by Sarah Geegan
The African American and Africana Studies Program at the University of Kentucky is partnering with the Lyric Theatre to provide a series of community lectures. Engaging the community and strengthening UK's relations with East Lexington, the lectures aim to "rebuild the block."
The Rebuilding the Block, S.T. Roach Community Conversation series is a seven-month sequence of public lectures, led by UK experts and focused around the theme of African-American males. The conversations are broken into sub-themes, each presenting relevant issues in a particular expert's field that relate to black men.
"When we were determining the overarching theme of Rebuilding the Block, we had to determine our ideal interface with the community, particularly the east-end community," Walker said. "We viewed the Lyric potentially as a new foundation spot to make new things happen in a positive way in that community. We also saw this series as an opportunity to introduce our superstars at UK to the Lexington community that may not know that these people are here."
Experts such as Arnold Farr, Martin Luther King, Jr. Cultural Center scholar-in-residence; Vershawn Young, professor of African American Studies and English; and Lynda Brown-Wright, professor of Educational and Counseling Psychology, have already presented in the series that began in December.
Brown-Wright's presentation, "So Black I'm Blue," focused on the mental and psychological health consequences of racial oppression, and on the coping strategies that black males develop to survive, both as boys and men.
She said that she wanted the audience to understand the unique "place" black boys and men hold in America and the history of how this unique "place" has been perpetuated over time.
"This year's focus on black males, young and old, is an opportunity to discuss a myriad of critical issues related to black males from all walks of life," Brown-Wright said. "An opportunity to bring knowledge to the community, while also obtaining knowledge from the perspectives of the community participants, was most intriguing to me."
She said that she hoped the participants left her session with greater understanding of the debilitating effects of racial oppression on mental and physical health functioning, and a burning desire and renewed commitment to be a positive healing force in the African-American community.
Walker, along with the committee that created the series, chose the various sub-themes before determining which faculty members to approach.
"We wanted to be able to talk about African-American males historically, psychologically, in health care, so then we asked — who is available in these areas?" Walker said. "We did a bit of research to see who was here, and we were lucky to find such qualified specialists in these areas."
Walker said that featuring mostly UK experts strengthened the program immensely.
"It allows us to be able to build a credible program that's affordable, because none of these individuals are being paid," Walker said. "What they're doing is considered service for the university, which makes it very different from trying to hire different people from other universities."
The upcoming lecture, occurring on Saturday, March 10, will feature Jai Gilliam, UK College of Medicine alumnus and a physician specializing in pediatrics and internal medicine at Baptist Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Titled, "The Enemy Within: Black Male Health and Healing," Gilliam's presentation will center around health issues specific to black males.
"The presentation will focus on why men will not go to the doctor for preventive screenings," Gilliam said. "I will also highlight the most common health issues that I see in African-American men in my clinic and in medicine as a whole."
Gilliam said that the lecture is designed to be thought-provoking, to allow the men in the audience to reflect on how they can do better with managing their health, as well as informative about the most common health concerns of men.
"I have a passion for educating people about their health," Gilliam said. "Life as well as health is such a gift. My focus is on becoming better stewards of our own bodies and health."
With serious emphasis on developing awareness of relevant issues in the community, the program also aims to rebuild the community itself, through strengthening ties between east Lexington and UK.
East Lexington, only separated from UK's campus by the downtown area, historically has less interaction with the university.
"There were a lot of people who thought about where the Lyric was and assumed that they couldn’t or wouldn’t go, because they didn't want to be in that part of town," Walker said. "My attitude has always been that, with a strong UK presence at the Lyric, it lends an air of legitimacy and an aura of safety. If our students are there, if our faculty are there, if our programming happens there in a regular way, then it must be a safe place."
Forging a true partnership with the Lyric, the series will also help promote the other exhibits and performances that the theatre provides. Walker said that the facility hopes to be permanently attached to the program, as the alliance is mutually beneficial.
Walker also envisions the Lyric playing a large role in future UK coursework and classroom activities. The theatre maintains multi-purpose rooms that could facilitate different courses.
"What I think is missing now is an opportunity to have regular classroom activity there," Walker said. " They have a multi-purpose room that you could teach dance in. They have a beautiful art gallery that you could create art in and then exhibit in. I think a lot of what I imagine will become a part of the new Africana Studies curriculum, when we are fully expanded and up and running, could be taught out of the Lyric, out of a new more usable Lyric."
Walker said that the series is an example of UK's commitment to impacting the community and enhancing the educational opportunities for students.
"I see UK having a really prime-time and key role in helping to rebuild the east-end community as a community member, given that proximity," Walker said. "Only downtown separates UK from the east end, so if we are really about "town and gown," if we extend the idea, then that community is right there, you can almost touch it."
The lecture series will continue until June, closing on Father's Day weekend, and will continue with a new theme the following fall.
The next lecture in the series will take place at the Lyric Theatre, at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 10.