Category Archives: Research

Intermission, ft. Baby’s First Archive Trip!

As promised, today I’m rehashing my first archive visit! After completing one successful visit, I am clearly an authority on how to do this (please, please read the sarcasm), so if you need a step by step tutorial, you’ve come to the right place!

Step 1: Have a vague (or specific) idea of what you’re looking for; find an archive that has this vague/specific material– or something closely related.

DO: Ask your professors for leads on archives, archivists who specialize in your topic, universities that have certain collections.

DON’T: Assume the only archive you know about has what you’re looking for.

All I knew when I was starting out was that I wanted to find an archive that had the July 1966 Fantastic Four issue no. 52, which featured the introduction of Black Panther. I really wanted to read Stan Lee’s Soapbox Letters and the Letters from the Bullpen in the early Black Panther comics to see what the discourse around the character was. Everything I’d been using up until yesterday had been a reprint and thus all of the fun extra pages from the originals were absent.

One of my professors gave me a lead on a comic archive in Michigan, but as I’d assumed I’d find something in the National Archive, I didn’t apply for summer research money, thinking I’d just have a jaunt up to D.C. and return with everything I needed. When I finally had time to scour the archives a few weeks ago, I came up empty handed and started to panic.

Once I pulled myself together, I told myself I just needed to follow a different trail. One of my favorite things to do is mine footnotes of articles and books that were inspiring to me. I wound up searching through the entire #WakandaSyllabus just to see if anything would jump out at me. Fortunately, one of the sources in the Syllabus, was a link to an article about VCU’s Comic Collection and the head archivist there, Cindy Jackson, in RVANews. It took me about ten minutes to realize that the archive had every Black Panther comic I needed to look at, and dozens more, and only a few minutes after that to begin drafting an e-mail to the archivist…


Step 2: Reach Out to the Archivist of Your Collection

DO: Go through the archive and have a list of things you’d like to see.

DON’T: Worry about getting everything perfect the first time. Be honest about where you are in your researching journey.

Working with Cindy was fantastic. She promptly replied to emails, was happy to pull additional sources for me that I hadn’t listed, but felt I might enjoy, and was generally outstanding in her knowledge of comics and comic scholars. I knew when we both agreed that Tim Hanley’s Wonder Woman Unbound was a better Wonder Woman history than Jill Lepore’s The Secret Life of Wonder Woman that I was in good hands.

Step 3: Plan Your Visit

DO: Have a date in mind, but be flexible. It may take time for the archivist to gather your materials.

DON’T: Over do it. Don’t ask to see 300 sources when you know you’re only going to be visiting for a day.

I planned on coming in to the archive about a week after I initially reached out to Cindy. I made myself a list of things I needed to see (which really was only the Fantastic Four no. 52 and 53 and a few of the first Jungle Action issues) and then listed everything else as “would be nice but not necessary.”

Cindy gave me a general set of guidelines for what to expect when I got to the archive– she’d pull a set of things for me, but I’d be able to take about 5 into the reading room at a time; there was a scanner but I was able to bring in electronics and a camera if necessary; and she recommended I bring a jump drive, as it’d be a little easier than trying to e-mail myself a zillion pages of comics.

Step 4: Prep For Your Visit

DO: Pack your bag the night before. Charge your electronics. Make sure you have directions to the archive. Take a jacket or a long sleeve shirt in case it’s cold. 🙂

DON’T: Forget your camera battery.

I forgot my camera battery. I left it in the wall, charging.

It wasn’t really that big of a deal because I had my jump drive and was able to scan everything I needed, but I was mostly just annoyed that I’d done all that prep and even ran back into the apartment for snacks and an additional phone and iPad charger— but still forgot the camera battery.

Had the camera. Forgot the battery.

Here’s what I took with me in a tote bag:

  • My iPad
  • My iPhone
  • My iPad/iPhone charger and USB cord
  • My Jump Drive
  • My camera (which was useless without its battery but anywho…)
  • My thesis binder with all my notes, essay drafts, and other related materials (included a pad of paper for scratch notes)
  • My journal, which had written instructions on how to get to the library, and then how to get to the archive once inside
  • Pencil case just bursting with writing utensils (which was also useless as, of course, you’re only allowed to bring in pencils and they have those inside the reading room so…)
  • My wallet
  • Snacks! (I didn’t know what my food situation would be like, alright?)

I didn’t take my laptop, mostly because it’s big and clunky and honestly a piece of crap. But I almost wish I’d taken it, if only because I could’ve used it to make sure all my scans were saving properly. (I’m a little anxious that everything will disappear on me.)

I also wish I’d had business cards with me so I could’ve shared my information with some of the other really nice archivists I met. (Especially since I was planning on writing nice things about them on my blog.)


Step 5: Enjoy the Journey

DO: Blast hype music in the car and sing loudly during the hour I spent on 64 traveling to Richmond.

DON’T: Panic or stress.

Once I got into Richmond, I missed a lot of turns and got really turned around because there was so much construction happening on the campus itself. Cindy had recommended just parking in a lot so I wouldn’t have to move during the day, but I was so worried about arriving late, that I just swung into the first 2 hour spot I found on the street. (Thank God for my three years of parallel parking training in insanely tight street spots near the French House.)

Nevertheless, I was only moderately behind schedule and was ready to head into my latest adventure.

Step 6: Get Started!

DO: Introduce yourself! Explain your project! But also listen to the archivist– they’ll give you valuable information about the archive, the sources they’ve rounded up for you, and any special directions/protocol to follow while working in the reading room.

DON’T: Worry about getting lost on your way to the archive itself! Just ask people where to go. Bonus points if you accidentally run into your best friend from undergrad, who’s studying to be a dentist, while you’re attempting to find the archive. (She helped me find the library.)

As I’ve mentioned, Cindy was an invaluable resource. She pulled a bunch of really awesome comics for me, including one really neat one that was an actual “Black Panther” comic (like the Oakland, CA/Black beret/10 Point Program Panthers), featuring a brother named “Eldridge.” (See below) How sway. She also let me know about cool things they do, like an annual comic sale!

Once we were done chatting, I selected my first five comics and headed into the reading room with my iPad, phone, binder, jumpdrive, charger, and pencil.


Step 7: Start Scanning!

DO: Take a look to see what treasures you’ve uncovered!

DON’T: Spend all day just looking. Start scanning so you can pour over them from the comfort of your home.

My goal was to get everything Cindy had pulled for me scanned and on my jump drive so I could look at everything carefully when I got home.

They had an overhead scanner, so I could look at the pages while the machine did its job. I mostly scanned nonstop, but if something jumped out at me, I’d jot down a note with the issue I found it in. For instance, I just noted things like:

  • Striking villains. (ex. Black Panther v. the Klan)
  • Lynching scenes
  • If Black Panther was listed as a comic you could subscribe to (it usually wasn’t)
  • Who the advertisements were geared to
  • If any of the fan letters stuck out to me.

After I got into a rhythm, it didn’t take me long to move on through the issues.

Around noon, I decided to take a lunch break and move my car…

Step 8: Take a break! Eat! Drink! Be Merry!

DO: Move your car if it’s in two hour parking.

DON’T: Get a parking ticket. (I didn’t, so that was nice.)

Fortunately, there was a full service Starbucks on the first floor of the library, so I met up with my aforementioned friend and we passed an amicable lunch hour together, getting caught up and filling each other in on our respective pursuits. It was only appropriate that the (future) Drs. Stringfield and Dao ran into each other at a library where we were both trying to do work.


Step 9: Finish scanning!

DO: Make sure to get business cards before you leave!

DON’T: Leave the room a mess. Make sure it looks the same as it did when you came in.

I spent the rest of the afternoon scanning more issues and chatting with one of the other archivists, who was pleasant and interested in my project. Before long, I had scanned everything I needed and I tried to use the scanner to see if my scans were being saved on the jump drive properly. It took a while, but I managed to figure it out and I saw about 2 dozen folders on my jump drive, so I figured they’d stuck.

I spent a few minutes writing about the most interesting things I’d seen during the day and what I might like to see if I came again.

I returned everything to its proper place in the reading room and returned the rest of my issues to the archivist on duty, making sure they were placed back correctly in their plastic. I made sure to grab one of Cindy’s cards so I could e-mail her and thank her, as she’d been gone when I was leaving.

For some reason, I’d imagined archive work to be dreary and miserable, but I had passed a remarkably pleasant day, wading through first editions of comics in a bright, newly constructed facility, with enthusiastic and knowledge archivists ready to help me, if I said the word. I was satisfied knowing that I’d found a resource so close to home that I might be able to use not only for my Masters thesis, but for my dissertation as well.


Step 10: Carefully review your new found collection of sources.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this morning when I haven’t been writing up this post. I’ve been looking through my issues, renaming folders as necessary and taking notes, all while enjoying as much coffee as I’d like (one of the downsides of archives: no coffee allowed.)

I’ll be sure to let you all know what treasures I’ve uncovered when I’m done wading through all my sources!


If you’re interested in comic studies and happen to be in the Virginia/DMV area, be sure to give Cindy and the Comic Arts Collection a visit in VCU’s James Branch Cabell Library.

Intermission ft. Self-Doubt in “Are You Sure You’re Doing This Right?”

My last month has been great. I’ve been catching up on sleep, making myself good food and voraciously reading and watching shows and movies I missed during the semester. I’ve been journaling and making art. (Examples of both are actually at the bottom of the home page of this site! I can’t do much online but I rigged this to connect to my instagram page, RavynnCreates, which you should absolutely follow.) But I’ve also gotten some work done, too– I’ve already met with Jody about what my Lemon assistantship is going to look like next year and I’m killing it at my job at Michaels. (I’ve already gotten two really kind customer survey feedback reports, both of which are tacked on a board in our break room.)

I’ve even been having fun. I’ve always been mature and serious, so my idea of fun has always been very different than my peers’ ideas. But more recently I realized there’s point in always acting like I’m 40 when I have a solid twenty years before I get there and I have plenty of time after that to act like an old fuddy duddy. So I got a little more social. I stopped avoiding outings with friends and started taking people up on more lunch and dinner invitations. I’ve just been out and about more instead of retreating into my shell as I am so wont to do, going kayaking with buds or even just hanging out at coffee shops by myself. I’ve even *gasp* been to a concert!

Up until last Saturday, I’d never been to huge concert– unless you count going to BET Honors my fourth year of college, but that was definitely more show than concert– and I always assumed that my favorite artist would have to be headlining for me to go. (Read: I was pretty sure J. Cole was going to be my first and only concert.) But Chance the Rapper was in town, and I knew enough about him and his music to merit purchasing those spur of the moment lawn tickets. My friend and I hit the road to VA Beach, and I got to not only see the concert, but two of my dearest friends while we were there.

In between all of the various exciting outings, I have also been able to hang out with my parents and my uncles, who were up visiting from Key West last week.

And in between all of that?

I’ve been working on my Masters Thesis.

Even though I made a schedule for myself, starting seemed daunting. My first move was to get organized. I collected the two papers I wanted to use for my portfolio, collected my professors’ comments on those papers, any e-mail correspondence I’d had about the papers, and my SASA conference paper into one binder. I added a pad of paper to the back so if I had to take notes (which, clearly, I would) I could keep everything together.

So I had a nice heap of things I needed, strikingly organized in a clear binder with colorful dividers but that was about all I had.

I carried my project around in my purse with me for a few days so whenever I hit up a coffee shop (which was often), I could fish it out and look at it, as if staring at it would make clear what I was to do next.

For a while, I tried editing what I already had, slashing away at poorly worded paragraphs, circling ideas that were crucial but under developed, but it slowly became clear that though my Black Panther essay was the one that has been carrying me as a scholar, it’s also a mess.

I would have to rewrite it.

At first I was stuck in between a ton of emotions– frustration that there was nothing I could save, fear of starting from the bottom again, and a little disgust that I hadn’t written anything better. But I started to look at it as a good thing. The fact that I knew I had to try writing this paper again meant that my ideas had grown, my theory and source base had expanded and my execution has gotten better. Even just from semester one to semester two, my papers have gotten leaps and bounds better (though admittedly they still aren’t particularly well written.) I wanted my semester one ideas to be communicated with my semester two knowledge base.

It’s a good thing.

Then, after that panic subsided and I was able to move forward again, I started to worry that I would never be able to write in the tradition academic way. I wondered if I would ever be able to write clearly– create sentences, to quote Baldwin, that are “clean as a bone.” I remember reading a girl in my cohort’s paper at the end of the semester thinking, this is one of the clearest pieces I’ve read, this could be in a journal. She and I were both in the masters part of the program, but she could write like that and I still have trouble writing about only one idea at a time.

I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t “serious” enough of a scholar. I started to question the validity of my questions and my research interests. I started to question if I was doing something wrong. Clearly, comic studies and Black studies are vibrant fields, but I felt as if my work was missing components that made it relevant.

It didn’t help that I didn’t get the academic blogging internship I applied for.

Rationally: yes, I did submit my application late; no, I did not actually need to do the internship in addition to everything else I was doing this summer; and no, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

Irrationally: I wondered why I wasn’t considered and instead of reasoning that a large part of it was my tardiness (which is probably was), I let the rejection be an indictment of my work. I blog, yes, but it isn’t “serious.” I do history, kind of. I do Black studies, in a way. I wasn’t doing work in a way that one particular group didn’t affirm as valuable. I wondered if I could be doing something better, what I could be doing better. I thought, maybe I should drop blogging all together and spend more time in the library, maybe I should try doing more archival research and then I’d be taken seriously, maybe I should stop trying to claim Black studies– is my work laughable?

I confided my worries to a fellow Black doctoral student in a different program and said to her, “Sometimes I really wonder if I’m even doing this right.”

She kind of smiled at me and said kindly, “I hear you and I hear your concerns, but I really doubt you’re doing this wrong.”

At the moment, I smiled and acted like I was reassured, but the truth was, I was still carrying around my project and not really doing anything with it. I was reading more articles and books, writing little summaries of them, just generally plodding along but not really moving forward.

This past week wasn’t much better. I spent a couple of days scouring the National Archive, hoping there might be something I could use for my paper so I didn’t have to go to Michigan to the archive my professor had suggested, mostly because I didn’t apply for summer research money. Finally, I returned to the Wakanda Syllabus, a tidy document of comic/Black studies resources, written by Dr. Walter Greason and posted on Black Perspectives, for new inspiration. A solid half of the material, I’d already come into contact with in some shape or form, but I made a point to click on every link.

One of the last sources linked me to an article in RVANews about a comic archive at VCU.

And it was like everything fell into place.

Another hour of researching uncovered that the archive had original issues of all of the comics I’d wanted to use, plus hundreds more that could almost certainly be relevant.

I took down as much information as I could, including the name of the archivist and her phone number, already getting excited that I had found something so relevant so close to home. This archive, at most an hour away from my apartment, might resolve a lot of the hiccups of self doubt and invalidity that I’d been feeling about my work.

(So definitely stay tuned because I’ll probably be writing about my first archive trip before long. Honestly, thank Rao that this archive is so close.)

I probably need to stop worrying so much and just let my mind take me where it wants to go. I wouldn’t be here if at least a few people didn’t think I had potential. I’ve got plenty of ideas– I just need to learn to stop doubting them. They’ve gotten me this far, I doubt they’ll fail me now.

Week 7, or Baby’s First Conference

After stressing about presenting at the Southern American Studies Association Conference all week to the point where I couldn’t even enjoy the thought of Spring Break, I was grateful when Thursday finally rolled around. I told myself, “Okay, Ravynn, you just gotta make it through Friday and Saturday, and you’ll be home free.” 

Originally, I was supposed to have class and meetings all day Thursday, but as it turned out, pretty much everything I was supposed to do got cancelled, so my usually jam packed Thursdays were beautifully light–until I remembered I had to finish writing my conference paper.

I can’t even explain why I nearly lost my mind writing this paper. It was only supposed to be a 15 minute talk (which for reference is about 8-10 double spaced pages, depending on the pace of your speech) and yet the thought of filling those empty fifteen minutes with nothing but the sound of my voice and force of my ideas sounded terrifying.

To be perfectly fair, it’s surprising, even to me, how anxious I was about my presentation. Under any other circumstances, I am a powerful speaker. I tend to give moving, emotive speeches. My work naturally lends itself to being spoken, as I write the way I speak with little to no variation. Academically, I’m more comfortable giving presentations than I am writing papers, simply because I’m better at explaining my ideas out loud and teaching them, than I am at writing them down and giving direction. This is probably because I am really good at talking. I love talking; for the most part, a considerable part of what I’m saying is interesting; and I have a charm and wit that makes me enjoyable to talk with.

(I’m not being narcissistic, but I am well aware that I talked my way into more than one award/scholarship/university.)

(I’d probably be a really great politician if politics didn’t actually disgust me and if I didn’t have a tendency to be so dang rude. But I digress.)

I avoided the conference on Thursday, despite my newly freed time, and instead choose to work (to no avail) on my paper. Rather than get discouraged or panicked, I convinced myself that I needed a good night’s rest and I’d wake up refreshed on Friday and finish it the next morning. 

Friday morning, I was definitely calmer, but when 5 PM rolled around, I realized I’d wasted almost the entire day.

Well, actually, it was a really productive and fun day– I just didn’t write my paper. 

Around 9 AM I started to get antsy while I moved individual words around my word document, knowing that people were almost certainly flooding into the education building to hear the first of the day’s panels. Suddenly, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to see what was happening and was hit with the novelty of attending a real academic conference. So I texted my cohort mate to see if I could just go hang around, and at his encouragement, I packed my camera, my journal and my laptop into my drawstring bag, slipped on the first clothes I could find (patched boyfriend jeans and my Howard law sweatshirt) and trekked off to the School of Education. 

I parked on the street, then marched across a field of grass, turned yellowish-brown by winter, that sloped downward, almost hiding the building in an indent in the earth. I remember thinking the space would be beautiful to photograph, especially if the grass turned back to green in the spring. The building itself was relatively new; its huge glass windows sparkled in the late winter sun and the brick had yet to be weather-worn. The architecture was smooth, clean and modern, so unlike the untouched traditional brick of the old undergrad campus where so little has changed since 1693.

I was in no particularly hurry to find anyone, so I took in the grandness of the atrium, the comfortable looking chairs, the outdoor tables and chairs on the patios just outside the building. Before long, I wandered along just enough corridors to find myself at the registration table, where two of my cohort mates sat with another girl, further along in my program than the three of us, chatting happily. 

I registered and received my materials. The program was difficult to read. For some reason, I didn’t understand until that moment, that several panels happen at once during one time slot, in several different rooms. Then, there’s a break, and then another set of panels, and you just have to choose which one to go to. 

So many of them sounded interesting: everything from Native Americans and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Saint Martin de Porres and “Lemonade” was discussed at this conference. I could barely make up my mind on which ones I wanted to hear. Finally, I decided that I was too late to slip into any of the current panels, but I would wait until the next set, because in the next set there was one I absolutely had to hear.

Professor Harold from UVA would be coming to give a talk on Al Green and gospel music. Yes, I excited to hear the talk, but I was mostly excited to see her, as I hadn’t since I’d left Charlottesville for good last May. I consistently took a “Claudrena class” every year from the time I started until I graduated. I’d never intended to do African-American Studies, always dead set on French and eventually I added Comparative Lit and a Foreign Affairs minor, but every semester, I made sure I had a “black class.” It didn’t matter if it was African-American Studies, or a African-American Literature class, or even African Oral tradition, but I had to get my fix somewhere in my schedule; and as often as my schedule allowed, I took with Claudrena.

Professor Harold had this way of commanding the class. Her material was always interesting, but she made sure you understood why it was relevant. Tests were never hard, and you never had to worry about you GPA at the end of the semester, at least with her–but if you didn’t do that reading, it didn’t take much for her to dismiss you from class. She made you understand that critical thinking was a skill to be honed, not a natural gift. Your natural instinct should ask, “why?” And that we, as Black students, had a responsibility to learn, not just for ourselves, but for our people as a collective. But you also learned not to speak unless you actually had something to say–because she was quick to intellectually drag you, as if to say, “You cannot walk out of my class thinking that is true.”

When Professor Harold rounded the corner to registration, I was so happy to see her, but also filled with a sense of mild regret. At UVA, I’d been so certain I knew the answer to everything. I’d go and ask for advice, that she’d willingly give, only to have me ignore it completely and do almost the exact opposite of what she told me. I’m almost certain she knew the first time she talked to me that I was destined for grad school, and even though she saw me sort of floundering through school, uncertain about anything past May 2016, she never did anything more than give me a nudge and suggest that I do IRT– Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers, a program for aspiring minority professors/grad-students-to-be.

I, of course, went to France instead.

But over the course of the weekend I got to catch up with her, and as I did so, I had a new found appreciation for the professor I’d always admired, and who’d always pushed me. That discomfort I’d felt was growth, and I needed it to get where I am.

I went to her panel and had the opportunity to meet some really cool grad students from UVA. Professor Harold (as is her style) took us all out to lunch. We chatted over cod, fried green tomatoes and beer, while a freak snowstorm raged outside the pub. After lunch I managed to catch most of my “big brother,” James’, panel and was astonished at how smart he is. I sort of felt myself deflate a little, wondering if I’d ever get to that level. Fortunately, I didn’t stay down long. Ari arrrived shortly after, as we were scheduled to volunteer to register participants that afternoon. Instead of going to another panel, I introduced Professor Harold to Ari (well, Ari introduced herself to Professor Harold, because…that’s Ari for you), and she talked with us both for a while.

It turns out that Ari’s mentor at UMichigan, Brandi Hughes, and Claudrena (who is definitely an unofficial mentor) are buds.

I was pleasantly surprised at the revelation, but Ari was moved to tears. The world had become so small for both of us in that moment.

I tapped Ari and said, “You know, in like ten or so years, that’s going to be us!” I gestured to Claudrena, who was texting Brandi and smirking to herself. “We’re going to have students that meet each other and realize that they both had us, and that we’re friends–and it’s going to explain so much about them, and the kind of scholars they become.”

I think she heard me, because she nodded and laughed through the tears, but she might’ve still been crying about Brandi.

Finally, towards the end of our shift at the table, James came wandering by. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but an hour and a half later, James, this education doctoral student, Jaymi, and I were engaging in an intense discussion about Chance the Rapper and black boy joy, before James was finally like, “Okay. I GOT to go.” James and I ended up in a corner because I was spilling tea (I’m always gossiping–I need to stop), but it quickly spiraled into relationship advice, which took a left turn into 2016 biopics, Nate Parker (we slowed down long enough to let Jaymi in) and Spike Lee joints. We took a left turn at Lemonade and A Seat At the Table, Beyoncé and Solange, before we hopped right back on the hip-hop highway, discussing Cole, Kendrick, and Drake (to take a quick u-turn at Issa Rae because “all college educated Black girls like Drake,” right?) and finally end up in the Chance the Rapper parking lot.

Sometimes you just reallyyyy gotta talk to Black people.

By the time we’d finished talking, it was starting to get dark out and I’d already stayed an hour later than I’d meant to, and I’d written not a single word all day.

So I went home and decompressed for an hour or two, before I finally pulled my laptop to me and hit a flow.

As I’d watched panels and interacted with people all day, I understood that this was not meant to be a final dissertation presentation. It didn’t need to be the most polished thing I’d ever write. It just needed to be what I was working on, what I found interesting, the threads I’m following, and where I want to go with it. I didn’t need to get in the weeds because, no one was going to test me on my knowledge, they just want to hear what I’m thinking about. They trust me to know my subject. They wanted me to share. 

Around 10:30 that night, I read over my last draft, and satisfied, I fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up much later than I meant to. My panel was at 9, but my panel agreed to meet at 8:45, and I’d meant to get up at 6 so I could practice my speech a few times, and time it. I woke up at 7:15 and hastily walked my dog, nose in my phone, and I mouthed my paper to myself as we went. I made a few tweaks and cut a few lines here and there, but it was still a little over 15 minutes, no matter what I did. At 8:30, I started to print out my paper but OF COURSE when you need to print, your print wants to be possessed. So, mildly panicking, I raced over to the clubhouse at my apartment complex to print my paper at 8:35. At 8:39, I was in my car and at 8:45 I was waddling as quickly as I could over the sloping grass and into the building. 

I fell into the room, out of breath and flustered, calling, “I’m here!” (Because I’m still 5.) 

Ari was already there and was a God send, helping me get my life together in the few minutes before the panel. She fixed my hair and got me a coffee as I set up my presentation on the screen. As I worked, a kindly-looking blonde woman came up to me and introduced herself as the chair of our panel. Pleasantly surprised, I shook her hand– as I understood it, our panel’s chair had triple booked herself on accident and wouldn’t be able to make it. We sort of played a game of “Not I,” and so it ended up that Travis would play chair in our original chair’s absence. (Note: the chair of the panel is supposed to introduce the panelists and keep time of the presentations, giving us notice when we have about 5 minutes left.)

When the clock struck 9, the panel began and I did my best to ignore Professor Harold’s intense look from the back of the room.

Betsy, our chair, introduced us all while we sat at before the crowd and in front of the projector screen. My friends in the crowd gave small, encouraging smiles when my name was announced.

Shana was up first, and Travis, Scot and I, took seats in the front row so we could watch her speak. 

I always knew Shana was brilliant– she has a MA in English and JD and she knows how to use ’em– but hearing her speak was a whole nother ball game. She spoke on “Contested Spaces” explaining the connection between the Black female body, liberty of movement, and citizenship, using both poetry and laws, history and personal narrative, and one bad ass story about Ida B. Wells biting some dude on a train when he tried to forcibly remove her from first class.

Then, Scot showed off some truly impressive scholarship as well as some digital prowess. He essentially created a database to track one preacher from the late 19th century through the early 20th century, finding that he had done some of the earliest traveling civil rights tours and spreading progressive messages through his sermons and journalistic endeavors. He then tracked this man all over the United States AND in other parts of the world on an interactive map.

I was blown.

Travis goes and hits the crowd with a new theory about dispossession and explained how this theory of dispossession would effect displaced communities. In particular, he’s interested in Camp Perry, a military base in Williamsburg, the construction of which displaced over 400 Black families and some white ones as well. He’s trying to figure out what the effects of this process was on the local community, and much of his work is directly impact the people in this community.

Finally, there was me.

Sometime during Scot’s presentation, something in my head clicked. Scot was having so much fun up there. He really loved his subject and his work and he conveyed that love to the audience. It was infectious. It was vivacious. And I realized, I loved my work just as much– and I felt equally as enthusiastic. 

It happened in a flash–I set out my questions about the purpose of Wakanda, explained its critical role in times of crisis. I detailed Black Panther’s origin. I expanded on his first appearance. I linked it to DuBois, Hughes and Stuart Hall. I took it to from the 1960s to the 1990s to 2016. I was confident. I knew my stuff. I knew it was relevant. I loved it.

I barely even noticed Professor Harold taking several pictures… (lol. Professor Harold, if you’re reading this, I’m joking.)

I’d filled 15 empty minutes with nothing but the sound of my voice and the force of my ideas, and I was elated.

Afterwards, I fielded about 3 questions, happy that people were engaged with my work and they’d liked my ideas. One professor from UVA American Studies pushed me pretty hard, but I realized after the panel, it was because she’d really liked my talk, and thought with a little more work and research, my paper could be publishable. 

“And I’d do it soon, if I were you.”

Professor Harold, whose approval is so hard to come by, but so valued if you get it, called my presentation awesome.

I could have died.

I learned something in four years. I proved up there that I’d learned something. And not only did she think it was awesome, she was proud.

The rest of the time I spent at the conference was a blur of happiness. Professor Harold bought me, Ari and Shana a book each from the press stand, and I walked away happily, with a copy of her latest book, New Negro Politic In the Jim Crow South. I danced up to Charlie McGovern, singing, “Charlie! I did the thing!” To which he replied proudly, “Yes, you did!” Our American Studies Grad program took a group picture, and Charlie was beaming, happy that his “kids” had shown up and shown out at yet another American Studies Conference. And I happily departed from Claudrena, with the promise of visiting UVA for a conference soon, leaving to have lunch with Ari and Shana.

My high lasted the rest of the afternoon as I caught up with Micah on a facetime call that felt 20 minutes but lasted two and half hours, then this morning I brought Ari with me to my parents’ church to watch my dad sing in the men’s day choir.

The four of us passed a pleasant afternoon together in Suffolk, bookending a fantastic weekend.

I’m back in Williamsburg now, finally able to relax (for a w h o l e week!), and even though I’ve started to come down off my high,  I still get a little tingle of pride in my stomach when I think about what I accomplished this weekend.

Honestly, grad school is a pain, but it’s weekends and moments like these that give you gas to keep trucking on through.