Making Meaning Episode 5: Living Histories of Race and Racism

November 4, 2021

Welcome to Making Meaning, a podcast that explores how and why the humanities are an essential part of our everyday lives. In this series, we hear stories from our nation’s humanities councils and leaders across the greater United States about the role the humanities have played during the pandemic and are playing in our recovery. Listen to the trailer in English and in Spanish translation. All episodes become available on Tuesday, November 9, 2021, wherever you receive your podcasts.

Ep. 5: Living Histories of Race and Racism

L. Danyetta Najoli, co-founder of The Black American Tree Project, explains how the immersive story-telling project’s design evokes a sense of reckoning with slavery’s origins. Dr. Jack Tchen, the Inaugural Clement A. Price Professor of Public History and the Humanities and Director of the Price Institute at Rutgers University, takes a deep dive into histories of dispossession.

Guest Bios:

L. Danyetta Najoli earned a Master of Arts degree in Organizational Leadership from the Regent University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Fisk University. Currently, Danyetta is enrolled in Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program online. Danyetta has more than 21 years of training and development experience in the intellectual/developmental disabilities community. After exiting corporate America as an officer of a global bank, which included training corporate and municipality clients, Danyetta continued to utilize her professional training and development skills within her professional coaching practice. Danyetta is a well-vetted and diverse inclusion professional. Danyetta sets on learning journeys by offering coaching and consulting to Starfire members, their families and ordinary citizens. Through her work as vice president of Invest in Neighborhoods, she helped to develop an “ideal community council” which includes neighborhood citizens from all walks of life. Danyetta co-authored The Black American Tree Project in the fall of 2019. In February 2020, when the project was officially launched at an international student summit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the pandemic was a month away. Danyetta and her creative partner were able to translate the project to a virtual platform with the support of Starfire’s mentors at the Toronto Summer Institute. The project has experienced 18 iterations and reached over 380 participants.  Danyetta has also been integral in leading the conversation around racial reconciliation in Cincinnati, Ohio with her work through Living UNDivided. Danyetta has presented at the 2021 Asset Based Community Development’s virtual UNConference on the forces and systems we are up against and how to grow community and culture with resilience and Nebraska’s Person-Centered Planning Initiative webinar, “Born to Live in Community: When People We Support Become Members and Citizens Lean In,” in partnership with a person with an intellectual/developmental disability.

Learn more about The Black American Tree Project and how to get involved.

The Black American Tree Project was supported by a grant from Ohio Humanities. Read more about their grant opportunities and past awards.

John Kuo Wei Tchen is a historian, curator, dumpster diver, and teacher. Professor Tchen is the Inaugural Clement A Price Professor of Public History & Humanities at Rutgers University – Newark and Director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture & the Modern Experience. Currently, he is organizing the Anti-Eugenics Project to mark the Second International Eugenics Congress held at the American Museum of Natural History, 1921 that will surface, reckon, and transform the unresolved disabling impacts of such practices and policies on the US political culture ultimately addressing why we as a nation have trouble dealing with public policy challenges such as the COVID pandemic and global warming. He served as the senior historian for a New York Historical Society exhibition on the impact of Chinese Exclusion Laws on the formation of the US (2014-15) and also senior advisor for the two-hour “American Experience” PBS documentary with Ric Burns and Lishin Yu on the “Chinese Exclusion Act,” 2017. His most recent book, Yellow Peril: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (2014), is a critical archival study of images, excerpts and essays on the history and contemporary impact of paranoia and xenophobia. He is also a founder of the Anti-Eugenics Project (AEP), 2021, reckoning with the Second International Eugenics Congress, 2021 & 1921. He is also a founder of The Public History Project (PHP) in 2019, reframing the history of the estuarial region starting with the twined foundational histories of dispossession and enslavement (work emerging from serving as a Commissioner on the NYC Mayor’s Commission on Monuments) and grappling with our settler state illiteracy about the land and waters upon which we live. He is founding director of the A/P/A (Asian/Pacific /American) Studies Program and Institute and part of the founding faculty of the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, NYU (1996-2018). In 1980, he co-founded the Museum of Chinese in America.

Read more about the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture & the Modern Experience. Explore Dr. Jack Tchen’s public history project, Dismantling Eugenics, watch his NYU Skirball “Paradigm Shifter” interview, and take a dive into “Hacking the University: Reckoning with Racial Equity, Climate Justice, and Global Warming.”

Clarification note from Dr. Tchen’s interview:

The Immigration Act of 1924 pushed and formulated by the eugenics lobby, targeted “inferior” European “races,” namely the “Alpines” (Jews, Polish, Slavs, for example) and “Mediterraneans” (Italians, Greeks, Spanish) as a way to extend the exclusion, segregation, and violence against Indigenous, Black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Asian people. For more information, Dr. Tchen recommends Daniel Okrent’s interview on NPR.

Statistics mentioned in this episode taken from:

FBI 2020 Hate Crime Statistics

Voices featured at the top of the show: Faith Seiuli (Intersections Inc, a Amerika Samoa Humanities Council-supported program), Stephanie Gibson (Nevada Humanities), Laura McGuinn (South Carolina Humanities), and Kevin Lindsey (Minnesota Humanities Center).

Find out more about race, racism, and social justice on our blog:

Challenging Our Own Thinking: Former MN Supreme Court Justice Alan C. Page Talks About Growing Up in the 1950s and Discrimination in America

Nevada Humanities: Making Voices Heard

Democracy as a Way of Living: Jamelle Bouie with Oregon Humanities

Learning Early about Race with Colorado Humanities

Black Roots: Everett Fly Delivers Frederick Law Olsted Lecture at Harvard University

Every Beat Will Fight for Me’: Black Alabamians and the Vote

Celebrate Black History Month Throughout the Year with a Council Near You

Imagining Japanese Monsters with Dr. Bill Tsutsui

The show is produced by LWC. Elizabeth Nakano is our producer and sound designer. Jimmy Gutierrez edited the series. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer. Spanish translations by Virginia Lora. You can find more episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. 

Making Meaning is a podcast from the Federation of State Humanities Councils and is part of its “Humanities in American Life” initiative, which is generously funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Note: The opinions and ideas expressed in this episode are those of our guests and do not necessarily reflect those held by the Federation of State Humanities Councils or its funders.

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