Dr. Joseph Richardson, an assistant professor of African-American studies at the University of Maryland, hardly ever gets to see other Black men in graduate programs at his school. Naturally, he attended the Brothers of the Academy think tank held last week at Morehouse College, but he has much higher expectations for the think tank beyond meeting up with other scholars of color.
“People get together at other think tanks and talk about African-American issues for just an hour during some panel that’s part of a larger conference,” Richardson says. “This one dedicates days. But while Black scholars get to see each other and see how many of us are actually out there working on these issues, I hope more comes of this think tank.”
Black scholars from around the country gathered in Atlanta for three days to discuss a plethora of subjects, including K-12 education in the era of No Child Left Behind, attracting Black children to math and sciences and tenure and promotion issues for Black scholars. The think tank, co-sponsored by Sisters of the Academy and The Center for African American Research & Policy, a research arm under BOTA, was the organization’s second such event.
“Just like the Million Man March, if there is no long-term plan or agenda to it, then it’s pointless to have a think tank,” Richardson says. “The think tank’s mission should be on issues that specifically impact African-American men. It should become the go-to organization for data and analysis on African-American men. Right now there is no place providing that information, and this think tank can fill that void.”
BOTA’s primary objective is to nurture collaborate scholarship and to increase the number of Black tenure-track scholars. Its overarching goal is to publish research and scholarship that improves the economic, political and social status of Black people.
One of the organization’s founders, Dr. Leon D. Caldwell, a professor of psychology at the University of Memphis, hopes that participants do more than use the think tank as a place to connect with other scholars. He wants them to take knowledge back to their communities. “This isn’t a conference where people come together, meet and greet,” he says. “We have brought together experts from all the disciplines, like education, public health, clinical and social psychology.
“We need to take the knowledge exchanged here to the streets where we can have real impact on African-American lives,” Caldwell says. “Words are good, but actions are supreme. We need to be involved and engaged on our own terms.”
The inaugural think tank was held in Kansas City, Missouri two years ago. Much of the original fanfare that surrounded its first think tank has cooled as the organization’s previous leadership got mired in controversy. Marketing the organization and articulating a clear message remain the two biggest challenges for the organization, Caldwell says.
The next think tank will take place next year in Memphis, Tenn. According to Caldwell, the Memphis think tank won’t just feature scholars, but will be more inclusive of community activists.
“I see the organization going toward embracing its true mission of collaborative scholarship to better the African-American community,” says Dr. Bryant T. Marks, assistant professor of psychology at Morehouse College. “I see participants who come here collaborating on books and grants but also implementing their research in the community to help Black folks outside of academia.”
Helping poor African Americans faced with losing their homes because of gentrification hold on to their property is one such example black scholars could undertake, Marks said. Residents of inner city neighborhoods in Atlanta, Washington, and other parts of the country are being pushed out of their homes by rising taxes. Scholars at Morehouse are joining with the school’s community outreach department to turn the tide.
While the organization will still focus on helping Black scholars across the country navigate graduate school, it also wants to develop a pathway for scholars in the application of the knowledge they’re gaining.
“We need an organization to help attract more African-Americans to graduate school, help them get degrees and to get published,” says Richardson. “But we also need to apply that knowledge locally, in our communities. When I heard what this think tank was about, there was no question about whether I would attend.”
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“more needs to be done”
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