A Meeting of the Minds

A Meeting of the MindsBrothers of the Academy’s first think tank to promote collaborative research, community improvement
By Pearl StewartIt began with a casual conversation about five years ago among seven African American men attending a conference of the American Educational Research Association in Montreal. Their meeting was an ad hoc “Black caucus” of sorts, during which they discussed topics ranging from tenure and the lack of Black males in the academy to HIV in their communities.
The small gathering evolved into an organization of 200 members, Brothers of the Academy, and their discussion formed the basis of BOTA’s first think tank, which will take place Oct. 1-4 in Kansas City.
The scarcity of African American men attending the Montreal conference triggered the discussion. “Out of 10,000 people, it was very disheartening,” recalls BOTA president Dr. Lee Jones of Florida State University. “We decided to develop an organization to look at how we can increase the number of Black men getting terminal degrees and going into research.”
Jones said their discussion revealed that the men were having difficulty getting published if they were doing the kind of research that would benefit their communities, on subjects such as urban education, health care and economic development in Black communities. “We needed alternative types of scholarly outlets because we found these subjects were not valued by our institutions as legitimate forms of scholarship.”
The think tank, formally titled “Brothers of the Academy Think Tank 2003: Deconstruct to Reconstruct,” may sound a bit familiar. It is loosely patterned after an academic endeavor steeped in historical significance. “The think tank is actually modeled after the Du Bois Atlanta University studies,” says event chair Dr. Leon Caldwell, assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He says Carter G. Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro is also a model for the  think tank.
Caldwell explains that the conference, which is expected to attract more than 300 participants, has a dual purpose: “First, we hope to demonstrate that you can actually have collaboration among academic scholars to improve the community; the other is that we have the resources and capacity to address some of our own issues and problems.”
The conference will be broken into thematic sessions each day focusing on specific problems: education, health, family and economic development, student achievement, HIV and AIDS among African Americans, and promoting positive media images. Scholars attending the think tank will present research on the topics, participate in strategy sessions and conduct professional development workshops.
Inspired by BOTA’s efforts, Florida A&M University assistant professor Dr. Anna Green organized Sisters of the Academy in 1999 and 2000 with similar goals for Black women. “We are showing that as academicians we can also serve the community,” Green says. And like BOTA, they work toward “creating a pipeline for more African Americans to earn Ph.D.’s and to navigate the tenure and promotion process.” SOTA recently moved its headquarters to Alabama’s Auburn University.
SOTA members also are involved in the think tank program. “We will participate as presenters, facilitators and organizers,” Green says, adding that her organization of about 25 active members, though not as large as BOTA, is equally committed to increasing the numbers of African American women in academe and in collaborating on research that will help improve Black communities.
“The piece that makes it even more compelling is that we are not just coming together to talk about these issues; we are coming together to develop solutions to the issues,” Caldwell stresses, noting that the topics will be framed as research questions.
In addition to Jones and Caldwell, BOTA’s leadership team is comprised of budget director Dr. Timothy Eatman of the University of Michigan, and two dozen co-facilitators, including Dr. Richard Milner of Vanderbilt and Dr. Tyrone Howard of UCLA, the research co-facilitators. Dr. Carlous Caple of North Carolina A&T University chairs the HBCU component of the organization.
An administrative support staff assists the president at Florida State, which is BOTA’s headquarters.
Both organizations have research publications to their credit. BOTA’s Making it on Broken Promises: African American Male Scholars Confront the Culture of Higher Education (Stylus, 2002) contains chapters by 15 eminent writers including Drs. Cornel West, Na’im Akbar and Wade Nobles. Stylus also published a collaborative book by SOTA members in 2001 titled Sisters of the Academy: Emergent Black Women Scholars in Higher Education.
Caldwell says the organization plans to produce “The BOTA Annals” out of the think tank and to place the proceedings on CD-ROM, which will be available from the organization’s Web site.
For more information visit <www.brothersoftheacademy.org> and  <www.sistersoftheacademy.org>.



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