunna is a queer Nigerian-Swedish American photographer and engineer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Exploring the intersections of visual media with engineering, optics, Blackness, and African cosmologies, his work seeks to elucidate an emancipatory vision of possibility that pushes African people beyond all boundaries, restrictions, and frontiers. Owunna’s work has been exhibited across Asia, Europe, and North America and has been collected by institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Equal Justice Initiative, Duke University, and National Taiwan Museum. His work has also been featured in media ranging from the New York Times to CNN, NPR, VICE, and The Guardian. He has lectured at venues including Harvard Law School, World Press Photo (Netherlands), Tate Modern (UK), and TEDx. Owunna’s first published monograph 'Limitless Africans' was released in 2019 by FotoEvidence and was awarded the FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo.


Social Media: IG, Twitter, FB: @mikaelowunna

Headshot credit: Nick Caito

Artist Statement

Contemporary Western visual culture is awash in images of Black death: videos of Black people (Michael Brown, Jr., George Floyd, and many more) being killed by police, Black bodies washing up on the shores of the Mediterranean, Africans starving and dying in Pulitzer-Prize winning photography. The trope of the Black body as a site of death is pervasive and omnipresent.
Responding to images of police killings of Black people, since 2016, Mikael Owunna has worked to articulate an alternative vision of the Black body as the incarnation of the eternal cosmos. Using his engineering background, Owunna built a camera flash that only transmits ultraviolet light, and in each photoshoot he begins by hand painting his sitters’ nude bodies with fluorescent paints that glow under ultraviolet light. Owunna clicks down on the shutter in total darkness, and for a fraction of a second their Black bodies illuminate as the universe, transfiguring the Black body into transcendent, ethereal vessels.
Titled "Infinite Essence," this series explores a transfigured vision of the Black body in relationship with West African spiritual and cosmological systems, particularly Igbo and Dogon. Each image references myths and divine principles from both systems, connecting Black bodies of the present across space and time to our ancestral conceptions of the universe.