What is the Space of Afrofuturism?

ZORA!® Festival Afrofuturism Conference

Jan. 24-27, 2024 | Eatonville, Florida
2024 marks the fifth and final year of the ZORA! Festival’s Academic Conference Cycle devoted to an exploration of Afrofuturism and the Hurston Legacy.
Curated by Michigan State University historian and Afrofuturism scholar Dr. Julian Chambliss, the cycle opened in 2020 with the framing question: “What is Afrofuturism?” Scholars first adopted the term in the 1990s to describe works of Black science fiction that explored contemporary themes and concerns in the context of modern technoculture. Today, Dr. Chambliss notes, the term Afrofuturism is more broadly interpreted to include “Black speculative practice” from any creative or intellectual realm – art, literature, music, history, economics, social and political thought – that critiques the status quo and projects a liberatory vision for the future. “At the core of Afrofuturism,” he explains, “is an emphasis on trying to create a system that’s more equitable with a core goal of collective care for everyone.”
Having explored Afrofuturism through Sound (2021), Vision (2022), and Spirit (2023), the 2020-2024 conference cycle concludes with an exploration of Afrofuturism in the realm of Space – virtual, real, and imagined. “By concluding our conversations around the examination of space,” Dr. Chambliss explains, “we align our concerns with contemporary debates about land, community, and the future that have brought a renewed focus on Eatonville in recent months. The struggle over the Robert Hungerford School property can be read as a return to the mission and vision offered by the creation of Eatonville. Celebrated as a way to ‘solve the great race problem’ by its founders, Eatonville has long stood as a space of liberation for Black Americans. While we quickly imagine the ‘space’ of Afrofuturism being connected to an expansive, cosmic imagination, creating local spaces that nurture our being is the core to understanding the space of Afrofuturism.”
This year’s Afrofuturism Conference will be held in Historic Eatonville, Florida.

DAY ONE - Wednesday, Jan. 24

DATE: Wednesday, January 24, 2024

TIME: 7:00 – 8:00PM

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Dr. Andrea Roberts

VIRTUAL LINK: https://www.seminolestate.edu/live-video

Program offered courtesy of the Department of Humanities, History and Modern Languages Seminole State College of Florida

Talk: "Co-Creating Counternarratives: Foundations for Just Planning & Preservation"

Abstract:

Narratives inform our approach to setting national priorities, creating inclusive public history and education, and transforming monumental landscapes. America’s operating assumptions about people, places, and power are embedded in various narratives that inform the discourse on climate adaptation, systemic racism, gender identity, and infrastructure needs. Consequently, planners, preservationists, and infrastructure planners must contend with operating assumptions. This process must make space for co-creating counternarratives to help prevent cultural erasure, yield intersectional solutions, and foster authentic consultation with all stakeholders. Co-creating new creation and policy narratives are foundational to equitable practice. Reconstructing creation stories of historic Black settlements is a significant and challenging co-creation exercise.

This talk presents The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas, a case study in applied, counternarrative and countermapping work. Freedom colonies, historic Black settlements whose dispersed, surviving descendants endeavor to preserve their communities, exist at the intersection of growth pressure, chronic underdevelopment, and co-located endangered historic sites. The Project’s Atlas crowdsources public data, memories, and stories about disappearing, previously undocumented settlements and co-constructs counternarratives arguing for settlements’ historic significance, thereby correcting planning and preservation assumptions that lead to the erasure and destruction of these places. The Project’s documentation, surveying, and engaged scholarship have identified previously unrecognized historic settlements, illuminated infrastructure needs—broadband, improved water and sewer systems—and increased the likelihood that preservation and planning confront the existence of vulnerable Black cemeteries and structures during transportation planning. The presenter discusses plans to expand the lessons learned in new contexts, including the mid-Atlantic region.

Dr. Andrea Roberts

Director, Center for Cultural Landscapes at UVA Founder of The Texas Freedom Colonies Project

BIO

Dr. Andrea Roberts is an Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and affiliate faculty of the Department of Architectural History and the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia. Her 12 years of professional experience in non-profit, advocacy, and public management work in Houston and Philadelphia inform her efforts to move marginalized, historic Black communities to the center of planning discourse and research. A 7th generation Texan and descendant of historic Black settlement founders, she created The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas and Study to identify and map disappearing settlements through counternarrative development and storytelling in 2014. Planners’ and researchers’ applied usage of the digital humanities platform challenges freedom colony invisibility, illustrates disproportionate environmental risk and developmental encroachment, and records stories of land loss. The Project is part of her teaching and scholarship, highlighting African Americans’ placemaking and placekeeping as part of a long tradition of resistance and freedom-seeking in the US. Currently, she is adapting the TXFC Project for community-engaged research in new contexts under UVA’s Center for Cultural Landscapes, where she serves as Faculty Director.

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DAY TWO - Thursday, Jan. 25

MORNING SESSION

DATE/TIME:
Thursday, Jan. 25 – 9:00 AM – 12:00 noon

EVENT: Welcome and Keynote Addresses

SPEAKERS: Dr. Julian Chambliss and Dr. Bruce Janz

LOCATION: Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, 412 E. Kennedy Blvd., Eatonville 32751

SPONSORING HOST/PARTNER: UCF College of Arts & Humanities

Talk: "The Hungerford Legacy and the History of Black Futures"

Abstract:

While an important marker of community stability in the larger story of Eatonville, the Robert Hungerford School marks an important legacy of black speculative practice. Afrofuturism emphasizes the ways black Americans imagined pathways to freedom. In the post-Reconstruction era, black education and cultural practice served as a tool for resistance. This speculative practice offered important definition to the myriad paths toward liberty black Americans pursued across the South. This presentation discusses the Hungerford School in this dynamic framework.

Dr. Julian Chambliss

Professor of English, Michigan State University
Val Berryman Curator of History at MSU Museum

BIO

Dr. Julian Chambliss is a Professor of English with an appointment in History and the Val Berryman Curator of History at the MSU Museum at Michigan State University. In addition, he is a core participant in the MSU College of Arts & Letters’ Consortium for Critical Diversity in a Digital Age Research (CEDAR). His research interests focus on race, culture, and power in real and imagined urban spaces. His recent writing has appeared in the American Historical Review, Phylon, Frieze Magazine, Rhetoric Review, and Boston Review. An interdisciplinary scholar he has designed museum exhibitions, curated art shows, and created public history projects that trace community, ideology, and power in the United States.

Talk: "Where is the African Future in Afrofuturism?"

Abstract:

In Western media, Africa has often been a place with no future, destined for chaos, or at least, no future without aid and support from elsewhere. So, perhaps Afrofuturism gives a different vision? But South African writer Mohale Mashigo says “Afrofuturism is not for Africans living in Africa.” And Nnedi Okorafor argues instead for “Africanfuturism,” an optimistic view of the future rooted on the African continent. This talk will be about the future, and about Africa, but it will not prognosticate or be a pep talk about the “continent of the future.” It will instead sketch out ways that the future has been and could be imagined on the continent, and connect the joy and exuberance of Afrofuturism with the lived reality of those living in Africa.

Dr. Bruce Janz

Professor of Philosophy, University of Central Florida Co-Director, Center for Humanities and Digital Research

BIO

Dr. Bruce Janz is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Co-director of the Center for Humanities and Digital Research, and core faculty in the Texts and Technology Ph.D. Program, all at the University of Central Florida. He works in African philosophy and humanities, contemporary European philosophy, digital humanities, and on concepts of place and space across many disciplines. He has taught in Canada, the US, Kenya, and South Africa. His latest book is African Philosophy and Enactivist Cognition: The Space of Thought (Bloomsbury, 2023).

DAY TWO - Thursday, Jan. 25

AFTERNOON SESSION

DATE/TIME:
Thursday, Jan. 25, Afternoon Session – 1:30-4:30 PM

EVENT: Featured Speakers and Panel Discussion: Eatonville’s Historic Hungerford School Property and the 21st Century Struggle for Preservation, Economic Revitalization, and Community Control

PARTICIPANTS: Dr. Walter Greason, Dr. Scot French, Desiree Stennett, John Beacham, Julian Johnson, and representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center

LOCATION: Denton Johnson Community Center, 400 Ruffel St, Eatonville

SPONSORING HOST/PARTNER: UCF College of Arts & Humanities

Session Title: Eatonville’s Historic Hungerford School Property and the 21st Century Struggle for Preservation, Economic Revitalization, and Community Control"

Abstract:

This session will explore visions of Eatonville’s past, present, and future as imagined through the physical and cultural landscape of the former Robert Hungerford School.

Macalester College historian and preeminent Afrofuturism scholar Dr. Walter Greason (author of Cities Imagined: The African Diaspora in Media and History) will open the session with a framing talk on placemaking, Afrofuturism, and global context. He will also serve as the moderator for the panel.

UCF historian Dr. Scot French will provide a summary of the school’s history, from its late 19th century origins as an African American industrial and agricultural training school on the Booker T. Washington/Tuskegee Institute model to its mid-20th century transformation into a racially segregated Black public high school; its court-ordered desegregation and repurposing as an “alternative” vocational school in 1967; its subsequent closing in 2010 and demolition in 2020; and its place at the center of ongoing legal battles over land use and economic development in the Historic Black Township of Eatonville.

Orlando Sentinel reporter Desiree Stennett and #LandBack community activists John Beacham and Julian Johnson will discuss their perspectives on the current controversy and their respective efforts to raise awareness and inform public debate.

Finally, representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center will provide an update on the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.E.C.) v. The School Board Orange County to prevent the sale and commercial development of the property.

PANELISTS BIOS

Dr. Walter Greason

Dewitt Wallace Professor of History
Macalester College

BIO

Dr. Walter Greason, Ph.D., DeWitt Wallace Professor in the Department of History at Macalester College is the preeminent historian of Afrofuturism, the Black Speculative Arts, and digital economies in the world today. Named one of “Today’s Black History Makers” by The Philadelphia Daily News, Dr. Greason has written more than one hundred academic articles and essays. His work has appeared on Huffington Post, National Public Radio, and The Atlantic among other popular, professional and scholarly journals. He is also the author, editor, and contributor to eighteen books, including Suburban Erasure, The Land Speaks, Cities Imagined, Illmatic Consequences, and The Black Reparations Project.

Dr. Scot French

Associate Professor / Director of Public History
University of Central Florida

BIO

Dr. Scot French is an Associate Professor of History, Director of Public History, and Associate Director of the Center for Humanities and Digital Research at the University of Central Florida. He is author of The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and has published extensively on African American history, cultural landscapes, and sites of memory. His research on Eatonville and its Hungerford School has been featured in the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, as well as Winter Park Magazine, WUCF’s Central Florida Road Trip, and CBS Sunday Morning. His peer-reviewed essay, “Social Preservation and Moral Capitalism in the Historic Black Township of Eatonville, Fl.: A Case Study in Reverse Gentrification,” appears in Change Over Time: A Journal of Conservation and the Built Environment. Dr. French chairs the ZORA! Festival Academics Committee and serves as UCF’s lead organizer for the conference in collaboration with Afrofuturism Cycle curator Dr. Julian Chambliss.

Desiree Stennett

Senior Reporter
Orlando Sentinel

BIO

Desiree Stennett is a senior reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. She writes stories about how race and identity impact politics, criminal justice, economics, housing and other aspects of life. In the past, she has covered breaking news, criminal justice, economic development and business. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Florida A&M University.

John Beacham

Eatonville Community Ambassador

BIO

John Beacham was born, raised, and now serves as a Community Ambassador in the historical town of Eatonville, Florida, the oldest incorporated Black township in the United States. Through his Historic Eatonville & Maitland Walking Tours; Eatonville1887.com website; social media posts; and “Beloved Community/Better Together” public speaking engagements, he has raised public awareness of Eatonville’s special place in American history and called attention to the threat posed by the proposed sale and commercial development of Eatonville’s historic Hungerford School property. His grassroots “#LandBack campaign, launched in 2022 with yard signs and a national petition drive, quickly went viral and generated local, state, and national media coverage.

Julian Johnson

Digital Marketing Professional and Community Activist

BIO

Julian Johnson is founder of “1887 First,” a community organization in Eatonville focused on local development and preservation. He is active in advocating for economic empowerment, educational opportunities, and the advancement of the Black community. Julian Johnson has been a leading voice in the #LandBack movement, which seeks to block the sale of Eatonville’s Hungerford School property by Orange County Public Schools and return the property to the Town of Eatonville for the benefit of its citizens. He and his digital media team have mobilized citizen participation in public meetings and contributed to wide public awareness of the #LandBack preservation campaign through social media, informational fliers, branded merch, and the 1887First.com website.

The Southern Poverty Law Center

SPLC

BIO

The Southern Poverty Law Center is representing the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.EC.) in its lawsuit against the Orange County School Board over its planned sale of the last 100 acres of property that was the site of the historic Hungerford school. The lawsuit, filed last March by P.E.C., asks the court to ensure that the land continues to be used for educational and related purposes that benefit the community. In November, Judge Vincent Falcone III issued a decision in favor of the plaintiffs, paving the way for the lawsuit to continue.

The SPLC is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. Civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. founded the SPLC in 1971 to ensure that the promise of the civil rights movement became a reality for all. Since then, the group has won numerous landmark legal victories on behalf of the exploited, the powerless and the forgotten. It also built and maintains the Civil Rights Memorial and its interpretive center, the Civil Rights Memorial Center, in Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement. The group is based in Montgomery, with offices in Atlanta, Tallahassee, Miami, New Orleans, and Jackson, Miss.

DAY THREE - Friday, Jan. 26

Morning Session

DATE/TIME:
Friday, Jan. 26 – 10:00-11:30 A.M.

EVENT: Panel Discussion: Zora Neale Hurston through Space, Place, and Time

PANELISTS: Sidney Rose McCall, Dr. Christopher Peace, Rae Chesny

LOCATION:Denton Johnson Community Center, 400 Ruffel St, Eatonville

SPONSORING HOST/PARTNER: University of Central Florida – College of Arts & Humanities

Funding for this program was provided through a grant from Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of Florida Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Talk: "Zora Neale Hurston through Space, Place, and Time"

Abstract:

Viewing space, place, and time through an Afrofuturist lens, this panel discussion will encourage community conversation and reflection on Hurston’s legacy and Eatonville’s history as one of the oldest surviving Black Townships in America. Sidney Rose McCall, a Ph.D. student at the College of William & Mary, begins the discussion with an historical, place-based grounding of Zora Neale Hurston and her impact as understood through the ancestral landscape and environment of Eatonville. Dr. Christopher Peace, a 2022 University of Kansas Ph.D. and current postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech, will present Zora as a conjure woman who amplified her spiritual research as a speculative methodology that included a unique self-representation, a re-envisioning of Black folk religion, and spatial interactions with ritual practice. Zora Neale Hurston scholar and writer Rae Chesny will connect Zora’s achievements and her unique perspective of spatial dimensions for an intergenerational audience. Trent Tomengo, a Professor of Humanities at Seminole State College of Florida, will moderate.
PANELISTS BIOS

Sidney Rose McCall

Ph.D. Candidate, History, College of William & Mary, ZORA! Festival Academics Committee Associate Member

BIO

Sidney Rose McCall (she/her/they) is a doctoral candidate in History at the College of William & Mary. She received her B.A. in English from North Carolina Wesleyan College (2018) and completed her M.A.S.S. at Florida A&M University (2020). Her research interests include examining (hu)manmade environments, ecosystems of white supremacy, and the relationship between imperialism, popular culture, and global fashion industries. During the 2020-2022 season, Sidney Rose worked as a junior docent and arts administrative assistant at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts in Zora’s hometown of Eatonville, Florida. She currently serves as the first apprentice of William & Mary’s very own Lemon Project and continues her community work with activists and organizers ranging from teachers and public intellectuals to birthworkers and transracial adoptees.

Dr. Christopher Peace

Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow
Georgia Institute of Technology
ZORA! Festival Academics Committee Member

BIO

Dr. Christopher Peace is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology where he teaches business communications and place-based composition theory. He received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Kansas in 2022. His academic interests include Black religions and spirituality, rhetorical identity formation, autoethnography, and spatial ecologies. As a Zora Neale Hurston scholar, he writes about Hurston and Black mysticism, and he also serves on the Academics committee for the ZORA! Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

Rae Chesny

Zora Neale Hurston Scholar
Interdisciplinary Writer
Johns Hopkins University Literary Consultant

BIO

Rae Chesny is an accomplished author, Johns Hopkins University Literary Consultant, and Zora Neale Hurston Scholar. Each year, she splits her time researching, writing about, and presenting literary great Zora Neale Hurston while writing her own titles.

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MODERATOR

Trent Tomengo

Professor of Humanities
Seminole State College of Florida

BIO

Trent Tomengo is a Professor of Humanities at Seminole State College of Florida, where he teaches African American Humanities, Renaissance and Baroque Humanities and Medieval Humanities. He holds a Master of Fine Art degree in painting and a graduate certificate in museum studies from the University of South Florida.

Mr. Tomengo has conducted public lectures and presentations on the Harlem Renaissance, Black cultural productivity, and the spirituality of the human condition in art. He has served on various committees in the Central Florida arts community including the Community Advisory Council for the University of Central Florida Public History Center and the Academic Committee for the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. He is a member of the Festival’s National Planners.

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DAY THREE - Friday, Jan. 26

Afternoon Session

DATE/TIME:
Friday, Jan. 26, Afternoon Session – 1:30-2:45 P.M.

EVENT:Closing Keynote Address

SPEAKERS: Dr. Lonny J Avi Brooks

LOCATION:Denton Johnson Community Center, 400 Ruffel St, Eatonville

SPONSORING HOST/PARTNER: UCF College of Arts & Humanities

Funding for this program was provided through a grant from Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of Florida Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Talk: "Developing the Mothership AI of Ancestral Intelligence for the Astro-Equalitarian Virtual Nation from 2025 to 2050 while Retaining our Historic Black Towns on the Ground"

Abstract:

What will it take to create a robust virtual reality world centering Africana and Indigenous cultures to prototype ideas that can support our embodied historical Black towns guided by what we call our Mothership AI, a language learning model we are developing run with the relatively low cost models like Alpaca created by Stanford University? Ahmed Best, Dr. Lonny A. Brooks, and Jade Fabello co-hosted the first convening on the Astro Egalitarian Virtual Network (AEVN), a community-centered Afrofuturist virtual reality “pluriverse” guided by liberatory, anti-racist principles. AEVN seeks to prioritize ancestral intelligence, marginalized voices, and the rediscovery of lost Black and Indigenous stories to help us imagine (and survive) a future of rapid social and ecological change, as well as a newly blended virtual/reality. By leveraging the tools of entertainment and immersive storytelling through, AfroRithms From The Future, a game co-created by Lonny Avi Brooks, Ahmed Best and Eli Kosminsky, we chronicle our building of the Mothership AI to reclaim our ancestral intelligence, or what we call the real AI. With the power of Mothership AI, we imagine the Astro-Egalitarian Virtual Network framed within an Africana based immersive, quasi-fictional storyline inspired by the AfroRithms game. With Mothership AI, we aspire to support our people in building and implementing, through real and embodied spaces, the sacred world they imagine.

Dr. Lonny J. Avi Brooks

Professor of Communications, California State University East Bay Faculty Co-Lead for the Long Term and Futures Thinking Project

BIO

Dr. Lonny J Avi Brooks is a Professor of Communications and Faculty Co-Lead for the Long Term and Futures Thinking Project as part of the Center For STEM Education at California State University East Bay. His research asks: What will it take to create a robust virtual reality world centering Africana and Indigenous cultures to prototype ideas that can support embodied historical Black towns like Eatonville? He and his team are working on a summer workshop called STEAM Futures where high schoolers will envision their future STEAM Career and make a digital game out of it. He is also working in part with the Institute For The Future based in Palo Alto (iftf.org) and the TeachtheFuture.org foundation dedicated to building a curriculum nationally and globally to have students imagine and plan for the long term future with more tools and intention.

DAY FOUR - Saturday, Jan. 27

Morning Session

DATE/TIME:
Saturday Jan. 27, 10:00-Noon

EVENT:Walking Tour of Zora’s Eatonville with Rae Chesny

PRESENTER: Rae Chesny

LOCATION: Meets at Denton Johnson Community Center, 400 Ruffel Street, Eatonville 32751

SPONSORING HOST/PARTNER: UCF College of Arts & Humanities

Funding for this program was provided through a grant from Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of Florida Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Talk: "Walking Tour of Zora’s Eatonville with Rae Chesny"

Abstract:

Eatonville will come to life from the pages of Zora Neale Hurston’s literary treasures in this walking tour led by community educator and storyteller Rae Chesny. Participants will learn about Hurston’s unique space through town landmarks and imagine history in present-day contexts. Free and open to everyone. Meet at 10 a.m. at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts (“The Hurston”), 344 E. Kennedy Boulevard.

Rae Chesny

Zora Neale Hurston Scholar Interdisciplinary Writer Johns Hopkins University Literary Consultant

BIO

Rae Chesny is an accomplished author, Johns Hopkins University Literary Consultant, and Zora Neale Hurston Scholar. Each year, she splits her time researching, writing about, and presenting literary great Zora Neale Hurston while writing her own titles.

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