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Development Log: Adam Tomasi & Savita Maharaj

This is an image from the Black Artists of Boston Project‘s end-of-semester celebration (Jarvis Chen, 2022)

Over the past year, the Reckonings project has connected Northeastern students and faculty with community partners to reflect upon, and co-create, historical narratives that center Black people, indigenous people, and people of color.  I started working on the Reckonings project during the summer of 2021, and since then, I have participated in many productive developments in the project’s vision and execution. The project began with an emphasis on the importance of local historical knowledge for civic education. As a member of the Boston community, it is imperative that you be aware of the historical legacies of violence, inequality, struggle, success, and cultural innovation that collectively shaped Boston’s diverse communities and identity groups. The Reckonings project was originally meant to be an aggregator of the exhibits and projects created by community-oriented groups and institutions with the goal of facilitating knowledge and awareness. This particularly included GLAM organizations, meaning galleries, libraries, archives, or museums. In the last couple of months, the Reckonings platform has evolved to incubate new community partnerships, rather than merely spotlight existing ones, and generate toolkits that document the best practices we learned from those partnerships. The community partnerships give communities the space and tools to build their own archives and projects, and our platform (including the toolkits) can provide a long-term preservation plan outside of the university.

The evolution of Reckonings has become evident to me in the community partnerships I have been tasked with contributing to, such as a family oral history project with Ray Reddick and the West End Museum. Reddick has a long African-American family history connected to the nineteenth-century West End. He reached out to the West End Museum, a community partner with Reckonings and where I am the research team leader. I am also proud to have helped facilitate our partnerships with the Museum of African-American History and the National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture. This summer, I am continuing to work on the projects that were ongoing last Fall and Spring, and will have a hand in organizing the Reckonings team along with Savita Maharaj, a recent Northeastern graduate who will be starting a PhD program in English at Brandeis this fall. Savita is very involved in the Reckonings partnerships with the Black Artist of Boston project and the forthcoming Reckonings Institute in Social Justice & Digital Humanities, forthcoming in the summer of 2023. I am looking forward to continuing my own work with the Reckonings team this summer!

Below are Savita’s reflections on the work that brought her to Reckonings, and where she sees our framework for community co-creation developing in the future.

– Adam Tomasi

 

As a new member of the Reckonings team, I am passionate about work that seeks to further the strength of community archiving and the future of this project. I learned about the Reckonings project through a new class I was a teaching assistant for last semester, “INSH 5602 Documenting Fieldwork Narratives: Oral History, Ethnography, Archival Practices”, which does similar community-engaged work that embodies co-creation, celebration, and collectivity. This class gave students skills in the craft of ethnography in addition to the integration of the community into their work, inevitably resulting in the Black Artists of Boston Project. This project morphed into a platform for honoring the contributions of multi-talented Boston-based artists, beginning with De Ama Battle, Bruno Eddie, Ifé Franklin, Napoleon Jones Henderson, Jacqueline L. McRath, Dale Patterson, Susie Smith, and Valerie Stephens. It is the start of a digital directory or gazette of Black artists that works to celebrate and bring light to the Black community in Boston – whose contributions to Boston are often unnoticed.

The Black Artists of Boston Project provided many insights and considerations that I will bring to my work with the Reckonings project. As a Boston native, I seek to empower the place I come from. I grew up in a world engulfed with these stories, stories of artists, family, love, resilience, and power. Yet none of these people felt like they were known, acknowledged, or celebrated nearly as much as they should be. I often wrestle with both my identity as a Boston native and as a student within the institution as I attempt to create changes within the systems that initially caused harm to many communities of color. When doing community-engaged work, flexibility, honesty, and trust are key – in order to truly enact the co-creation method, you have to embrace open communication and make your partner aware of everything that’s going on. “ This experience has been immensely rewarding as I have watched the care, love, intentionality, and vibrancy within the documentation of these artists’ narratives and the développement of student-artist relationships. The Black Artists of Boston project demonstrates the institutional ability to promote healing through community work with care, purpose, and openness.

My own personal experience with the project and its potential to change the way we approach the communities we co-exist in through community-focused work has strongly influenced my desire to work with the Reckonings Project. Co-creating and co-curating community partners, in addition, to creating tools/tool kits to bring under-acknowledged histories of people of color to the forefront is incredibly important, because the community is centered and in a position to reimagine the ways in which these histories and legacies are being told. This work seeks to mitigate the generations of institutional harm and instead, create an environment of community healing.

This summer I am focused on the Reckonings Institute in Social Justice & Digital Humanities (forthcoming in Summer 2023), the continuation of the Black Artist of Boston Project, and on the logistics and organization of the Reckonings project itself.  In the spirit of transparency, co-creation, and curation, I have been trying to obtain the elder’s permission in publicizing this information and ensuring their rights/ownership of their work. It has been a riveting experience to see the evolution of the relationship between the Reckonings project and the artists evolved throughout the semester– as their responses not only focus on the work but have morphed into something more personal and human. It is common to get lost in the research process which often results in a lack of clarity about the reasons why we carry out this work. Yet in projects like these, humanness and genuine connections are always at the center. I am also helping with the curation and conceptualization of the Reckonings Institute in Social Justice & Digital Humanities. I have always been really interested in the ways we teach and how we as a whole can embody bell hooks’ ideology that “education was about the practice of freedom.” We are fine-tuning the details of what this would look like, but as of now, it involves the cultivation of a pedagogical space that trains community members on the intersections of digital humanities/digital scholarship, community co-creation, and social justice. This summer institute intends to create space for folks to learn how to use the tools necessary for engaging in social justice and digital humanities – this is an effort to develop a co-created pedagogical framework that seeks to center the community with the support of institutional resources.

As an incoming Ph.D. student, my research focuses and relies upon digital humanities, narrative, public-facing work, and social justice. I am excited to continue learning and growing throughout my work with this project!

– Savita Maharaj

Authors

Adam Tomasi

Research Assistant, Ph.D. History Student

Adam Tomasi is a second-year PhD student specializing in the trans-Atlantic Left in the twentieth century, with a special focus on the underground press and intellectual history.

Savita Maharaj

Research Assistant, English BA, Africana Studies & Writing Studies Minor

After graduating in 2022, Savita wants to go into the field of Black Studies as a high school teacher or a college professor and change the literary canon. She is passionate about literature, youth work, writing, and social justice and hopes to teach books by BIPOC authors.