Reimagining African Worlds One Basket at a Time

As much as the fictional Wakanda has been important in re-awakening many people’s connection to Africa in contemporary American culture, it is wonderful to think about how students are making this connection everyday through their own research. The following is an example of the work of a Morehouse student, Tareik Horne. His research on his own family history of sweetgrass basketmaking shows how important it is to think of the creative, imaginative possibilities of Africa.

Developing Grit in Our Students

I have been thinking more about what will help students succeed in education and life. I often get introspective around finals time when students come to me desperate for grades, or, rather, desperate for an A. Inevitably around this time as well, students start hustling trying to do any and everything to improve grades if they are failing. I always think that if they showed half of this initiative earlier on then they would not feel as if they have to come and hustle on the back end.

The problem, as I see it, is that these” hustling” students haven’t developed “grit”: the ability to persevere for a long term goal. As much as I am invested and am passionate about the digital humanities, this crisis of instant gratification caused by our rapid technology hasn’t helped these students become better students. I think in many ways it is up to us as educators to develop character first before other sorts of pedagogy. We need to help students know what to do in times of adversity. I have realized for young black men that the best thing that they can do in college is to develop a yoga practice. Yoga, as quiet as it’s kept, is hard. Men often underestimate its challenge and are always surprised when they start shaking in a pose. However, sticking in a pose will help them know that even when they are taken by surprise by a challenge, they can overcome it. I always feel mean when I tell college kids that life is hard. But it is hard. They only need to understand that just because something is hard it doesn’t mean that it is not worth doing. Moreover, it is only by doing what is hard that people will have any sense of accomplishment.

So, for all of my students wondering what to do if their semester didn’t end the way that they wanted it to, remember to keep on pushing and stay strong in the pose.


2014 UNCF Mellon Teaching and Learning Institute: Mapping the Future in Digital Humanities at HBCUs


In 2010 when the current Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Morehouse College, Clarissa Myrick-Harris, was the Director of The UNCF Institute for Capacity Building Curriculum and Faculty Enhancement Programs, she created a one day symposium called “To Be Young, Digital, and Black,” which sought to begin a conversation about the way HBCUs were addressing our students who were “digital natives.” Indeed, this was the first of a series of public forums dedicated to “UNCF Digital Media and Learning in Multicultural Contexts.” In the intervening years, not only are we still grappling with the pedagogical questions of how to teach students in a digital age, but also how to fashion ourselves as scholars in a time where the academic disciplines, themselves, have changed fundamentally. For example, no longer is English simply the study of literature, but it is also textual studies where academics can reconstruct and examine lost texts and/or visualize texts through the use of technology. Moreover, with things like data mining and mapping, no longer are words one dimensional, but they are in 3-D and kinetic. Changing the scope of words has in effect changed the scope of academy. As many of our small private liberal arts colleges do not have access to digital scholars labs and other teaching and learning centers devoted to helping humanities faculty with technical aspects of digital scholarship, the question becomes exactly when and where do faculty at the small HBCUs enter into the larger national and international conversations about the digital humanities.

Moreover, the ostensible truth is that we should be center of these conversations because of the myriad opportunities for archiving, constructing, and engaging with material in African American religion, philosophy, literature, music, history and the visual arts that our schools provide. Indeed, many of our historically black colleges are rich repositories of history in African American life and culture. While the questions about digital scholarship and learning seem to always come back to resources, the focus at UNCF institutions should be on the way in which these colleges can start where they are to build community and pool information and best practices in order to allow our faculty and their work to emerge in this new academy. This UNCF/Mellon Teaching and Learning Institute: “Mapping a New Future by Mining the Past: HBCUS and the Digital Humanities” was a workshop where 16 faculty members from Paine, Claflin, Spelman, Clark, Morehouse, and Dillard convened on Morehouse’s campus and at The Robert W. Woodruff Library July 24-27, 2014 to look at the intersections of African American Studies and digital scholarship. Each invited scholar will brought an individual research or class project and constructed a strategy for completing that digital humanities project given the resources that they have on their campuses and an iPad mini, which was provided provided by the seminar. By offering faculty the space and time to engage with technology, this workshop sought to fulfill the mission set forth by UNCF in 2010, which was to “investigate current and future opportunities for research, careers and civic engagement that are informed by innovative uses of digital media.”

One of the excellent facilitators Howard Rambsy wrote more about the importance of this institute on his blog Cultural Front here

Are We Still Creating Kings?: Morehouse College and the Challenge of Educating Black Males

In his 2013 Commencement Address at Morehouse College, President Barack Obama called on the graduates to remember what the legendary educator, Benjamin E. Mays, who had been president of Morehouse from 1940 to 1967, said was the role of every graduate who wanted to call themselves a man. Mays said:

It will not be sufficient for Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter, to produce clever graduates — but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private life — men who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting (those) ills.

Not only is Obama calling on Mays significant here because of what Mays meant to higher education for blacks in general, but, more specifically, because of what Mays meant to the life and work of Morehouse’s most famous graduate, Martin Luther King Jr. As Lawrence E. Carter notes in his Walking in Integrity: Benjamin Elijah Mays, Mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr., there was no one who in terms of his philosophy and practice, who had a greater impact on King than Benjamin E. Mays. It is Mays, who King called” his spiritual and intellectual father,” who would deliver the eulogy at King’s funeral. Further Obama, in his commencement address, would recall that King, who enrolled at Morehouse when he was 15 under a program that Mays instituted in order to get the students young before the could be drafted into the war, wasn’t born as the revolutionary he became. In effect, King became the person that he was because of his contact with Morehouse College. Obama states:

Dr. King was just 15 years old when he enrolled here at Morehouse. He was an unknown, undersized, unassuming young freshman who lived at home with his parents. And I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t the coolest kid on campus — for the suits he wore, his classmates called him “Tweed.” But his education at Morehouse helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America. It was here that he was introduced to the writings of Gandhi and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience. It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be. And it was here, at Morehouse, as Dr. King later wrote, where “I realized that nobody — was afraid.”

Thinking about the role that Morehouse College and its educators like Howard Thurman, Benjamin Mays and Lucius Tobin played in constructing Martin Luther King and in Obama’s ideal of a Morehouse Man, the question for us becomes: are we doing the job that Mays called on us to do and of which King becomes the emblem? Are we teaching these black male students to be unafraid, to be intellectually rigorous, and to make a difference in their communities? Are we, in effect, creating Kings?

It seems that with the challenges that face us as professors, the answer will be not always. In fact, we are regularly plagued with academic dishonesty, apathy, and, what we call in the students, the tendency to rely on “the academic hustle”– the belief that students can get over on their professors by skirting work all semester only to come at the end and negotiate grades. Indeed, it seems that sometimes, teaching character and responsibility, in addition to the rigors of your discipline is more than any one person can handle. However, what Clayborne Carson and archival research will tell you is that King, while at Morehouse, was not a model student. He was an average student who excelled at oratory– or in the use of words, but he rarely made getting the best grades his focus. But there was something that was sparked in him by Mays, who was Morehouse’s first president with a doctorate, to go on to seminary and later get a Ph.D. with an A average. There was something in King’s education at Morehouse that made him willing to fight and die for the rights of others. That something, that is not quantifiable by grades, is what we realized at Morehouse that we need to focus on in order to produce well educated citizens and good human beings. Moreover, studying the words of Martin Luther King, and through him Benjamin Mays and Howard Thurman, allows students to gain an understanding of how their own educative process is important.

Therefore, through this research, which I intend to undertake with Yohance Murray in Psychology and Andrea McEachron in Reading and Critical Thinking, I will produce scholarship exploring the pedagogical strategies that I employ using Martin Luther King’s works in order to make sure that our students are not only good writers and critical thinkers but also willing, despite GPA, to think about the impact that they will make on the world around them.

Relevant Sources

Banks, Adam J. “Martin, Malcolm and a Black Digital Ethos.” Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Carson, Clayborne. “Martin Luther King Jr.: The Crozer Seminary Years.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.16 (Summer, 1997), pp. 123-128.

—————–. “Martin Luther King Jr.: The Morehouse Years.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 15 (Spring, 1997), pp. 121-125.

Carter, Lawrence Edward, ed. Walking in Integrity: Benjamin Elijah Mays, Mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1998.

Jelks, Randal Maurice. Benjamin Elijah Mays: Schoolmaster of the Movement. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2012.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. Strength to Love. New York: Fortress Press, 2010. Print.

——————. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991. Print.

Mays, Benjamin E. Born to Rebel. Athens, U of Georgia P, 2003. Print.

Obama, Barack. “2013 Morehouse College Commencement Address.” Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA. 19 May 2013.

Thurman, Howard. The Luminous Darkness. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Print.

On the Digital Road

Recently, I have begun to ponder the question of whether or not all institutions of higher learning need to offer online classes. Small liberal arts colleges, like Morehouse and Spelman, seem to have missions of developing the whole person that would preclude them from allowing anyone to get a full degree online. However, even if one cannot get a full degree, I think that small liberal arts colleges need to think about what certificate programs and individual classes might be offered in some sort of hybrid fashion using existing technology. These articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education seem to suggest that all universities need to have an online plan. I fully agree.

Why Apple Products Are Still Best For Educators

People often ask me why I still recommend an iPad, iPod, or iPhone for educational use when the Android platform is growing everyday and Microsoft and Google both offer solutions for educators. Quite simply, Apple still offers the best and most comprehensive experience for both students and educators. And while there will be things that are cheaper and things that are sexy–for example, I love the HTC One phone–I realize that the things that I need to do are best done on my iPad. Two apps that are crucial to me Gradebook Pro and Explain Everything are only available on iOS. Really, do yourself a favor and check them out. It is not an exaggeration to say that they and the iPad have revolutionized my teaching.

So for now I am still an Apple advocate, but I am praying for a new form factor for the iPhone this year and I am eagerly awaiting iOS7.

Writing in a Digital Age

How many of us use the speech to text function on the iPad or our computers? I am really amazed at the fact that this is a wonderful technology that it seems that I rarely use. I decided to write this post today on my iPad using my voice. I think one of the problems is that as writers we think that we should only write using our hands or by typing on the keyboard. But we are in the digital age and, as we continue to think of what it means to do the digital humanities, we need to think about other means of composing.

As someone who has given a lot of talks and speeches, I know that a lot of what I talk about isn’t written down beforehand. I know the work and creativity that go in to making those speeches and presentations. Speech is a different kind of writing and with all of these new technologies it’s something we need to consider. How are we going to integrate voice into our writing lives? Try today to leave your self voice notes, if you have an apple or android phone. Explore programs like Dragon Dictation for your PC. Also, I think that speech recognition has gotten amazingly good and you can also use these technologies to have the iPad, for example, read aloud to us.

Here are some keys to using voice on Apple devices (because these are the devices I am most familiar with):

1. Speak your punctuation. Read your sentence and then add,.;!, etc. This way you don’t have to worry about actually putting in the punctuation.

2. Use the microphone button anytime you have the keyboard present. Use Siri to ask your questions in a Google search, for example. For things like the WordPress app, when the keyboard comes up simply only use the microphone function. Speak your tweets.


3. Turn on voice that will allow the iPad or computer to read any text back to you.
See this article

Telling Our Stories Digitally

Storify has been an interesting medium to play with in terms of trying to archive my scholarship. What I like about it is that more than just being simply a way of posting things to the web, Storify becomes a way of aggregating the ideas that you might have already been gathering on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or by taking pictures with your phone. Pinterest is similar, in terms of allowing you to create a visual pin board to gather your ideas all in one place, but Storify and its ability to help string a narrative out of what you are doing is really a step above.

I only use the iPad app for Storify and cannot speak of its ease of use on the computer, but the ability to drag and drop video or images and then to type text linking those images, web pages, and tweets mimics the way my mind works. Most of my “stories” I do not publish. I use Storify as a way to organize my work for my own sake–it helps me think as a digital humanist. As I continue thinking about ebooks, blogs, twitter, and the best way to archive and share information, I really am reminded that technology is a tool that is only as good as the story it tells.

You can follow my stories on or click on the storify link above to see the story I wrote on HBCUs and the digital humanities.


“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

― Howard Thurman


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