Ruth Nicole Brown, a professor of gender and women’s studies at Illinois, received a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship for $50,000 to expand Black Girls Genius Week, a series of humanities-based workshops for African-American middle school- and high school-aged girls, from central Illinois to Chicago, San Diego and Columbia, South Carolina.
Ruth Nicole Brown, a professor of gender and women’s studies at Illinois, received a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship for $50,000 fopr Black Girls Genius Week.
Provided by the Whiting Foundation.
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The Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship champions the vital role of the humanities in enriching public life, awarding seven fellowships to humanities scholars through a two-stage peer-review process.
In 2006, responding to a need for spaces where black girls and women are seen and valued by each other, Brown created Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths, a collectively organized community practice for black girls to come together and celebrate the multiple meanings of black girlhood.
After a decade of honing the program, Brown designed Black Girls Genius Week, a structured set of after-school and weekend activities centered on humanistic inquiry that amplify the collective power of black girls, recognize them as experts of their own lived experience, foster deep critical thinking skills and creative practices, and exemplify genius.
During each week, Brown and SOLHOT “homegirls” – other African-American humanists and artists, including National Book Award-winning poet Nikky Finney – gather with students, cultural workers and local residents for intensive discussion of culture and politics relevant to the experiences of black girlhood and womanhood, including works of fiction, poetry, autobiography, music and visual art chosen along with the young participants.
The sessions incorporate writing, digital media and performance as interpretative tools, adopting a celebratory tone to embrace the students as knowers and creators of knowledge. Brown has piloted Black Girls Genius Week three times in central Illinois, refining the pedagogy and earning the Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement from the U. of I.