Saturday, February 15, 2020

That post-graduation Tougaloo nudge

Charrita Danley Quimby did it. She earned a master's in English. It was an important accomplishment, and it was adequate for the projects she wanted to pursue.

But then, she met with one of her former professors from Tougaloo College. "I had dinner with Dr. Ward," Quimby noted, "and he TOLD me 'It’s time for you to get back in school and get your PhD.' So, I did."

In my interviews with former English majors from Tougaloo College and my own reflections, I'm learning that a post-graduation nudge or advice has been important for continued progress for several people. We usually talk about what students gain during their time at colleges and universities. We focus on what they may have learned in classes or what they experienced during that time. But what about months after graduating, or what about even years later?

The success of Tougaloo College English majors is linked to the support that they receive from professors or other Tougaloo graduates in the field of English well beyond time at the college.

Stefan Wheelock, a Tougaloo grad who earned his PhD at Brown University, informed me that Ward "was emotionally and intellectually present during my graduate school years." Valerie Matthews earned her PhD at the University Of North Carolina, and received tangible assistance from Tougaloo. "Toward the end of my journey," she said, "Dr. Ward filled a critical spot on my dissertation committee and traveled on his own dime to my defense in North Carolina."

Ward was not the only one providing nudges and assistance for students long after they graduated. Candice Love Jackson has continually provided advice to her former students, Professors Julius Fleming and Jarvis McInnis. Professor Shahara'Tova Dente, a Tougaloo grad, informed me that Jackson has kept in touch and made her aware of opportunities and provided useful advice as well.

Briana Whiteside graduated from Tougaloo and then came and worked with me, earning her M.A. in English, and then earning her PhD at the University of Alabama. She's now an assistant professor at UNLV. I periodically reach out to her when opportunities arise encouraging her to apply the way Tougaloo folks have done for me.

Related:
A notebook on Literature Scholars from Tougaloo College

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.'s numerous, essential Introductions

Jerry W. Ward, Jr. and Eugene B. Redmond at event in East St. Louis, Feb. 2005

I'm researching a project related to former English majors from Tougaloo College, where I earned my undergraduate degree. In the process, I have been conducting interviews and thinking about ways that the English department supported several students who eventually earned PhDs.

One name that keeps coming up, not surprisingly, is Jerry W. Ward, Jr., a long-term and noted scholar and professor from Tougaloo. Now, prior to my recent research, if someone had asked what Ward's major contributions to former students like me had been, I would've said something like, he helped students like me with our writing. Or, he helped us solidify research projects. He offered guidance, and served as an important model.

I still think those things are true. But something new has emerged in the course of my research. Something else that Ward did that was really important: he made numerous, essential introductions. I always benefited from those introductions, but until recently I had not adequately put the practice into context of contributions to my advancement as a scholar and professional.

Yet, when a professor introduces a student to numerous scholars, artists, and other useful contacts, they are providing a vital service and raising the chances of future opportunities.  Ward personally introduced me (and other students) to dozens of scholars and artists in our field.

The practice of making numerous, essential introductions is something that we should strive to emulate.

Professor Valerie Matthews, a 1992 graduate of Tougaloo, noted to me in an interview that "Dr. Ward wrote personal letters to scholars such as Houston Baker and Trudier Harris to prepare the way for my graduate school applications." That is, outside of letters of recommendation, Ward wrote letters connecting an undergraduate with potential graduate mentors. Harris, by the way, ended up directing Matthews's dissertation.

Candice Love Jackson's crucial contributions to African American Literary Studies at SIUE

Candice Love Jackson and Eugene B. Redmond

Candice Love Jackson taught at SIUE for only a few years 2010 - 2012, before moving into an administration position at another institution. But during her brief time at SIUE, Jackson made crucial contributions to African American literary studies that shaped the course of what we've been doing here ever since.

Jackson arrived to our department after having served a department chair at Tougaloo College from 2004 - 2010. During that time, Jackson had hosted a film series and lecture series. She did extensive work with programming, as she sought to make, in her words, "English the IT major" at Tougaloo.

I had been doing extensive programming at SIUE prior to Jackson's arrival, but when she showed up, we began having active conversations about how to make the related courses in literature really stand out. In other words, we wanted to make African American literature an IT course of study at SIUE.

During her time here, we expanded our course offerings. For the 2011-2012 academic year, Jackson and I taught a combined 15 African American literature courses. I don't think the department had ever offered so many classes on black lit in a year. But since that time, we haven't turned back, teaching 14 or 15 African American-related classes each semester since 2012.

Just as important, an active conversation about building African American literary studies at SIUE has persisted since that moment in 2010. We were able to make the case for making an additional hire in African American literature in 2015 in large part based on the expanded courses Jackson and I created in 2010. We've been able to make a case for yet another hire in 2020.

Looking back on things, Jackson taught me the value of trying to make s program or major the it one.

Related:
A notebook on Literature Scholars from Tougaloo College

A notebook on Literature Scholars from Tougaloo College


I'm working on a project related to Tougaloo College and former English majors. I graduated from Tougaloo with a degree in English and history, and over the years, I've been in touch with various former English majors from the the college who became college professors.

I'm working on an article about the routes of some of those Tougaloo graduates. Since I won't fit everything in the article, I've decided to include a few observations here on my site.

Entries
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.'s numerous, essential Introductions
That post-graduation Tougaloo nudge
Candice Love Jackson's crucial contributions to African American Literary Studies at SIUE

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Haley Reading Group: "Tragedy of the Common"

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2018)]

J. B. Mackinnon’s “Tragedy of the Common” discusses how White-Rumped Vultures became an endangered species. He follows biologist Vibhu Prakash as he works to highlight to major cause in the White-Rumped Vulture’s decrease of at least 58% around 1997.

Mackinnon states that the veterinary drug diclofenac was the culprit in vulture’s demise. According to him, the drug was “persisting in livestock carcasses and poisoning vultures after so much as a single exposure” (115). Despite being banned, the drug is still illegally used and harming both the vultures and other agriculturists who rely on the vultures to eat rotting carcasses to keep diseases from spreading.

How did reading about the circumstances of the vultures alter or support your thinking in one notable way?

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Journalist as Recovery Worker

There were more than 14,000 murders in 2018. With a number so high, there's no surprise that we only hear about a fraction of the deaths in given year. The majority never appear or quickly fade from public consciousness. The idea of that erasure explains why families of victims are grateful when the lives of their loved ones receive attention.

[Related: The Journalist as Detective]


I think about that every time I watch True Life Crime and host Dometi Pongo interviews relatives and friends of a person who was tragically killed. He almost always begins by asking those who knew a person best to tell him about their loved one. He did so again in a recent episode about a young girl, Mujey Dumbuya, who was killed in Michigan in 2018.

By returning to the story, to the scene of the crime, to the family and friends, Pongo does important journalistic recovery work. For the most part, we hear about the deaths of famous people. The news cycle rarely has time to deeply consider a young person who was known only by a relatively small number of people.

On the one hand, Pongo brings attention to terrible crimes, but in the process, he retrieves wonderful memories of a life lived -- showing photographs and video clips of a young person smiling and dancing and spending time with friends.

The coverage True Life Crime offers tends to prompt local outlets to revisit the cases as well. After airing an episode about Jerika Binks, a runner who went missing, Runner's World ran a story about her case the the show. WoodTV, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Michigan Live ran stories in anticipation of the story about Dumbuya. 

At the end of this recent episode, Dumbuya's mother shared a phone video of her daughter expressing love to her mom. That private moment became a public one. It was sad but also a joyous retrieved moment. It was testament to the power of the True Life Crime and Pongo to perform recovery work.

Related:
A Notebook on Dometi Pongo's True Life Crime series

The Journalist as Detective

I’ve witnessed him as a student, as a rapper, and as a journalist. And recently, I started thinking of Dometi Pongo as a kind of detective.

[Related: The Journalist as Recovery Worker]

In the fourth episode of the True Life Crime series, Pongo follows the case of Jerika Binks, a young woman who had gone missing in Utah. Pongo worked with a local reporter to gather information. He interviewed family and friends, and he returned to the scenes of where she may had gone missing.

Like in previous episodes, Pongo's raising multiple questions, and trying to find out what happened. But this case departed from the others because Binks was missing. The case remained unsolved. Eventually though, after Pongo's initial visits to Utah, the body of Binks did turn up, and there was at least some closure for the family.

The processes of Pongo initially searching for answers was a reminder, for me, of the kind of detective or investigative work that many journalists do beyond only reporting on the news. Pongo was interviewing people, retracing potential crime scenes, searching for answers to a perplexing and painful mystery.

Related:
A Notebook on Dometi Pongo's True Life Crime series

A Notebook on Dometi Pongo's True Life Crime series

A few writings on Dometi Pongo's MTV show, True Life Crime.

Entries
The Journalist as Recovery Worker
The Journalist as Detective
Dometi Pongo, True Life Crime, and Kedarie Johnson
Dometi Pongo, True Life Crime, on the case of Junior Guzman-Feliz
• Dometi Pongo and the debut of MTV's True Life Crime series

Related:
A Notebook on Dometi Pongo