Kevin Foster

Kevin Foster, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, said he believes that TedxAustin lacked diversity in its speakers. Therefore, he decided to create “Blackademics TV,” a 30-minute TV show featuring black scholars and professors from across the nation.
Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

TEDxAustin was nearly everything Kevin Foster, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, expected it to be — informative, thought-provoking and intriguing. The only problem: Nearly all the speakers were white.

Foster said TEDxAustin lacked a wide range of minorities’ perspectives, such as those of African-Americans. This left the audience with an incomplete understanding of educational research, American culture and academic opinions. He decided to create “Blackademics TV,” a 30-minute TV show that features black scholars and professors from across the nation. 

The program tapes in front of a live audience at the KLRU-TV studio on the UT campus. The show’s third season premieres in the fall. 

“I don’t see anything on the landscape that looks exactly like what we’re doing,” Foster said. “This is just the early 21st-century version of black studies. People like W.E.B. Du Bois, like Carter G. Woodson — all of these folks were scholars who lived in action.”

Gabe Whitaker, UT alumnus and “Blackademics” volunteer, said the show “Blackademics” is similar to a big brainstorming session in which influential leaders from different African-American communities come together to educate people on the need for positive change.

“You have people talking about these heartfelt emotions and causes and problems that we have in society,” Whitaker said. “Last year was tough regarding minorities in this country because of police brutality, incarceration rates and drop-out rates — and that’s all the negative stuff. But also you have the rise of professionals that are people of color.”

“Blackademics” aims to carry on the legacy of African-American pioneers from years past. The television show is part of a larger organization, the Institute for Community, University and School Partnerships, which provides academic tools and programs for students who want to obtain higher education.

Kendra Chambers, UT alumna and associate producer for “Blackademics,” found out about the TV program through a high school engagement event. Chambers said “Blackademics” is a much-needed resource that teachers in high school and college settings use.

“[‘Blackademics’] ignites perspective; it ignites conversation; it ignites discussion at a scholarly level,” Chambers said. 

The first two seasons are available online at Chambers said the show creates an alternative path to education because the program is free. From university professors to people who are curious to know more, “Blackademics” provides a way for traditionally marginalized groups to have a chance to share their views on trends in society, Whitaker said.

Foster said he views easily accessible media as an opportunity to present content that can supplement current education. He said Texas schools don’t offer a full picture of black history or the history of racism in America. Programs such as “Blackademics” aim to close the gaps that traditional educational institutions have left open, according to Foster.

The challenge is that anybody with a computer can generate content, and it might be inaccurate,” Foster said. “So it’s incumbent upon scholars, particularly scholars of color, to speak about marginalized groups and to generate high-quality content so they don’t get drowned.”  

UT students, staff and other members of the Austin community gathered to celebrate the life of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. through performances, speeches and a march throughout Austin.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Thousands of students and community members gathered around the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in the East Mall on Monday morning to celebrate King’s legacy and call attention to a number of social justice issues, including police brutality against African-Americans.

Brenda Burt, a Diversity and Community Engagement officer, said at least 15,000 people walked in the annual MLK Day march from campus to Huston-Tillotson University. The event began with speeches from civil rights activists and concluded with a festival at Huston-Tillotson, a historically black university.

In his keynote speech before the march, Kevin Foster, associate professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, said police brutality is one of the most crucial issues facing African-Americans today.    

“Our police are the most heroic when they don’t shoot,” Foster said. “That might sound like an odd thing to say, but the reality is they have been trained to be scared. We need to be developing the policies and programs to help [the officers] live into that greatest possibility. And the reality is that sometimes it’s difficult for them to not shoot because they do get scared.”

Foster said all people should work to protect the right to use video cameras in the event of an altercation and also promote the use of police body cameras. Many people of color still face police violence today, Foster said.

“If you are black in this country, we have never yet fully realized the possibility of a state that exists to protect us and to serve us and to have us live into the pursuit of happiness,” Foster said. “In fact, the reality has been that the darker your skin, the more likely you are to be shot while unarmed.”

Biochemistry senior Tia Scott, who attended the march, said she thinks African-Americans often fear they will be racially profiled by police officers.

“I think many African-Americans have an unspoken fear,” Scott said. “Maybe they don’t say it outright, but they think it. When a cop drives by, it’s just nervousness because it’s like, ‘Am I going to be treated unfairly, or am I going to be pulled over because I’m black or because I’m a black woman?’ I think there’s a general unspoken fear, and we shouldn’t be afraid of people that are supposed to protect us.”

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) said King’s work toward equality is not yet complete.   

“We cannot sit back on our laurels when we continue to see actions that discriminate and profile against a few,” Dukes said. “And if we truly believe that every single person — whether they are black, whether they are Hispanic, whether they are Anglo, whether they are Asian — that their lives matter, that we will stand up each and everyday — not just on the day that
we march.”

President William Powers Jr. also spoke before the march and characterized Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of renewing the fight for equality. In his speech, Powers referenced recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which broke out after 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in August, and protests in New York City, where Eric Garner, also African-American, died after a white police officer put him in a choke hold.  

“If we look at Ferguson and New York, the poverty that still exists in our communities — the inequality — the dream has not yet been fulfilled,” Powers said. “So yes, today we celebrate a great man, a great legacy and a great dream, but, more important, is that we rededicate ourselves and our energy not just today, but every single day when we wake up — rededicate them anew to his dream.”

Dr. Leonard Moore presents his lecture, “Football as Intellectual Enterprise,” during Blackademics Television in the KRLU studio Wednesday. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Public television studio KLRU hosted Blackademics, a community event showcasing a range of topics pertinent to African-American culture, Wednesday night. Sponsored by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Blackademics featured black studies scholars who presented and discussed research centralized around education, performance and youth empowerment.

During a two-hour presentation, a total of 11 speakers lectured UT students and faculty. Host and founder Kevin Foster assembled an array of scholars that explore a variety of race topics.

“I think there is great work within the academy, but sometimes that work doesn’t get outside our campus,” Foster said. “This is how we can share it with the outside world.”

Blackademics is streamed live on KLRU and available to a national audience.

Foster’s lecture focused on the decisions parents have to make when choosing a school for their children and how race complicates this matter.

“I want to find what great schooling and great critical thinking looks like to open doors for children so to ensure that all kids can explore their possibilities,” Foster said.

The lack of critical thinking and excess of what Foster referred to as drone schools — ones that limit thinking and measure intelligence through report cards and multiple choice tests — dominated the discussion throughout the night. Another topic covered closing the gap in academic performance between racial groups through empowerment.

In another segment, Leonard Moore, associate vice president of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, discussed the forms of intelligence required in football and focused on how the perception of African-Americans who play football affects their performance in the classroom.

“Football is a thinking person’s game,” Moore said. “There is no course on this campus that can compare to the language that is found in a football playbook. There are these intense college football environments designed to make you the best you can be, but then [these athletes] walk into the classroom and feel disengaged academically.”

According to Moore, an inferiority complex and a lack of acknowledging the connection between football and intelligence contribute to demoralization among African-American athletes. 

“When you have that son or daughter, remind them just how smart they have to be to play in that sport of football,” Moore said.

Aimee Cox, a cultural anthropologist at Fordham University, incorporated movement and audience participation in her lecture titled “Black Girls and the Choreography of Empowerment.”

“Until we can say, 'I am love, I radiate love, I am beautiful, I am strong,' nothing in this world can be done," said Cox while leading the audience in a life-affirming chant.

Printed on Thursday, February 14, 2013 as: Black culture emphasized 

Dr. Omi Jones gives her poetic and theatrical presentation titled “Art as Scholarship” at KLRU Studio Thursday evening. This event, sponsored by UT Blackademics, featured presentations from four of UT’s professors and was taped by KLRU in order to help raise awareness of African-American community issues.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Howeth | Daily Texan Staff

UT and KLRU combined efforts to present current African-American issues to the mass media Thursday night in hopes of creating a future series featuring University professors.

Four professors spoke at a KLRU public taping sponsored and organized by UT Blackademics, a group consisting of a wide coalition of professors, students and public supporters working to raise awareness of current African-American community issues. By raising awareness, they hope to solve the issues and teach students how to be successful in their future initiatives through participation in these efforts. Members of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department presented during the taping, including associate professor Kevin Cokley, assistant professor Talia McCray, assistant professor Kevin Foster and associate professor Omi Jones.

UT Blackademics was founded by Foster in 2011 as a project for one of his graduate classes and is unique in the sense that it stresses community engagement as one of the primary means of accomplishing its goals, he said.

The advocacy group hopes to use the taping as a starting point for a future partnership with KLRU that would mean showcasing the work of professors in the department of African and African diaspora studies in a regular series, Foster said.

“[The department of African and African diaspora studies] shares the range of black studies research that is going on at UT,” he said. “This taping hopefully will be the first of many of these events that will go on here.”

Topics discussed included discrepancies in the overall academic performance of African-Americans as opposed to other racial groups, the effects of public transportation planning on African-American communities and the trend of some major universities to emphasize academic work in research and education instead of larger community service efforts that could benefit the African-American community, among other groups.

Hakeem Adewumi, African and African-American ethnic studies junior, said he found the community engagement method used as an effective and engaging way of sharing University research.

“I liked the intellectual challenge they brought forth in terms of forcing us to think about these issues to better the black community,” he said.

Bill Stotesbery, KLRU CEO and general manager, said station management was happy to share the work of UT Blackademics because it is consistent with regular KLRU programming and goals.

“The range of subject matter the professors participating in this project are speaking about fits in perfectly with our continuing efforts to have in-depth community discussions on the issues impacting our city,” he said. “UT Blackademics is just one example of how KLRU works with the University of Texas and the local creative community to put together programming and events to bring people together.”

Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: Professors present African-American issues

The media creates false perceptions about black athletes in America and advances stereotypes of superhuman strength and aggressive sexuality, said a UT associate professor at a lecture on Wednesday.

Associate sociology professor Ben Carrington said many people make an assumption that Americans are living in a post-racial society, especially after electing a black president.

“We may have reached a significant milestone in the advancement of racial progression, but at the same time, it seems to be permitting us not to talk about problems that persist,” said Dave Junker, director of the Senior Fellows Symposium which sponsored the event.

Carrington said that if America is a post-racial society, it stirs even more questions for race relations. He said the overrepresentation of black athletes in the media is spinning stereotypes about the sexuality and culture of African-Americans.

“This idolization of the black athletic form produces a black athlete as post-human,” Carrington said. “Strange creatures [who] possess [the] alien-like and certainly subhuman abilities to jump higher, hang in the air longer, punch harder and run faster.”

It is almost as if these black men are leaving the realm of humankind all together, he said.

Carrington illustrated this notion by showing several examples from commercials and images that portray African-American athletes and actors as muscular men projecting an image of a “perfect man.”

In an Old Spice commercial, black actor Isaiah Mustafa is topless the entire time, showing off his muscles. A message appears at the end of the commercial that says, “Smell like a man, man.”

Carrington also used African-American golfer Tiger Woods as an example of who the media targets. After Woods’ scandal became public, the media scrutinized every aspect of his life, called him a sex addict and falsely alleged that he has a strong sexual appetite for white women, he said.

Anthropology professor Kevin Foster said most young black men prefer going into sports and becoming athletes because of the glorifying images the media produces. In reality, he said, the number of black career professionals is much higher than the number of black athletes.

“But you would not get that impression from media’s representation of race,” Foster said. “It has a huge impact on black boys.”

He also said some people who oppose the view that racial stereotyping still persists in today’s media are black athletes who enjoy prosperity because of their successful careers.

“The problem is that their perspective is limited to their experiences,” Foster said.

The relationship between the media, race and sports is a complex issue because images are manipulated and crafted by the media, said sociology graduate student Vivian Shaw. She said people consume this material without consciously acknowledging its effects.

“It is really difficult to know the extent of the influence of the images,” Shaw said.