Celebrating Our Scholars During Black History Month

February 1, 2023

From a book on Black-owned bookstores to the first CUNY Kennedy Center honoree, Graduate Center scholars are writing and changing Black history.

Black History Month Feature — February 2023
Distinguished Professor Emeritus Tania León, Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and alumna Zaira Simone-Thompson (Ph.D. ’22, Earth and Environmental Sciences) are some of the Graduate Center scholars who are illuminating and altering Black history. (Tania León photo by Gail Schulman)

During Black History Month, we pause to reflect on our scholars who are making history and, through their research, shedding light on African American history. 


Kennedy Center 2022 Honorees: Back row: Members of the band U2; Front row: Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, George Clooney, and Tania Leon
Professor Emerita Tania León (sitting front row, far right) with her fellow Kennedy Center 2022 honorees: U2, Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, and George Clooney. 
(Photo credit: Gail Schulman)

Distinguished Professor Emeritus Tania León (GC/Brooklyn, Music) made history as a Kennedy Center honoree, sharing the stage with George Clooney, U2, Gladys Knight, and Amy Grant. Learn how the groundbreaking composer became a national treasure. 


Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Ruth Wilson Gilmore

In another history-making honor, Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Earth and Environmental Sciences, American Studies, Africana Studies) was named a 2022 Freedom Scholar, a prestigious $250,000 award, by the Marguerite Casey Foundation.


 Angela Crumdy
Angela Crumdy

Alumna Angela Crumdy (Ph.D. ’23, Anthropology) traced the experiences of Black Cuban women educators throughout the course of the 20th and 21st centuries to better understand the ways that they contribute to the maintenance of society through their work in the home, school, and broader community.


Nathalie Etoke Book, Black Existential Freedom
Nathalie Etoke and the cover of her book, "Black Existential Freedom"

A new book by Professor Nathalie Etoke (French, Liberal Studies) analyzes themes of being and freedom that extend back to 19th- and early 20th-century Black intellectuals to make a forceful argument about Black culture and agency in the face of oppression.


Char Adams
Char Adams

Char Adams (M.A. ’20, Women’s and Gender Studies) landed a book deal to write about the history of Black-owned bookstores and the key role they’ve played in Black activism and culture.


Jessica Larson Smithsonian Fellowship
Jessica Larson

Ph.D. candidate Jessica Larson (Art History) is writing her dissertation on the architecture of reform institutions in New York — tenements, schools, nurseries and kindergartens, senior homes, and other structures — built to serve Black charity recipients in the years just before the Civil War through the start of World War I.


portrait Kwame Ocran
Kwame Ocran

Alumnus Kwame Ocran (M.A. ’22, Liberal Studies) overcame many personal challenges and tragedies to write his master's thesis on Lena Horne and Billie Holiday, whom he calls “Black divas of refusal.” 


Class of 22 - Zaira Simone Tenure Track at Wesleyan
Zaira Simone-Thompson

Alumna Zaira Simone-Thompson (Ph.D. ’22, Earth and Environmental Sciences), now a tenure-track professor at Wesleyan University, researches reparations for slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean.

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