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On Black History Month in Florence and the Black Archive Alliance

Feb 19, 2019 2:56:31 PM / by Guest Posts

The following is an excerpt from a paper written by Lauren Ehrmann—currently a sophomore of Indiana University—that focuses on Black History Month as celebrated in Florence, Italy. The research paper was completed as a requirement of receiving a Diversity Advocates Program Grant and studies other organizations in Florence that explore and encourage the intersections of cultural heritage and immigration. Lauren's focus on these organizations is born of an effort to explore the porosity of multiple cultural heritages made possible in Florence, and the ways that CAPA students could become involved with either cultural heritage or immigration issues while there.

Black History Month Florence and the Black Archive Alliance

Black History Month Florence 2019 - Credit BHMFSource: blackhistorymonthflorence.com

Another initiative in Florence which sits at the intersection of cultural heritage and immigration is Black History Month Florence. Black History Month Florence (BHMF) was co-founded and is directed by Justin Randolph Thompson, who agreed to interview with me about the project. Thompson was born in the United States and has been living and working in Florence since 1999. He explained that BHMF is an initiative which coordinates around 60 events annually dedicated to looking at the African diaspora in Florence and beyond. Each year, Black History Month Florence approaches different organizations throughout the city of Florence and helps them to create programming with a focus on the African diaspora and blackness during the month of February (and throughout the rest of the year). Then, BHMF organizes all the events related to Black History Month in the city and publishes them online in one location, so that people looking for conversations and ideas around what it means to be black in Florence can easily find these events (Thompson).

Thompson’s approach to Black History Month Florence is unique in that he aims to create sustainable platforms which can eventually renew themselves without his leadership. He explained that he hopes that one day, the organizations which he reaches out to annually will simply come to view February as Black History Month, and will independently organize programming about blackness, without being prompted by Thompson.

BHMF is not specifically targeted toward migrants, but nevertheless it often engages with questions of migration. Nor does the initiative always involve cultural heritage; however, Thompson is a professional visual artist, and this background combined with the cultural backgrounds of many of the Florentine organizations (including theatres, cinemas, and libraries) that Thompson approaches for BHMF programming means that cultural heritage often plays a role. An example of a project which combined both of these elements is the Black Archive Alliance.

Black History Month Florence 2018 Participants - Credit BHMFProtagonists of the 2018 BHMF.
Source: blackhistorymonthflorence.com

The Black Archive Alliance was created by Villa Romana (part of the Cantiere Toscana project) in collaboration with BHMF. It was a series of mini-exhibitions and tours in private and public archives in the city of Florence which took place over two days. The objective was to highlight holdings in the archives of Florence related to Africa and the African diaspora. Thompson explained that the overall goal was to get everyday people into the archive, encourage scholarship in under-researched areas, and to combat historical amnesia. This last goal is specifically related to combating the narrative of current migration to Italy as an exclusively contemporary phenomenon by highlighting the long history of African migration to Italy (Thompson).

BHMF’s decentralized, collaborative approach has both benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, the format is very flexible and aims to one day be not dependent on any one person to ensure the continuation of the initiative. It allows for many voices and perspectives, even contradictory ones, to weigh in on the topic at hand. It also allows for funding from many different sources, meaning that BHMF is less likely to be tied to the requirements or demands of any one source of funding. On the other hand, BHMF organizes most of its events only during one month, meaning that during the rest of the year the issues it wishes to bring attention to are much less visible. Additionally, this approach tends to largely draw crowds of people who are already knowledgeable about the topics being discussed, meaning that it is much less likely to encourage people who are entirely ignorant and/or uninterested about issues surrounding blackness or migration to learn about them.

BHMF questions and provides a space for discussion surrounding issues of migration. All three of the projects Lauren researched while in Florence work together to ultimately create a Florence that is full of citizens who are more tolerant, more aware, more educated, and most of all more willing to discuss with, to question, and to listen to their neighbors. During her time in Florence, Lauren met many interesting and helpful people during her research and would be happy to direct any future students to any contacts she has that might be of use for research or personal purposes. Her email is lehrmann@iu.edu.

Thanks, Lauren!

Diversity Advocates Grant_Fall 2018_Lauren Ehrmann Headshot_Square
Lauren Ehrmann is a junior studying Art History and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University and spent her Fall 2018 Semester in Florence, Italy. A Wells Scholar and honors student, Lauren hopes to one day work as a museum curator of Islamic art working in the field of cultural heritage preservation in the Middle East.

 

At CAPA, we seek to foster increased student diversity and to provide all participants with the opportunity to explore, challenge and redefine their identities in distinct ways. Launched in Spring 2017, the Diversity Advocates Program (DAP) is an extension of this philosophy and provides resources for advocates to pursue diversity initiatives of their own within their global cities.

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Topics: Florence, Italy, Diversity Abroad