Professor Jovan Scott Lewis started the Berkeley Black Geographies Project in 2016 after joining the Geography Department at the University of California, Berkeley. The idea of the project is to advance a contemporary understanding of Geography and other disciplinary analyses of spatial relations through the centering of Blackness. The project is a collaborative effort, with faculty colleagues Brandi Thompson Summers and Sharad Chari, working across the areas of programming, pedagogy, and publishing.
The project was inspired by and is a contribution to the deep commitment and work of the group of Black geographers organizing and resisting against the AAG's lack of concern for or interest in the issues impacting Black geographers and the work that they did. That inattention overlooked the efforts of a generation of Black geographers who worked to institution build within the Association and who did seminal work outside of it. Berkeley Geography and its reputation within the discipline meant that it should take responsibility and provide support for the Black Geographies field. The need to address the historical challenges of racial and gender disparities expressed by the few Black graduate students within the department at the time also bolstered the determination to start Berkeley Black Geographies.
The first symposium
With the joining by Professor Sharad Chari and students Camilla Hawthorne and Kaily Heitz, we began . The first Berkeley Black Geographies Symposium was more successful than we anticipated. Beyond the enthusiastic participation of those in attendance, I was surprised by the broad influence that it would have and the activity that it would inspire. As a result, our department became identified as a place where prospective students of color could pursue their doctoral work, leading over the past few years to a four-fold increase in our Black graduate student population, as well as an unprecedented enrollment of Black undergraduate majors. In a meaningful way, the success of the project, which has taken the form of various working and reading groups, collaborations with other units on campus as well as a new summer school whose Summer 2020 debut was unfortunately impacted by COVID 19, has helped securely position our department for the future of the discipline, by giving it a leadership role in that future. And so, what might read like departmental or campus service, Berkeley Black Geographies has made significant contributions to the discipline.