I am Dr. Zachery Williams, Associate Professor of African American History and Pan African Studies at the University of Akron. I have established this funding campaign as the first phase launch of the African American Studies CommUniversity. This community university and educational program will provide free and/or low-cost interactive seminars and courses, and serve as a bridge between those already formally educated and those desiring such an experience. The CommUniversity’s seminars and courses will serve as public fora and creative incubators, designed to address significant issues and challenges facing urban communities of Akron, Cleveland, and Northeast Ohio. Courses will take place in locations in the community, including community centers, churches, bookstores, colleges and universities, as well as other supporting community institutions, nonprofits, and agencies.
The courses will be taught by volunteers from Cleveland, Akron, and Northeast Ohio. Many volunteers will be drawn from local community members as well as area colleges and universities, churches and religious institutions, etc. It is our hope that the training to be provided will prepare many of the participants to become instructors of courses, thus promoting the transference of leadership development among underdeveloped communities. Although the concept of Communiversity is not new, having antecedents in the civil rights movement as well as earlier models throughout African American historical experience, what sets the African American Studies CommUniversity apart is its emphasis on using African American Studies research to spearhead its pedagogical, policy, and praxis dimensions. Similarly, the CommUniversity privileges the experiences of community members in their own understanding of the forces shaping the challenges facing the urban communities in which they live in. Further, from a creative policy standpoint, in the tradition of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Dr. Anna J. Cooper, Dr. Alain Locke, Septima Clark, Ella Baker, and other scholar-activists of the African American experience, we approach policy change from the bottom-up in conversation with policymakers and leadership at the top, using the vehicle of adult and community education as the mode of community engagement to address issues of mutual interest to all.
In this sense, we seek to blend a Du Boisian study of social problems with what historian Dr. Manning Marable called “living black history” to more comprehensively understand, engage, and transform long-standing social problems such as mass incarceration, family breakdown, child welfare, public education, etc, into opportunities for communal revival, empowerment, and reconciliation. In approaching social issues in the context of communal courses, we understand and acknowledge the interconnected and overlapping nature of these social issues, debunking the notion that social problems are irresolvable or easily solved. We also seek earnestly to grapple with these complex issues factoring in the interconnected perspectives of race, class, and gender, while also ensuring that previously marginalized or muted voices are included centrally in the research, study, understanding, and application of solutions to long-standing social problems. Part of the mission of the CommUniversity is to bring together various facets and constituencies in our society who normally function in silos, with the belief that collective and concerted engagement of issues, including those normally most impacted but left out of policy deliberations, can lead to more creative, effective and sustainable praxis and policy solutions, addressing what historian Dr. Tom Sugrue calls ‘the urban crisis.” In this manner, we intentionally seek to bridge the gap between the worlds of community, academia, and policy. This initiative is also designed to gain the attention of policymakers, funding and philanthropic agencies, educators, as well as community advocates nationwide, with the purpose of demosntrating the central role the community must play in what Executive director of The Praxis Project Makani Themba calls “making policy.”
The CommUniversity is designed to engage social policy in the determination to transform public policy. The CommUniversity will partner with institutions working to improve the African American community, such as churches, civic organizations, non-profits, businesses, health care facilities, and social service agencies. Its graduates and students would work to promote community change, development, and empowerment with the education they acquire.
CommUniversity curriculum will use African American Studies, History, and other disciplines to engage the community and attempt to develop an educational institution that could serve as a vital nucleus of community change and development, supporting the work of existing local community organizations and institutions; one that is squarely situated in the community but partnering with nearby colleges and universities, as well as churches and local civic groups. Such an institution, I firmly believe, will connect the needs of the people to the resources and expertise of those trained in the study of Africana life and culture. Taking it a step further, we must then proceed to train community residents to become the professors, professionals, and leaders of their own communities and promote a much needed enhancement of collective self-esteem and community development.
You can be a part of the first phase launch of this exciting social justice educational concept by making a financial gift to help get the CommUniversity started.