May 13, 2010

Knox: national headquarters for black culture centers

You might be surprised to learn that our own Black Studies department is the national headquarters of a cultural organization consisting of 150 member colleges and affiliates in the U.S. Not only that, but the organization was also founded by one of our very own faculty.

This organization is called the ABCC (Association for Black Culture Centers) and it has 700 combined members and affiliates in the U.S., West Africa and the Caribbean. Black Studies Chair Fred Lee Hord founded the ABCC when he was teaching at the Center for Black Culture and Research at West Virginia University in 1987.

When he became a professor here at Knox in 1989, Hord met with then-president John McCall to discuss the prospect of Knox becoming the official headquarters of the organization. Enthusiastic about the idea, McCall agreed. That same year, the first inaugural ABCC conference was held here at Knox. Hord still holds the position of executive director for the association and operates out of the Black Studies department with ABCC executive assistant Terry Duffy.

The mission of ABCC as stated in its official newsletter, Nommo (Swahili for “the power of the word”), is “to support the work of culture centers through student and professional development, cultural relevant program assistance, curricular and co-curricular enrichment, community outreach and engagement, scholarship on culture centers and advocacy.”

The way in which the ABCC accomplishes its mission is by giving its members multiple educational and financial benefits, including discounts from book publishers and film companies, access to the ABCC database, networking information, subscriptions to Nommo and job openings.

Perhaps the most advantageous benefit offered by ABCC membership is the Kuumba Speaker Series. Through this program, members can get a 20-50 percent discount on over 55 world-renowned scholars, artists and performers. Some speakers who are available through the program are Maulana Karenga (the creator of Kwanzaa), Preston Jackson (a professional sculptor who works in Peoria) and Lewis Gordon (a well-respected African American scholar and philosopher from Temple University). Did I mention that Knox is a member?

To Hord, the mission of the organization in relation to Knox is to “vitalize what’s happening on campus” with speakers and “get the message out that we are here.” This goes not only for black culture centers, but also for the Black Studies department in general.

“It is advantageous to Knox when prospective students and parents are brought to the Black Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies departments and see what we do here,” said Hord.

There are many reasons why the Black Studies department should be advertised and appreciated. For example, in 2005, Knox had the second largest number of available classes in Black Studies in the nation. The largest number went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. This fact, in addition to Knox’s status as the national headquarters of the ABCC should encourage the student body to take advantage of the opportunity to be leaders in promoting and sustaining black culture on this campus through the Black Studies department and student organizations like Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality (ABLE).

“I think that when someone walks around this campus and asks any student where the Black Studies department is, he or she should be able to tell them exactly where to go,” he said.

This year’s ABCC conference theme is “excelling in an age of uncertainty,” which Hord said speaks to an economic uncertainty as well as a social one. This theme means maintaining high retention rates among black students and developing concrete strategies for maintaining black cultural centers. It is much more than just bringing African and African American culture to college campuses. It is about creating a sense of belonging among black students around the nation so they can excel in these unsettling times.

“At their best,” said Hord, “black culture centers help to sustain a sense of belongingness not just with the black community, but with the [college] community as well.”

Hord, an expert on cultural centers and author of Black Cultural Centers: Politics of Survival and Identity, said that he has noticed that when minority students come from a place of racial homogeneity, they generally perform better in school when they become a part of cultural organizations. It is important to recognize that these organizations are not separatist in nature. On the contrary, they often serve as a springboard for students into other campus groups and activities, increasing their ability to make a positive difference and offer unique points of view.

There are already many Knox students who are involved in the ABCC. To name a few, sophomore Monica Prince is an organizational editor, Donnie Forti ’06 is the site’s webmaster and junior Tim Douglas has an article featured in this year’s Spring edition of Nommo.

To take advantage of Knox’s ABCC membership, go to for information, including the latest edition of Nommo, access to a list of speakers available through the Kuumba Speaker Series and a guide on how to bring speakers to campus. To become more involved, please contact Monica Prince at with questions or comments.

Sam Brownson
Sam Brownson ’12 majored in philosophy and minored in anthropology and sociology. This is his second year copy editing for TKS; he is also currently a post-baccalaureate fellow in music and theater and will be composing the music for two productions as part of Knox’s Repertory Theatre Term. A self-described grammar Nazi, Sam worked as a TKS reporter and as a writer and editor for his high school newspaper before joining the TKS editorial staff. He also manages social media for Brownson Properties in Holland, Mich.

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