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Noted African American Historian to Speak
February 21, 2000

For many, Black History Month is a time to reflect on where African Americans have been and where they are going. Historian and author Robin D.G. Kelley has made such reflection his life's work.

On Thursday, Feb. 24, Kelley, a professor of history and Africana studies at New York University, will deliver a public lecture titled "When History Sleeps: On the Poetics of Black Social Movements" at UConn. His talk, part of the Institute for African American Studies' Black History Month program and Critical Issues series, will take place at 4 p.m. in the Gentry Building auditorium.

Kelley is the author of many books, including Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class; Into the Fire: African Americans Since 1970; and Yo' Mama's DisFunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America. He is also general editor of the Young Oxford History of African Americans.

He is currently writing a book on jazz musician Thelonius Monk.

Robert Stephens, interim director of the institute, hopes Kelley's lecture will advance the institute's mission to enlighten and inform the university community and the public at large about the heritage, struggles and aspirations of African Americans.

"Professor Kelley's recent book Yo' Mama's DisFunktional! is an eloquent defense and celebration of those who are rarely seen beyond statistics or newsreels. In the book, Kelley confronts those scholars and policy makers who, for whatever reasons, are unable to see the complexity of black people's humanity," Stephens says. "We are delighted, and indeed, fortunate to bring this important voice of enormous intellectual breadth and compelling insight to UConn this month as we celebrate the heritage, culture, and political and social lives of people of African descent."

Like previous director Ronald Taylor, who was named vice provost for multicultural affairs last year, Stephens plans to achieve the institute's goal by promoting high quality research, scholarship and teaching on the African American experience, and sponsoring programs on issues important to African Americans.

"It is a special privilege to be given an opportunity to join the discussion of the shared richness of the African American experience," Stephens says. "It is the institute's continuing mission to recognize that this discussion can enhance our understanding of problems common to all, while at the same time helping our students understand that the process of becoming who and what we are as humans is best understood when disciplinary barriers are lowered."

Stephens, a professor of music who was named interim director of the institute last month, is working on a conference on African American musical traditions, to celebrate the Dodd Center's receipt of Samuel Charters' archives. Charters, a writer and record producer, was the first person to write a book on the blues.

"I hope the institute continues to ferret out the often unheralded excellence that abounds in the African American community," says Stephens, "and continues to grow in its efforts to examine everything and anything that is of relevance to the African American experience in the Americas."

Allison Thompson