Black-Queer conference held
Despite unexpected snow this past weekend, four-day student-organized cultural conference Working Our Way Home (WOWH), geared towards raising awareness regarding issues facing queer communities of African descent, succeeded in carrying out a well-attended forum on race and ethnicity and their ties to sexuality, relationships and gender identity.
“There’s very rarely a discussion about race and sexuality and being a black queer,” stated senior and WOWH co-chair Andrena Hawkins. “It’s really a problem.”
Many other topics were also addressed throughout the weekend, as interested students and community members attended a plethora of scheduled lectures, workshops and artistic performances.
“People keep asking me, ‘Why a Black Queer person conference and not just a Queer conference?’” second co-chair and senior Heather Griffin added. “And the answer is that it’s different.”
An earlier groundbreaking conference of this nature, and the only one of its kind in Oberlin’s history before last weekend, was held in November of 2001. Titled “Burnin’ Closets 2001: A Blaqueer Conference,” this event was also envisioned by its organizers to be a dialogue specifically addressing issues of sexuality and gender within Oberlin’s African Diaspora community. It provided the foundation for the organizers of WOWH, and like its 2005 descendant, was ambitiously broad in the range of issues it discussed. Both events successfully tackled sexual orientation, activism, gender identity, race and racism and a variety of non-mainstream interpersonal relationships.
“We got a lot of positive feedback and are still hearing it,” Griffin said of the event. “It turned out better than I could have ever imagined.”
WOWH’s presentation panel was composed of a handful of College students and employees, in addition to a number of activists, artists and scholars hailing from all over the nation, as well as Canada.
Oberlin-based speakers included Alum Allison Curseen, currently the campus and community collaboration leader in the Center for Service and Learning, who spoke on means of effective activism to service queer communities of color. Griffin mediated a group discussion regarding gender and its potential distinction from other forms of identity, as well as the role race can play in its formation.
Conference participants were pleased to see contributors not only leading but also taking part in conference workshops, lectures and performances.
“Most of the presenters actually participated in the events, and that was amazing,” said Griffin.
A conference-sponsored Open Mike night held in the ’Sco Saturday, April 23 that was opened by artist and activist Ingrid Rivera, became an evocative spoken word performance engaging and involving the entire audience. Performing original poems about discrimination, abuse, sex, gender and her struggle as a member of racial and sexual minorities for a crowd of approximately 40, Rivera was followed by a variety of student expressions of personal experience.
Other WOWH contributors included award-winning Black Queer hip-hop group Deep Dickollective, science fiction and fantasy author Nalo Hopkinson, social and cultural scientist Dr. Lance McCready and “Burnin’ Closets 2001” co-organizer and Oberlin alum Jason Tompkins (OC ’04).
“I think [this type of conference] is so rare,” said Hawkins. “The people who have made it here...and been able to find one another to pull it all together are amazing.
“It’s something we’ll take with us when we leave.”