Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn re-envisions ways to represent black histories after erasure, disappearance, and silencing. I explore how we memorialize our presence without replicating traditional means of commemoration (museums, street signs, neighborhood names, etc.) by paying respect to silence as a champion of our lives and an integral piece of black history. I use GIS mapping, a photo series, and virtual reality to create this immersive, digital, commemorative experience and to emphasize the importance of memory and transgenerational silence to Brooklyn’s black community.
This project has been the greatest labor of love to my borough, Brooklyn, and the beautiful black people that live there. And it could not be completed without years worth of love and support and encouragement from my great-grandmother, Vashty Aulder. She has incessantly imparted, “mus’ tek in ya education,” probably before I even understood the English language. And she didn’t just say “tek in ya education” without supporting me in some of the best ways imaginable—from calling late at night or in the wee hours of the morning to offer her company while I studied throughout high school and college, to placing money, food, lotion, perfume, etc. in my hands to make sure I was well taken care of while away from the family. She taught me that you may not have much but when you have family, you have it all. And so she urged me to pursue an education and not to take for granted the sacrifices my family has made to get to the United States in hopes of a better future. And to see me create something of this extent, not only full of words but full of creativity is a testament to her. As I worked on completing my photo series, I just knew she would have jumped at the call to volunteer to have her photo taken if it made my work one step easier. Just like she jumped at every event, every call for help, every call to pray, and every graduation. What’s a celebration without Vashty? And so, because she will not see me walk across that stage for my college commencement, I not only acknowledge her in my academic endeavors but also dedicate Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn to her.
To my mother, Madame Munyanga Chiloupe, I say thank you. You have reiterated grandma’s counsel to pursue an education and have given endlessly to make my academic dreams come true. That was evident in your dedication to my thesis, and though you did not verbalize it, your actions were not unseen or unappreciated. You sensed my needs without me asking for your help, driving me all around Brooklyn to complete my photo series and virtual reality portion despite freezing temperatures, snowstorms and everything in between. You even picked up the camera in the home stretch! It’s been a long road since kindergarten when I ignored your help because I thought I could do it all by myself and came home with all those “big fat zeros!” I truly don’t know how I could have pulled this off without you. Additionally, thank you for letting me know education is not enough. That I have to be able to multitask and most importantly, be gracious, because you can’t be “pretty and smart and have a stink attitude.” The community outreach aspect of my thesis thanks you.
In giving my appreciation to the two most important black women in my life, I also want to extend my greatest appreciation to Professor Parham. Your advising set me on a path of intense, rewarding academic inquiry. And to think you took on my thesis without hesitation at a time you were supposed to be on your sabbatical. Thank you for your commitment to the digital humanities canon and all your insight that I have channeled into my own scholarship. Thank you for your guidance and for pulling me together when I felt weary or anxious about the things you already knew would be taken care of. Many times you prefaced your advice with this may be small right now but this will be an immense help towards the end of the thesis, and each time you were right. From advising me to use Twitter and Tumblr to chronicle my process, to spending a lot of time on the front page of the website, you knew just where and how much energy I should pour into places in order to have my desired end. Thank you for your discernment that my project is just as much a creative project as it is a critical project. And much of the creative work informs the critical argument, and helps the reader understand that history. Thank you for your leadership in the Five College Digital Humanities Program which has provided so much expensive equipment for me to try out and identify which ones suited my thesis. I couldn’t have done it without the phones and Baby Eve, the Samsung 360 Gear Camera. And of course, thank you for opening up the Bruss Room for me to read aloud and even your home on the last legs of my thesis. You are an amazing woman and my hero.
And I cannot say thank you to the Five College Digital Humanities Program without thanking Andrew Smith, the VR/ 360 Developer and Team Manager of Dare to Remember. You have listened to all my wild ideas and helped me filter them into a consumable virtual reality experience, and I am so appreciative of your help and level of expertise. And Frank Tavares, Melissa Korteweg, Amal Buford, and Sheila Chukwulozie! Thank you for taking on very technical parts of my thesis. From the photo design and VR presentation, to sound and content brainstorming, you have all swooped in to save the day and turn Dare to Remember into an amazing project and unforgettable experience! #AllHandsOnDeck! Likewise, I want to give many thanks to Andy Anderson, the Academic Technology Specialist for Mathematical and Spatial Data Analysis. I know you best as a connoisseur of maps who has spent countless hours with me not only teaching me GIS mapping, but also walking through every step with me, problem solving, encouraging me, and providing critical insight on how to analyze my findings through this creative process.
From my very initial musings on Dare to Remember, the brilliant educators and my Black Studies Research Seminar instructors, Professor Cobham-Sander, Dunstan McNutt, and hari kumar, have been immense sources of assistance. You all have encouraged me to pursue a thesis with a digital lens. Likewise, you have challenged me to think beyond gentrification to black movement at large, and directed me to other professors on campus and scholars for their levels of expertise. Research Seminar with you all taught me how to ask thoughtful questions, and find the tools to produce work that is new and imaginative and powerful. And no matter how many times I popped up with questions this school year, you all met them with great enthusiasm and even better direction. So thank you so much.
While exploring the archives for the photo series and virtual reality portions, I realized two things: it is a time commitment to sift through tons of preserved material and settle in on only a few artifacts of memory and history that truly speak to the project, and it is rather costly to acquire permissions to use them. However, the plethora of material available through the Brooklyn Collection of the Brooklyn Public Library and The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture was a pleasure to experience. From church pamphlets to photography of street scenes, to manuscripts and protest flyers, I experienced black culture in Brooklyn through my fingers. And I am thankful for these institutions for preserving such information. Knowing how costly acquiring said materials may be, I also extend my appreciation to the Alpha Delta Phi Fund and the Five College Digital Humanities Fellowship. With the financial backing, I have been able to reimagine commemoration for black people of Brooklyn.
To each and every one of my volunteers, thank you for your time and interest. You have all become invested in this project. My project was met with pride and excitement and intrigue, and you all trusted me enough to be fully committed to it. A special thanks to my sisters who have been a list of firsts—my first friends, my first hugs, my first fights, my first cheerleaders, and for my thesis, my first volunteers. You have given abundantly and I love you all dearly for that. Thank you Amanda Ottah. Your words of encouragement have always fueled me to push the envelope and to practice self-care and to pause when necessary. And they have all been useful throughout my thesis journey. Thank you to Sakirat Akadri who has not only been a part of my photo series, but has gone on a joyride all around Brooklyn with me to finish the photo and VR sections of my thesis. I threw a bunch of tantrums that day but you heard me out, validated my concerns, and as usual, helped me work through it. (Oh! And thank you for quoting our high school teacher as I struggled to find the exact word that fit perfectly into my sentence, paragraph, essay, etc. “Sometimes the most difficult part of the writing process is finding words that embody precisely what you are trying to say.” I’m sure you don’t remember quoting that!) Thank you P.S. 161 The Crown School for also volunteering for my photo and virtual reality series. The photography program could not have happened at a better time or with better students and teachers. Thank you Mr. Porter and Ms. Brown for trusting me with your students and being fully engaged in my thesis. It truly helped my project and senior year come full circle. Thank you Raheem Jackson, Whitney Beber, Katyana Dandridge, and Donvaria Duncombe for providing answers on Facebook. What may have seemed completely random spiraled into a reckoning with and full analysis of optional silence and the unifying, transformative power of the black community despite location.
As noted, this project would have been nothing without community—a community of people at Amherst, a community of people in Brooklyn, and my first community, my family. Thank you all for your love and interest and time spent on my project. I am proud of what it has become.
- Project Lead: Christin Washignton
- Collaborators: Dr. Marisa Parham, Andrew W Smith, Sheila Chukwulozie, Amal Buford, Melissa Korteweg, Frank Tavares
- Created: Spring 2017
- Digital Tools Used: Twine, Panotour Pro 2.5, Samsung Gear 360