2013 Black New England Conference

2013 BNEC Poster
"Self-Invented" Black Women: Navigating Race, Space and Place
Featuring Keynote Speaker Actress, Author and Activist, Sheryl Lee Ralph
October 25 – 26, 2013
Huddleston Hall, University of New Hampshire

This year's 8th Annual Black New England Conference investigates the significant roles Black women have played and continue to play in shaping the history, culture, and image of New England. With a lens on the nation and a focus on the New England region, presenters will discuss ways in which Black women have historically navigated New England's particular geography and structures of race, class and gender through their journeys of "self invention." By resisting narratives that sought to marginalize them, Black women have historically created alternative paths for themselves, their families and their communities on their journey to self-creation.

The Black New England Conference is a 2-day conference that gathers scholars, teachers, researchers, community members and members of local organizations, to share their work and insights on the Black experience past and present in New England. It is both an academic conference and a celebration of Black life and history in New England.

Friday, October 25
Portsmouth, NH
12 - 1:30 p.m.
Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail Tour with Valerie Cunningham
MUB Theatre II/UNH Durham

2:30 - 4:00 p.m.
Film & Film Discussion

Facilitator: Delia Konzett with Special Guest Robin Beaman

Movies have the amazing ability to transport us to a different place and time. Great films remove us from our current reality and force us to reflect upon our own world. Join us for a fascinating and thought provoking dialogue as we view three such films—The Josephine Baker Story, Mahogany and DreamGirls—that reflect on deeply ingrained beliefs and attitudes of society around gender, class, race and the black woman's experience in the United States.

Huddleston Hall
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Opening Dinner, Interview and Book Signing with Keynote Speaker, Sheryl Lee Ralph

Host: Reginald Wilburn


Original DREAMGIRL, Sheryl Lee Ralph is a multifaceted jewel of a woman who sparkles in every area of life. An acclaimed show business "pro", her award winning body of work in film, television and the Broadway stage includes originating and creating the role of Deena Jones on Broadway in the landmark musical Dreamgirls, which earned her a Tony Award Nomination and a Drama Desk Award Nomination for Best Actress.

Her extensive film credits include Sister Act II, The Mighty Quinn with Denzel Washington, Mistress with Robert De Niro, and Eddie Murphy's Distinguished Gentleman. Sheryl Lee's performance with Danny Glover in To Sleep with Anger won her the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was voted one of TV's Favorite Moms for her portrayal of loving step mom, Dee on the smash series Moesha and received numerous NAACP Image Award nominations for this role.

As a producer and AIDS activist, Ms. Ralph created the critically acclaimed Divas Simply Singing!, an evening of song and entertainment which has become one of the most highly anticipated AIDS benefits in Hollywood. Ms. Ralph was awarded the first Red Ribbon Award at the UN for her unique use of the arts in battling HIV/AIDS. She is the founding director of the DIVA (AIDS) Foundation 501C3 which she created in memory of the many friends she has lost to HIV/AIDS. Honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Inc. she holds the distinction of being the first and youngest female graduate of Rutgers College (RU) at the age of 19. She also has a Doctorate in Humanities from Tougaloo College for her AIDS activism.


Saturday, October 26
Huddleston Hall, UNH
8:30 - 9:00 a.m.
Registration and Continential Breakfast
9:00 -10:30 a.m.
Session #1: Sister Citizen: A Culture of Self Creation

This panel will introduce little know African American women who wove themselves into the fabric of New England's culture and beyond.
Moderator: Eve Raimon, University of Southern Maine

Edmonia Lewis

"Edmonia Lewis: Passport In Hand" by Marilyn Richardson, Harvard

Edmonia Lewis played her life like a hand of cards held close to her chest. She was willing to gamble, bluff, deal, and figure the odds and the angles. As occasion or opportunity suggested, she emphasized at times her blackness and at times her Indian heritage. Her strong will, her independence, and the bleak reverse of those two valuable coins, her isolation, all came into play in a life lived without model, template or precedent.

Harriet Wilson

"Founding Mother, Confounding Narratives: Harriet Wilson's Past & Present New England" by Cait Vaughan, Independent Scholar

Harriet Wilson's novel Our Nig is an incisive literary expression and examination of a bi-racial Black woman's experiences living and laboring in antebellum New England. Her work also functions as a sharp analytical tool for elucidating the region's present day manifestations of gendered racism. The protagonist Frado's self-invention is overwhelmingly shaped via navigations of Mrs. Bellmont's intimate and economic violence as a white female authority figure in the home. My discussion draws upon recent scholarship in critical race studies and queer studies to place in conversation Wilson's subversive rendering of interracial female association in 1859 and surviving 'master' narratives about New England identity that deny and distort contemporary white neoliberal violence in social and economic spheres. The aim is two-fold: To grasp Wilson's complex literary maneuvers that crafted a story disruptive to white-authored and widely-accepted accounts of New England identity at a critical point prior to the Civil War; and, to pose questioning about what bearing her story has on avenues for negotiation, resistance and self-creation currently available to and accessed by Black women living in New England.

Pauline Hopkins

"Pauline Hopkins: Self-Invention and Re-inventing the Gospel of Miltonic Revolution" by Reginald Wilburn, University of New Hampshire

This presentation marks my foray into studying the subversive role of Miltonic presence in Hopkins' serialized fiction. The focus aims to contextualize Hopkins' self-invention as a "Black daughter of the Revolution" as examined in Lois Brown's recent biography before identifying then explicating the significance of Miltonic presence as a valuable feature of the novelist's double-voiced heritage. In addition to expanding the roll of "Milton's Black Sisterhood," a collective of self-invented women whose re-mastery of England's epic poet of liberty showcase their gifts of intertextual evangelism, my paper exposes Hopkins' Miltonic allusions, echoic snippets, and appropriations as demonic soundscapes as a radical poetics for reinventing Milton and his meaning(s) in American culture at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Fannie Barrier Williams

"Fannie Barrier Williams and the Unpardonable Sin of Social Equality," by V. Kay McCrimon, University of Illinois Chicago African American Cultural Center

Fannie Barrier Williams held a distinct position in American history. She was an African-American woman born in the mid-nineteenth century; but unlike the majority of her intellectual counterparts of the day who were born into slavery in the South, Barrier Williams was born a free-black woman in the North. She was extremely outspoken and a very independent thinker. Because she was married to an attorney, was fair-skinned, and able to socialize in both black and white circles, Barrier Williams was considered an elitist by some, and had been accused of passing for white. She joined forces with various interracial social justice organizations to become a prominent spokesperson for progressive economic, racial, and gender reforms. Fannie Barrier Williams acknowledged the exceptional privileges she experienced as a light-skinned black woman in America; and although she associated herself with white organizations, foremost in her heart, and always in her fight, was how to aid and uplift the African American community, especially black women, whom she considered the most oppressed.

10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
Session #2: Branding the Black Woman: Mammies, Jezebels, Sapphires and Video Vixens

This panel explores historical and current representations of Black women in America and the cultural and psychological response to those representations.
Moderator: Courtney Marshall, University of New Hampshire

IMAN cosmetics

Depictions of "Black Womanhood in the Beauty Industry: African American Women Reclaiming Their Own Self Images" by Karen Chambers, Director for Design and Development, IMAN Cosmetics

For decades, the beauty industry has been responsible for imposing idealized commercial concepts of Blackness and Womanhood on African American women. These images have often been dictated by "majority" owned and operated beauty brands making "ivory tower" decisions with little or no understanding of their customers' intrinsic sense of self. From skin tones and hair textures to facial features and attitudes, brand managers, marketing firms and ad execs have had the power to deem what was and wasn't worthy of being considered "the new black" based largely on stereotypes and market trends. Today, however, Social Media is proving to be a valuable tool in leveling the cultural playing field, by creating a two-way conversation between consumers and brands. Black Women are becoming the thought leaders in a promising shift towards a new demand for realism, diversity and consumer-driven self identification.

Lil Twist, TWERK

"Borrowing Black Bodies: Cultural Appropriation," by Aminah Pilgrim, University of Massachusetts

In this brief presentation, Pilgrim will discuss recent examples of the appropriation of black women's artistic and cultural expression, for instance, Miley Cyrus's "twerking" at the MTV awards. She will review the social media response to these and other incidents and examine ways that young black women use their own blogs, vlogs, etc. to "talk back" and reclaim artistic expression and power.

"The Vulnerability of Being in Charge," by Virginia Towler, Esq., Author

Black women are at the front of major battles but at the end of the day, many of us are alone. How do we cope?

12:15 – 1:30 p.m.
Lunch and Lunchtime Performance

"Sweet Honey in the Rock" a soulful performance by Sandi Clark and her group from the Jukwaa Theatre Company, Portsmouth New Hampshire.

1:30 – 3:00 p.m.
Session #3: Towards a Politics of Empowerment: The Ones We Have Been Waiting For

Through personal stories and the pairing of successful Black women with rising stars, this panel will explore how Black women have traditionally formed networks that provide the structure for the emergence of leaders in their communities.

Moderator: Vivian Johnson, Boston University

The Gift

The Gift.  "I always say the gift is the obsession. It means that you can't stop doing this thing...all we know is we have to keep doing it and we have to do whatever it takes to maintain our ability to do it." Fern Cunningham, Sculptor

Women of Power

The Vision.Over the years, I had many nay-sayers and many doubters. But I refused to lose sight of my vision. I never let that go.” Nadine Thompson, International Entrepreneur

The Journey

The Journey. “I had to find a direction, which meant I had to look much deeper at myself, my life, and my family. I will admit that this was very hard, and there were many tears along the way.”  Addie Fisher, UNH BFA Graduate

The Achievement. “With state-of-the-art instruments, including new electronic grains developed during my PhD, I resolved the fluid velocities at the bed and collected the first direct measurements of sediment motion.” Donya Frank, UNH PhD Candidate

Keynote Speaker: Sheryl Lee Ralph
3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Session #3: Keynote Address, The Strength of a Woman, and Closing Reception

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph is one of those rare actresses in Tinsletown that bridges the gap between old Black Hollywood and current day. At age 19 she made her film debut opposite Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby in 1977's A Piece of the Action. Ralph was later nominated for originating the role of Deena Jones in the Broadway production of Dreamgirls in 1982. And by 1996 she was America's favorite stepmom on the Brandy vehicle Moesha. Today the 55-year-old Ralph chronicles her career and the lessons learned from it in her candid new memoir, Redefining Diva: Life Lessons From the Original Dreamgirl.

The mother of two spoke to BET.com about her new book, working with the legendary Poitier, the best career advice she got from Robert DeNiro and why she can't wait to work with ABC show creator Shonda Rhimes.



Karen Chambers

Karen Chambers was named one of the beauty industry's leading women to watch by Upscale Magazine. She is an alumna of Rutgers University with a BA in Communication and advanced certifications in spiritual development, intercultural/interfaith studies and holistic healing. She is currently Director of Design & Development for IMAN Cosmetics and throughout her 20 year career in product development, marketing and communications has held executive positions with multicultural fashion and beauty brands including: Flori Roberts, Black Radiance, Dark & Lovely and Ashley Stewart. Her industry credits include receiving an ESSENCE Beauty Award for Best Mineral Makeup for Women of Color and an Oprah "O-Ward" for Best-in-Beauty Concealer. Ms Chambers has also been a longtime contributing style, travel, beauty and lifestyle writer and editor for Black Enterprise, Black Elegance, Spa Odyssey, Hype Hair, Sophisticate's Black Hair Magazine and Black Planet.com. As a career development coach/ business consultant, she has successfully directed women's empowerment, personal branding and workforce training programs for organizations such as: The Urban League, Salvation Army and the Private Industry Council. Her life's work is dedicated to encouraging women to discover their own unique sense of beauty and self-expression through dynamic personal and professional development.

Fern Cunningham

Fern Cunningham was born in New York City. Her mother was from Brooklyn and her dad was from the Bronx. They moved to Alaska when she was four because he was working for the government. There he worked for the bureau of Indian affairs as a tuberculosis specialist. At that time she was strongly influenced by the Mount Rushmore and the stone sculpture done by the Native Americans in Alaska. By the time she was in fifth grade, she announced she was going to be an art teacher and by the time she was in tenth grade she made the decision to be a sculptor. Her parents sent her to France, where she studied art in Fontainebleau right out of high school. She then moved on to Boston University where she majored in sculpture.

Addie Fisher

Addie Fisher graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts. Her recent work reflects not only her own journey to self-creation, but also the histories and the journey of African Americans in a White world. Inspired by the artistic expressions of Carrie Mae Weems, Teenie Harris, and Kara Walker, Fisher’s work focus on issues of identity , social status, isolation and race. “This personal soul bearing is something I have tried to avoid, as I am still exploring the pieces of my life, and have not yet become comfortable with the real me. By keeping my individuality hidden, yet represented as a male, I can express both my struggles, and the journey of African Americans in a White world.”

Donya Frank

Donya Frank is a PhD student enrolled in the Ocean Engineering Program at the University of New Hampshire. She is from Jamaica and has a personal interest in understanding coastal phenomena. She obtained her BS in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College, Claremont California and her MS in Civil Engineering at The Ohio State University with a focus on Coastal Engineering.

Vivian Johnson

Vivian Johnson, Boston University Associate Professor Emeriti, earned a Doctorate in Education in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has served as a consultant to a number of educational institutions including multicultural film evaluation for WGBH Boston, curriculum development for University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University College and school-staff development for Boston University’s African Studies Outreach Program. In 1989, she joined the faculty at Boston University’s School of Education as an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Administration, Training and Policy Studies. During her time at Boston University, Johnson received the prestigious Fulbright Summer Seminar Award to study multicultural education in Indonesia.

Delia Konzett

Delia Konzett is Assistant Professor of English and Cinema/American/Women's Studies at UNH. She is the author of Ethnic Modernisms and is currently working on WWII Film and Orientalism.

V. Kay James McCrimon

V. Kay James McCrimon is the Assistant Director of the African-American Cultural Center (AACC) at the University of Illinois in Chicago, IL. She has taught public speaking and sales & marketing as an adjunct professor in the Department of Communications, Media Arts and Theatre at Chicago State University. Her research interests include 19th century African-American women, the history of African-Americans in broadcasting, the blacklisting of African-Americans in the fine arts, and the history of Black Chicagoans. Currently, her social media interests include maintaining a daily FB blog, “If You Don’t Know, Now You Know,” that features the achievements of African-Americans in the arts.

Courtney Marshall

Courtney Marshall, Assistant Professor of English and Women’s Studies, University of New Hampshire specializes in critical race feminism, law and literature, and prison studies. Her current book project theorizes crime and punishment as the center of African-American women’s literary and cultural production. She also teaches a seminar on race, gender, and technology. Her current blog: “This (Covered) Bridge Called My Back: New England’s Radical Women of Color.”

Aminah Pilgrim

Aminah Pilgrim is an Asst. Professor of Africana Studies at UMass Boston, and a community organizer/activist, working on the issues of youth/gang violence, the school to prison pipeline, immigrant transitions and women’s empowerment. She is the founder of the HIPHOP Initiative at UMass Boston which is an organization that uses hip hop to increase critical media literacy among youth in the greater Boston area, and offers consciousness raising events to college students and the public.

Eve Raimon

Eve Allegra Raimon received her Ph.D. in American and English literature from Brandeis University. She teaches nineteenth century African American and American literature and culture, race and ethnic studies, cultural studies and popular culture, media studies and non-fiction writing. She is co-editor of the collection Harriet Wilson's New England: Race, Writing, & Region, with a forward by Henry Louis Gates. She is also the author of The "Tragic Mulatta" Revisited: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth Century Antislavery Fiction. Professor Raimon is the author of published essays on a range of topics, most recently on incarceration and sexuality in the work of James Baldwin as well as a book chapter on the mammy figure in Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman. Raimon was awarded a faculty senate research grant for 2013-2014 academic year to work on her current book project, "Beyond the Black Heritage Trail: Race, Place, and Public Memory in New England."

Marilyn Richardson, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, has taught and lectured nationally and internationally on African-American cultural and intellectual history. She has held fellowships at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, and the DuBois Institute there as well. Her publications include Black Women and Religion (G.K. Hall) and Maria W. Stewart: America’s First Black Woman Political Writer (Indiana University Press), along with numerous essays, articles and reviews for a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, Sotheby’s auction catalogues, and The Women’s Review of Books. She has taught at Harvard University, Boston University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a move from academia to the museum world, she served as curator of Boston’s Museum of African American History and the African Meeting Houses on Beacon Hill and on Nantucket. She is also recognized as a leading authority on the 19th-century Afro-Indian sculptor, Edmonia Lewis. Richardson is the principal of ART + HISTORY CONSULTANTS providing programs, exhibitions, and research resources to a range of clients including schools, libraries, conferences, museums, auction houses, and historical societies. She is currently working on a project with the historic Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome.

Virginia Towler calls herself a “reluctant attorney” who consults with international companies, mainly small biz start ups in information technology. She has traveled widely and brings to her practice a depth of intimacy that only her life experiences, cultural exposure and a lifetime of study and work in the international sector can bring.

Nadine Thompson

Nadine A. Thompson, CEO & Founder of Nadine Thompson Enterprises and Soul Purpose Lifestyle Company is a woman with vision. As the Co-Founder and former President and CEO of Warm Spirit, a unique direct-sales company that produced herbal beauty products, she transformed the face of the direct sales and network marketing industry by providing an opportunity for wealth-building and financial freedom that had not always been accessible for women—and even less so for the African-American community. With her success, Thompson was propelled into the national spotlight and is now recognized as a committed and passionate advocate and noted speaker in the areas of racial equality, entrepreneurship, women’s issues and empowerment. Thompson’s long-term, compelling vision is to establish the Nsorommo Foundation where successful Soul Purpose entrepreneurs will mentor and coach other women from the Native American and African Diaspora around the ideas of business development and entrepreneurship using Soul Purpose Lifestyle as the paradigm for wealth creation and empowerment.

Cait Vaughan

Cait Vaughan is an independent scholar and community organizer currently residing in Portland, Maine. After graduating from UNH in 2008 with a degree in English Literature & Africana and African American Studies, Cait went on to serve as the coordinator for academic minors in ethnic studies under the Center for Humanities. Since 2011, she coordinates faculty development seminars for an international education non-profit and works part-time at a local homeless resource center. Her current passion and labor of love is being an organizer and board treasurer for the Southern Maine Workers' Center, a Portland-based worker and economic justice organization.

Reginald A. Wilburn

Reginald A. Wilburn is an Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of New Hampshire. His primary field of research is African American literature and culture. As an educator and mentor, Dr. Reginald Wilburn teaches his students to have a voice through their work. Dr. Wilburn teaches Women’s Studies, English, and African-American literature. The professor is highly recognized in his work as well as highly recommended by students. In fact, it is said “students are missing out if they leave UNH without taking one of Dr. Wilburn’s classes.”