"How Do Black Women Relate to the Land?"

CEW welcomes Mistinguette Smith as the 2011 Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist. Smith, a graduate of Smith College and NYU, is a faculty member at the Center for Whole Communities. She describes her life’s work as “helping to shape a world that makes well-being for black women possible.”

Registration is requested for this program

This program will be presented at these three locations. We invite you to join us for a viewing of the short video and a workshop with discussion of the issues the video raises. Please register for the date you would like to attend. This event is free and open to the public. Light food will be served at a reception after:

Thurs., Oct. 20th, 5:30 - 7:00 pm Ford School of Public Policy, Betty Ford classroom, Ann Arbor

Mon., Oct. 24th, 5:00 - 6:30 pm  A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Auditorium, Ann Arbor

Tues. Oct. 25th, 6:00 - 7:30 pm Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit



The Mission of the Black/Land Project

Smith’s current efforts center on The Black/Land Project, a complex nation-wide research and education initiative. The mission of the Black/Land Project is “to identify and amplify conversations happening inside black communities about the relationship between black people, land, and place in order to share their powerful traditions of resourcefulness, resilience and regeneration.” Black/Land defines both race and place broadly: Smith says “Most people think of a Black/Land story as about an urban community garden or a fifth generation African-American family farm in the Alabama Black Belt, and that’s true. But it could also be the story of how six city blocks have become a new home to an African immigrant community in Manhattan; or the story of a church mortgage-burning party in a small town in Ohio.”

The Black/Land Project interviews individuals and groups, and identifies key environmental, cultural, economic and social justice issues in their stories about land and place. “One thing that is unique about Black/Land is that we describe those issues as black communities themselves define them, rather than imposing traditional categories of analysis.” For example, Smith says “Black people, across ethnicity, talk about their primary relationship to land as historical occupancy – an earned relationship to land and place expressed as growing up on a particular block, immigrating from a specific town, or having ancestral roots to a particular parcel of farmland.” Smith doesn’t dismiss the importance of land ownership to black people, but “Whether or not they legally own it is not the first thing black people think of as defining a legitimate relationship to land and place. This idea alone has huge ramifications for economic and community development initiatives.”

photo of land

While she’s at CEW, Smith will concentrate her research in two ways: She will focus on the state of Michigan, including the Detroit area; and she will look specifically at the ways in which black women experience relationship to land and place

Why Detroit? Today Detroit is the epicenter of post-industrial Midwest urban decline and reclamation. It is in many ways ahead of similar areas throughout the region and the country in seeking answers to the thorny questions about how to re-imagine, re-claim and re-vitalize urban, often black communities and the land upon which they rest.

• Who controls land? Who gets to decide who owns, uses, and inhabits land?
• Who decides how publically owned land will be used?
• Who decides what happens in black business districts and residential neighborhoods?

During Smith’s one-month residence at CEW, she will participate in a number of public events on the Ann Arbor campus as well as at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. These events will feature a preview of Smith’s new documentary short, Black/Land: Women’s Voices.

According to Smith, the ultimate outcome of the Black/Land Project will be to convene a national conference that celebrates the connections between black people, land and place, and grapples with important policy issues. Smith’s research findings and community-based efforts reveal a number of complex and overlapping aspects of black life in America, encompassing historical and current perspectives, urban and rural settings, emotional and pragmatic responses, and policy and practice implications. The Black/Land stories can serve as a framework for bringing together community representatives, land use planners, environmentalists, academics as well as business and government actors in order to resolve critical land use issues facing Americans today.

Thank you

CEW thanks Twink Frey and her husband Jim McKay for their generous support in creating the Visiting Social Activist program.

The Center for the Education of Women also thanks event co-sponsors:

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit
Detroit Public Library Semester in Detroit Program,
University of Michigan
University of Michigan Detroit Center

And the following University of Michigan–Ann Arbor units:

Arts of Citizenship
Department of Afroamerican and African Studies
Department of Women’s Studies
Ford School of Public Policy
Ginsberg Center
Institute for Research on Women and Gender
School of Natural Resources and the Environment
School of Social Work
Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Photo of Mistinguette Smith by Jared Wadley