The Department of Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison Welcomes 2 New Faculty Members

Mosi Adesina Ifatunji and Brittney Michelle Edmonds are newest members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ifatunji is an assistant professor in the Department of Afro American Studies, where he also holds affiliations in the Department of Sociology and at the Center for Demography and Ecology. Before joining the faculty at Madison, he held teaching and faculty appointments at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (at the Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research at the  Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (in the Department of Sociology, at the Institute for African American Research and at the Carolina Population Center). His primary research and teaching interests are in racial and ethnic theory and the methods used to study inequality and stratification. He is particularly interested in theorizing how non-physical characteristics (i.e., language, religion and nationality) contribute to racial classification and stratification.

Edmonds is an interdisciplinary scholar of 20th and 21st Century African American literature and culture. She researches and specializes in the study of Black critical humor after 1968. Her scholarship and her courses highlight how otherwise modes of being, feeling, speaking, and writing defamiliarize and destabilize hegemonic productions of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Through an approach that centers the theoretical interventions of Black feminisms, Edmonds emphasizes the ways in which Black cultural producers remap and restage dominant understandings of “blackness.” Her current book manuscript, “Look Who’s Laughing Now: Black Critical Humor and the Political Labor of the Abstract,” investigates the use of humor and abstraction as a form of political critique, discourse, and engagement.

In addition, Edmonds has a broad interest in Black sexuality studies, especially theories of Black masculinity. With historian Jennifer D. Jones, she co-founded the Black Queer Sexuality Studies Collective at Princeton University.


Fearless Leader, Protector of Democracy, Congressman Elijah Cummings Dies at 68

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings died Oct. 17 at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications from longstanding health challenges, his congressional office said. He was 68.

A sharecropper’s son, Cummings became the powerful chairman of a U.S. House committee and was a formidable orator who passionately advocated for the poor in his Black-majority district, which encompasses a large portion of Baltimore as well as more well-to-do suburbs.

Cummings’ long career spanned decades in Maryland politics. He rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning his congressional seat in a special election in 1996 to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left the seat to lead the NAACP.

Throughout his career, Cummings used his fiery voice to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city residents. He was a firm believer in some much-debated approaches to help the poor and addicted, such as needle exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS.


Trailblazing Actor Diahann Carroll Dies at 84

Diahann Carroll, the Oscar-nominated actress and singer who won critical acclaim as the first Black woman to star in a non-servant role in a TV series as “Julia,” died on Oct. 4. She was 84.

Carroll’s daughter, Suzanne Kay, told The Associated Press her mother died Friday in Los Angeles of cancer. During her remarkable career, Carroll earned a Tony Award for the musical “No Strings” and an Academy Award nomination for “Claudine.”

But she was perhaps best known for her pioneering work on “Julia.” Carroll played Julia Baker, a nurse whose husband had been killed in Vietnam, in the groundbreaking situation comedy that aired from 1968 to 1971. NBC executives were reportedly wary about putting “Julia” on the network during the racial unrest of the 1960s, but it became an immediate hit.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry paid tribute to the groundbreaking African American actress by dedicating a new soundstage at his sprawling Atlanta studio to Carroll during a gala ceremony the day following her death.


Derek Johnson and Gloria Reyes to be Honored at Mentoring Positives Anniversary Event

Mentoring Positives is excited to recognize Dr. Derek Johnson and Gloria Reyes with the Muriel Pipkins Award at the Mentoring Positives 15th Anniversary event on Nov. 16. The award, named after MP Founder Will Green’s mother, who passed away at the young age of 46, recognizes individuals who exhibit compassion, integrity, dedication and leadership to improve the lives of young people in Madison.

Johnson serves as the assistant director for Engineering Outreach for the UW-Madison College of Engineering’s Diversity Affairs Office. Johnson also serves on the boards of the Goodman Community Center and Families and Schools Together, Inc.

Reyes has committed her career to public service as a law enforcement officer, deputy mayor and currently serving as Madison School Board President, the first Latina to serve this role. Reyes is cofounder and president of Adelante, a political action group aimed to prepare and support candidates of color to run for office.


Bird Bear to be UW-Madison’s First Tribal Relational Director

Aaron Bird Bear, a skilled administrator with extensive professional experience on Native Nations issues, has been named to the newly created full-time position of tribal relations director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bird Bear, a UW-Madison alumnus, currently serves as the School of Education’s assistant dean for student diversity programs. In his new role, he will work to foster strong ties between the 12 First Nations of Wisconsin and the university and represent the UW-Madison Division of Extension leadership in collaborations with tribal communities. He will transition to his new role Nov. 1.

“Strengthening our relationships with the First Nations of Wisconsin is one of our highest priorities, and we are excited that someone of Aaron’s experience and knowledge has agreed to help us advance this effort in partnership with the American Indian nations and communities of Wisconsin,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Aaron is a recognized leader who brings to this role an acute awareness of the university’s history on Native issues and a deep understanding of the work that needs to be done.”

This is the first time in the university’s history it has had a director of tribal relations. At least 14 other universities have similar positions, most of them in western states. The national search to fill the position was led by Larry Nesper, a UW-Madison professor of anthropology and American Indian Studies and director of the American Indian Studies Program.


Bass Reeves: The Bullet-Dodging Black Lone Ranger History Almost Forgot

It’s believed that the real “Lone Ranger” was inspired by an African American man named Bass Reeves. Reeves had been born a slave but escaped West during the Civil War where he lived in what was then known as Indian Territory. He eventually became a Deputy U.S. Marshal, was a master of disguise, an expert marksman, had a Native American companion, and rode a silver horse. His story was not unique.

In the 19th century, the Wild West drew enslaved Blacks with the hope of freedom and wages. When the Civil War ended, freedmen came West with the hope of a better life where the demand for skilled labor was high. These African Americans made up at least a quarter of the legendary cowboys who lived dangerous lives facing weather, rattlesnakes, and outlaws while they slept under the stars driving cattle herds to market.

While there was little formal segregation in frontier towns and a great deal of personal freedom, Black cowboys were often expected to do more of the work and the roughest jobs compared to their white counterparts. Loyalty did develop between the cowboys on a drive, but the Black cowboys were typically responsible for breaking the horses and being the first ones to cross flooded streams during cattle drives. In fact, it is believed that the term “cowboy” originated as a derogatory term used to describe Black “cowhands.”


‘All of Us’ Research Program at UW-Madison Announces Partnership with Aaron Perry’s Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association

The “All of Us” Research Program at University of Wisconsin-Madison launched a partnership with Aaron Perry and his Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association to recruit and enroll participants in this historic health research effort to help speed up medical breakthroughs.

Perry’s Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association includes a Men’s Wellness and a Men’s Health and Education Center located within JP Hair Design, Madison’s largest black barbershop. The Association serves as a community resource hub for more information about the “All of Us” program, as well as an enrollment location for those who wish to join.

“Aaron Perry is an exceptional leader, so this partnership will be instrumental in our efforts to engage with and inform Madison’s African-American community about the benefits of the ‘All of Us’ Research Program,” said Dr. Elizabeth Burnside, co-principal investigator, “All of Us” – UW-Madison. “Health research too often leaves out African-Americans. We believe ‘All of Us’ has the potential to change this pattern and drive research discoveries that significantly improve the health of African-Americans, and other underrepresented groups, in Wisconsin, for generations.”

The “All of Us” Research Program at UW-Madison is part of a nationwide effort to enroll one million or more people who will share information over time for use in thousands of health research studies. In this way, the program aims to advance medical discoveries and improve prevention and treatment of a range of diseases. UW Health joins UW-Madison as a key partner, assisting with outreach and enrollment efforts in southcentral Wisconsin.


Montgomery, Alabama, Elects Its 1st African American mayor

Montgomery, Alabama, known as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, elected an African American to the highest position in municipal government for the first time in its 200-year history.

Steven Reed, the Montgomery County probate judge, beat television station owner David Woods in a runoff, gaining 32,918 votes to Woods’ 16,010 votes, according to incomplete, unofficial returns. Reed will be sworn in Nov. 12.

Reed was the first African American elected as the county’s probate judge in 2012. In 2015, he was the first probate judge in Alabama to issue same-sex marriage licenses.


John Conyers, Longest Serving Black Congressman, Dies at 90

Former U.S. Rep. John Conyers, one of the longest-serving members of Congress whose resolutely liberal stance on civil rights made him a political institution in Washington and back home in Detroit, died on Oct. 27. He was 90.

According to the Associated Press, Conyers was known as the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, which he helped found. He became one of only six black House members when he won his first election by just 108 votes in 1964. The race was the beginning of more than 50 years of election dominance: Conyers regularly won elections with more than 80% of the vote.

Conyers was born and grew up in Detroit, where his father, John Conyers Sr., was a union organizer in the automotive industry and an international representative with the United Auto Workers union. He insisted that his son, a jazz aficionado from an early age, not become a musician. The younger Conyers heeded the advice, but jazz remained, he said, one of his “great pleasures.”