In Class: AAS 100 Introduction to African American Studies, Baltimore Riots

Bryan Meltz

Course Description

This course takes as its point of departure the unrest in Baltimore City in April and May 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray. Using the exceptionally rich heuristic device of the African American studies discipline—an investigative tool that places at its center Africa, black people, and the black experience in the Western hemisphere—we will conduct an examination of a contemporary explosion in an American city. Drawing from the methods and resources of history, legal theory, sociology, political science, journalism, creative writing, and digital media, the course gives a broad overview to the topics and debates of disciplinary import. Students will participate fully as researchers and analysts in four broad areas as they investigate the causes and solutions to the widespread civil unrest: education, health care, residential segregation, and mass incarceration. The course also asks the questions: What is the modern intellectual role played by American students at a premier research institution? What is the relationship between academic research and active social movements, particularly one that has exploded into mass violence and civil unrest?

Faculty CV

Lawrence Jackson is professor of African American studies and English. He is the author of the 2012 historical memoir My Father’s Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War. In 2010, Jackson completed The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934–1960, the winner of four national awards, including the William Sanders Scarborough Prize from the Modern Language Association and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association prize for nonfiction. He also is the author of the 2002 biography Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius, and he publishes essays and creative nonfiction in N+1, American Literary History, Antioch Review, New England Quarterly, and Black Renaissance Noire. Jackson earned a PhD at Stanford University in 1997 and is the recipient of fellowships from the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Ford Foundation, and the National Humanities Center.

Today's Lecture

David Miller, cofounder of the Urban Leadership Institute, has traveled from Baltimore to serve as today’s guest speaker. A Baltimore native who, like Jackson, grew up in a rough neighborhood, Miller tells the students about watching a friend die in his arms after being gunned down by gang members outside a nightclub, and nearly ruining his own life by seeking revenge. He describes how he took his firsthand experience with urban street culture and channeled it to help young people—first as an educator, and now as founder of the Urban Leadership Institute, an organization that supports youth development and success through a range of educational programs. Miller and Jackson will be guiding the Emory students when they visit Baltimore in December for an active learning component and critical assessment that includes meetings with elected officials, city bureau commissioners, and community activists.

Quotes To Note

I had already been arrested twice by the time I turned eighteen. The only reason I didn’t go to prison, and the only reason Dr. Jackson didn’t go to prison, is because we grew up in what you would call a community, with a two-parent household and a network of support. I have dedicated most of my professional adult life to helping young men like the ones we grew up with.”

“I think one thing a lot of people don’t realize is the speed at which a young African American male can go from elementary school to what we call baby booking. Within walking distance of a Baltimore elementary school is a juvenile detention facility that starts processing people at the age of eight, at a cost of $64 million a year. A lot of times the first time these families can get their children the resources they need is when they get arrested and enter the system.”

Students Say

“I think what primarily makes this course powerful is that we are really living and doing what we talk about in class. The fact that everything we learn culminates in our trip to Baltimore, during which we’ll actually be meeting members of the community, is what motivates me to really understand our coursework, so that it can be tangibly applied.”

Noah Cole 18C

“We are engaging in issues that the academy has effectively insulated itself from and by working directly with persons invested in dismantling the systems that have led to the underdevelopment of black America, we are attempting to bridge the gap. Our collective task is an onerous one and, for me, it is personal.”

Deandre Miles 18C

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