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Institute on Black Life conference to delve into historic and contemporary issues impacting local African American communities

For the first time, the institute will hold its annual gathering on the St. Petersburg campus, with focused talks ranging from the city’s African American Heritage Trail, to building climate resiliency with equitable environmental justice.

For the first time, the institute will hold its annual gathering on the St. Petersburg campus.   

Kicking off Black Heritage Month, USF’s Institute on Black Life (IBL) will bring together academics, community leaders, students and residents to highlight community projects and facilitate ongoing research into the history and culture of the Black experience.

For the first time, the institute will hold its annual gathering on the St. Petersburg campus, with focused talks ranging from the city’s African American Heritage Trail, to building climate resiliency with equitable environmental justice.   

“Our collaboration with the St. Petersburg community will only enrich the work we have been doing in Tampa and show the historical connections and interactions between the African American communities in these two cities,” said Cheryl Rodriguez, associate professor of Africana studies and anthropology and former director of the IBL.

At the Feb. 1 conference, a web portal will be unveiled that serves as a repository of information on historic and contemporary African American communities in Tampa Bay. The portal will offer a variety of resources accessible to the community, including oral histories, heritage sites, archival photographs and research addressing anti-Black racism.

“There has never been a centralized database where people can find out about the rich history and contemporary culture of African American communities in Tampa Bay,” said Fenda Akiwumi, director of the IBL. “We are excited to launch this portal with the type of information that can help students with projects, while linking together those engaged in research and community work in these neighborhoods.”

The portal is part of the Institute’s ongoing African American Neighborhoods Project. The project is the theme of this year’s conference and explores diverse perspectives and current conditions of Tampa Bay’s African American communities.

Initiated in 2012, the African American Neighborhoods Project chronicles the lives of people who live in historically Black communities. It focuses on residents’ historical relationships to these neighborhoods and how people feel about the future of life in Black communities.
Data collected from this decade-long project will now be easily accessible through the portal to local residents and to an interdisciplinary body of scholars interested in these issues locally and nationally.

“I think the portal will be extremely well received as a primary educational resource on the Black neighborhoods of Tampa Bay, highlighting not just the history but the legacy and impact that history has on today,” Rodriguez said. 

The Institute on Black Life was established in 1986 with the goal of being a resource center on the history and culture of the Black experience in Africa and the African Diaspora. 

“In recent years, a large aspect of our work goes toward facilitating and coordinating research on Black issues across the university and that are of importance to the region,” Akiwumi said. 

As an example of this work, Akiwumi cited the USF research project that identified and made recommendations to address structural racism in the city of St. Petersburg last year.

Composed of an interdisciplinary team of researchers throughout USF, the team assisted the city in illustrating infrastructures that are potentially limiting opportunities for growth in the Black community by analyzing data and trends on the criminal legal system, economic development, unemployment and healthcare. They also talked with residents and activists on how systemic racism has affected various aspects of Black lives.

"We are grateful for the support and insights provided from residents in St. Petersburg. The residents willingly discussed their experiences and suggested recommendations to move forward,” said Ruthmae Sears, who led the interdisciplinary team and is an associate professor of mathematics education.

“The residents' wisdom and subsequent actions are also needed to advance the study's recommendations, promote racial equity, build bridges and positively contribute to all residents' overall quality of life. Hence, it will be important to create avenues for the residents' voices to be heard and their concerns acted upon," she added.

In December, St. Petersburg City Council members agreed to move forward with a plan created by the research team on how to address structural racism in the community.

The Institute on Black Life annual conference takes place Feb 1 from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the University Student Center ballrooms on USF’s St. Petersburg campus. In addition to the various presentations and talks, the conference will also kick off an 11-day art exhibit of pieces from the Ivory Coast of Africa. The exhibit will take place in Harbor Hall on the St. Petersburg campus. 

More information about the conference can be found here: https://www.usf.edu/arts-sciences/institutes/black-life/events/annual-conference.aspx

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