The A. Quinn Jones Museum and Cultural Center partnered with the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere to host two back-to-back events: one virtual event celebrating music and one in-person event celebrating Black artistry.
Both events celebrate Black love in creative outlets and give insight toward the history that made this expression possible.
The UF Center for African Studies, UF Office for Black Student Engagement and the City of Gainesville collaborated in creating this event.
Speakers from different backgrounds came together to discuss Black culture and African music at an online discussion Saturday.
The discussion was moderated by UF assistant professor of musicology Imani Mosley and featured a panel of Black artists, activists and academics from five countries. More than 60 attendees joined the virtual event.
The museum hosted the discussion to bring new cultural programs to the community for Black History Month, museum director Carol Richardson said.
Each panelist shared their personal playlists with the audience in the chat. Audience members also shared their own playlists and song recommendations.
Cape Town University professor Mandisa Haarhoff explained how Black love is different because it often cannot be explained with token descriptive words, such as “butterflies in your stomach.”
“Black love is your grandmother and your great grandmother raising you with no generation in between,” Haarhoff said. “Black love is thinking that you will not love your whole life and then one day it kind of becomes clear to you and you have a map of all the ways you will love.”
Haarhoff focuses on English and literary studies and conducted research on South Africa’s apartheid period. Musicians who were living in exile expressed the Black South Africans’ struggle during apartheid — a time when their voices were silenced, Haarhoff said.
Haarhoff mentioned a new colonial movement that’s emerging among new artists, where they make music about Black history in South Africa.
“That’s a wonderful archive where we can tap into to get to know ourselves and to get to know our history in a way that wasn’t allowed in the country,” Haarhoff said.
Sharon Burney, a program officer for the Council on Library and Information Resources and poet, spoke on how Black history is expressed in both classics and modern music.
Burney compared civil rights-era jazz sensation Nina Simone and hip hop artists Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, saying they delivered similar messages of the history and racial injustices of Black people in America.
“If we look back historically over love in Black music, we see several things,” Burney said. “We see romantic love, spiritual love, the love of humanity, revolution of protest and familial types of love. ”
Virginia Tech sociology doctoral candidate Leslie Robertson Toney spoke about artists from her home country of Trinidad, like David Rudder and Baron, who sometimes mask political messages within the joyful beats of their music.
“I think a lot of the music, whether it is carnival music or music that is about critiquing the government, is music that can still make you laugh,” Toney said.
Toney feels Trinidad can expand the genre of love music in Black culture to fraternal love, platonic love and queer love.
Haitian pop and soul singer-songwriter Tafa Mi-Soleil was also invited to speak about her experience with love songs in Haiti. Mi-Soleil spoke Haitian Creole at the webinar and her words were translated by Shadine Ménard, a translator and writer of 15 years and founder of Haitian International Pulse magazine.
Mi-Soleil’s music takes influences from jazz and gospel – a new type of combination in Haiti. She explains that because of this unfamiliarity, her music isn’t too popular there, and she often faces criticism as a female artist.
“I’m actually living in a sexist society that pretty much creates a system that refrain women from making their own decisions,” Mi-Soleil said. “So for me, as a feminist, I decided to impose myself in the music that I want to do and also my beliefs.”
Worlasi Langani, a Ghanaian musician, spoke about his songwriting process and his practice of immersing himself to make sure the sentiment of his music goes through to the audience.
“I’m always focused on how I feel and what I want people to hear,” Langani said. “I make sure my mind and my heart is in the same space and people have to feel exactly how I felt writing the music.”
He also spoke about how it’s often hard for Ghanaians to speak or sing about love and loving themselves when they’re faced with economic difficulties.
“I believe the love is still there but it’s getting less and less each day,” Langani said. “We have to keep finding ways of keeping the love alive.”
The A. Quinn Jones Museum didn’t have enough chairs for the 50 guests who came to learn about Black culture on Saturday night.
About 50 people stood outside the building to hear the poetry of Alachua County’s 2020 poet laureate, E. Stanley Richardson and runner-up Terri Bailey. Guests laughed and dug into the food in their styrofoam containers as the two read their poems aloud.
The poems were about Black culture and love. Bailey read “On Pleasant Street,” a poem about what she loved growing up here. People laughed as she mimicked the voice of her grandmother.
DJ GeeXella, 30, traveled from Atlanta to fill the event with music centered around love in the African diaspora.
A mix of jazz, hip hop and reggaeton played throughout the night. The event served Senegal and Ivory Coast dishes. The restaurant handed out atticke, egusi and palm butter morsels.
“Black Love: Creativity, Expressions, and its Gifts” was a collaboration between the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, the City of Gainesville and the A. Quinn Jones museum. The event cost at least $5,000 and was sponsored by the UF Center for African Studies and the UF Office of Black Engagement.
The museum contained a hat that A. Quinn Jones wore to church and documents about his time as a principal and educator. Headphones were available for guests to listen to oral history. The A. Quinn Jones museum, located northwest of UF campus, showcased the history of Jones, an educator and principal at Lincoln High School, an all-Black school in Alachua, in 1923.
Quincy, where Jones is from, did not have a public school that would admit African-American students.
Jones attended the Florida A&M University in Tallahassee for his high school diploma. He was one of the first three students to receive a Bachelor’s degree from the university in 1915.
Twenty-four-year-old Ting Wang, a second-year graduate student majoring in health administration, came to educate herself on Black History Month.
As the Vice President of Public Relations for the Health Administration Student Association, she wanted to give her organization the same resources.
“We don’t want to teach it, because it’s not our place to,” Wang said. “So, we wanted to give opportunities for our members to come out themselves and learn about it.”
For 33-year-old Brianna Wynne, a UF professor of medicine from Michigan, it was her first time at the A. Quinn Jones Museum.
“I’m not from this area, so there’s a lot of history around Gainesville that I did not know, especially with the African-American community,” she said.
Clarence, 47, and Sharonda, 44, Harris also saw the museum for the first time Saturday. While they have lived in Gainesville for a few years, the two are originally from Mississippi.
Schools today need to teach Black culture from a different perspective, Clarence said.
“I’m saying we learned about slavery in our culture as a result of having to talk about the Civil War,” Clarence said. “But we did not go into the impact that slavery had on the world.”
Sharonda agreed with Clarence on what is missing in discussions about Black history and education.
“It’s not humanized,” Sharonda said. “It’s taught in a way where we talk about a few of the facts, but you’re not thinking about the human impact of that system and how it continues to have an impact on us.”
Alexandra Cenatus, who helped plan the event, said the process took about three months.
“I think this event is very important to me because it centers different Black voices and showcases different Black perspectives,” she said.
As the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere assistant director for programming and public engagement, she brainstormed event ideas with Carol Richardson, the museum’s director.
Richardson, who also works with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs said Black love and culture means everything to her as a Black woman.
“When I think about Black love and Black culture,” Richardson said, “I love the idea of other people coming into my world and sharing it with me.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Terri Bailey and the correct catering.
Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.