Leah 1 – Grad School 0

When I graduated from Towson University in spring 2016, I had no intention of going to Grad School. I was the friend that thought I would go start my dream career fresh out of college. Boy, was I wrong!

See, I have dreams of helping to run my family’s production company. My mother, brother and I have always wanted to open our own business. My mom introduced us to the entertainment industry at a young age and both my brother and I have been fully amazed ever since. My mom and I are usually responsible for coordinating/planning family events so we felt it was only right that we go into business together.

So. Here we are. Present day. I’m halfway through my first graduate school course and I am so happy I made this decision. I attend University of Maryland University College online and I am getting my Master’s in Business Administration. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I work full time, as an event manager at a national park). I started classes early this month and let me tell you, it has not been easy. Getting back into the swing of things after not doing any school work for over a year was challenging. My first paper, which was the second assignment, really had me rethinking my decision of going back to school. I was pretty nervous about this paper, which is a first for me. As a communications major in undergrad, writing papers was pretty much second nature for me. I wrote papers almost weekly. But this one five-page paper in grad school shook my nerves. I sent this paper to three people to edit and get their feedback. To my surprise, all of them unanimously said they liked the paper and the content was interesting. This gave me a positive reality check but once I hit submit, I was so regretting seeing my grade.

A few days later, I got the notification that my professor submitted her grades for the paper. I waited until I got home from work to check the results. To my surprise, I received “Exceeds Performance Requirements” (which is an A but we don’t get grades since it’s a foundation course). I was extremely excited! I realized that all the stressing and pressure I put on myself was probably not necessary because I know the skills are already there. *toots on horn*

This first month of grad school gave me a reality check and restored my academic confidence. Despite taking classes online, I am doing a kick ass job if I do say so myself. I happily jumped back into the school spirit, because the journey is only beginning… The Game Ain’t Over Yet!


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I am the fabulous Leah Franklin. I’m a Spring 2016 Towson graduate and am currently working on my MBA online at University of Maryland University College. I love planning events, so I much that I do it full time. When I’m not planning, I’m at the beach, in the mall or quoting ‘Love & Basketball.’ My hobbies include adult coloring, dancing and cooking.

Week 9: #RMDHatWM, or Hacking the System

Let’s be brutally honest for a second: I was exhausted leading up to the Race, Memory and the Digital Humanities Conference (#RMDHatWM). Just last week, I spent three days conferencing at my alma mater, UVA; I went to Hampton Comicon; and I had two papers and presentations due (one of which I only found out about one week in advance, but I digress). All I wanted Thursday after class was my dog, a cup of tea and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on repeat. But after hearing about the conference through the Equality Lab last fall, after my teacher moved our class time to accommodate the opening roundtable, and after remembering that I had volunteered to help–I went anyway.

I’m so glad I did.

Liz Losh, my professor, the director of the Equality Lab, and William & Mary’s first official digital humanist, put together an amazing series of roundtables, talks and events featuring some of the coolest scholars I’ve ever met. I was first struck by the fact that the opening and closing keynote speakers were both Black women and they were the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic. Thanks to Liz’s prodding, I ended up with a semi-working relationship with the closing keynote, P. Gabrielle Foreman, whom I came to deeply admire. Situated at the intersections of Literature, History and Black Studies, I was in awe of the way she seamlessly utilized Langston Hughes poetry and historical archive as a lens through which we might understanding her work digital archiving, organizing and activist work through the Colored Conventions Project. As a baby grad student working at the intersections of similar scholarship, it was amazing to have a Black woman model a methodology based not on limitations of the Academy but on the truth she was seeking to tell.

The same can be said for Jessica Marie Johnson. Her work transcended space and time as if those principles never existed anyway. In her talk, she moved us from Puerto Rico to New Orleans, cited Black Code Studies and New Orleans folklore, utilized audio to contextualize the sound of Black screams and pain as well as animated videos featuring everyone’s favorite song, “Formation.” I’ve never seen how someone’s mind can move so fast, folding together layers into a cohesive and extensively cited project.

Overall, this conference was valuable because I got to see diverse scholars address issues I’ve been grappling with the whole semester. They asked: How does this lead to transformative action? Where is our scholarship situated? What tools can DH offer us in our goals to dismantle systems of oppression?

The answers I got, for the first time, were satisfying. There is no one way to do DH, therefore there is no one solution. The goal should not necessarily be to find a solution, but to engage in a process with your work that is ethical, intentional, and empathetic. This will lead to transformative work because if you are engaging in such a way and constantly returning to questions of power, privilege and access, you will cite ethically (CITE BLACK WOMEN. GIVE US CREDIT FOR OUR WORK!), you will have reciprocally beneficial relationships with community partners, and you will build infrastructures to encourage this kind of work.

The time that I was able to spend with incredibly brilliant scholars was equally valuable. From advancing Professor Foreman’s slides for her keynote to getting hugs from Jessica Marie Johnson and Marcia Chatelain–I even got to spend a few priceless moments with Jessica, Marcia and Tacuma Peters at the end of the conference. I was so excited to meet them: Black scholars thriving in their fields, and they were also happy to meet me–another face in the crowd, a baby scholar on the come up. They fueled me with stories about how grad school was great (or not), how being a professor was great (or… not), and how to value each phase in my journey through the Academy. They told me not to downplay my work: finishing my Masters is a big deal. They told me to take advantage of my freedom as a graduate student. And they also gave me cards and contact information, which was stunning and so appreciated. I left the conference feeling loved, supported and newly secure in my roles as scholar, activist and creator.

We hack the system by writing ourselves in, creating archives for ourselves and citing POC, WOC, queer authors, indigenous scholars. We do it by working together, valuing the work of everybody–and I mean everybody–involved, and creating communities and infrastructure both digitally and physically. We hack the system by caring for each other and lifting as we climb.

This is how we hack the system. This is how we hack ourselves into the system.

This conference was just what I needed. I needed a model for how to be a caring participant of society as I move through the Academy and thankfully I got an entire room full.

This is how we hack the system.


In honor of modeling the amazing citation practices I saw at #RMDHatWM, I want to take a moment to shout out people that I learned from this conference, and whose ideas greatly inspired this synthesization of three days worth of rigorous intellectual work:

Gabrielle Foreman

Jessica Marie Johnson

Liz Losh

Angel Davis Nieves

Marisa Parham

Amanda Phillips

Kelli Moore

Fiona Barnett

Jacqueline Wernimont

Roopika Risam

Samantha Callaghan

Alexis Lothian

Catherine Steele

Week 8, or Conferences, Monologues, and Comicons, Oh My!

I’ve known for a while that this week’s blog post would be pretty packed because in the last four days, I went to Charlottesville for a conference on Slavery and Public Memory, saw the third annual Black Monologues, and attended my first Comicon in my first attempt at cosplaying, going as Ororo Monroe, better known as Storm.

I still don’t know which part to write about– it was all so incredible. However, it’s still worth the time to just reflect on each event, even if just for a little while.

The conference began with a keynote by Daina Ramey Berry on the Domestic Cadaver Trade and what she calls soul value. That talk was valuable for me because I have recently found myself exceedingly taken with Black studies and the lives of Black people, and while I felt I comfortable in my knowledge of the lives of the enslaved, Dr. Berry informed me that for a lot of Black people, the abuse didn’t end in death. Their bodies could potentially be snatched up and used as cadavers for medical school. It never occurred to me that abuse of Black bodies could extend beyond the grave, at least not in this form. It’s harrowing, but necessary, to think about.

Equally as important was the talk I attended after the keynote. I slipped away afterwards to find my former professor, Claudrena Harold, who was giving a talk in the Rotunda. A few mishaps and awkward conversations later, I found myself seated a dinner table surrounded by first year RAs, but listening to Professor Harold give a history of Black students at UVA. She is always so passionate about her work– the students she investigates, the stories she tells about them, the critical thought attached to the message– and the form her work inhabits (she’s been into film for the last 5 years.) It reminds me that I can do this grad school thing and be me. It reminds me that I can go to class, write those critical essays, because they matter, but I can also work with undergraduates and blog my thoughts and experiences and write fiction because all of these forms are a part of me. She reminded me that sometimes writing a critical essay isn’t going to adequately communicate a particular story, sentiment, or idea– and that it’s a blessing to be able to use different methods to work through various problems.

That is how you do intersectional work.

You allow yourself to tackle one problem, you allow yourself to see as many sides as you can, you evaluate it, and then you decide which of your tools is best suited to address this particular monster. Sometimes it’s an essay, sometimes a blog post, or a photoessay, or a film. Sometimes it’s talking through difficult feelings with undergraduates, sometimes it’s yelling yourself hoarse at a protest. Intersectional work is not limiting yourself based on the arbitrary parameters of the Academy.

I took this revelation with me as I moved through the rest of the conference– sitting in panels about confederate monuments and student activism, the lives of descendants of the enslaved and memory in the South; meeting everyone from undergraduates to professionals; reuniting with friends, professors, and loved ones. I made it my mission to do work for the Lemon Project while I was there. I wanted everyone to know who we were and what we stood for, because that was what felt right. So I chatted and gave out business cards, took extensive notes, and live tweeted almost the entire conference, which helped grow our small following on twitter from 180 to 230 followers just in the course of a few days.

When I wasn’t working, I was reuniting, slipping out to see everyone I had to leave when I graduated– my second mother, my dear budding academic friend, a former resident, and a couple of the best friends I’ve ever known. One such excursion involved me, my soul sister and her actual sister, and one stage that I’ve come to love with all of my heart.

Yup, I went to see Black Monologues.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the magic was back. I was enraptured. The show spoke to me again, held me comfortably in its arms, and I felt so loved once again, as if I had never left that stage, never left that theater at all. My heart ached so badly that tears started falling before I could stop them, I laughed so hard the tears started again and my stomach started to ache. The struggles were real– they responded to the August 11-12 demonstrations, they related the difficulty of choosing to be an activist or a scholar because it feels so often like you can’t be both, they spoke of Black love, trust and hope. They tapped in to the fear of losing a loved one to police brutality, the fear of admitting your mental health was declining, the fear of putting your trust in the wrong people. There was disappointment and guilt, but so much pride. As they performed Master Jefferson and For Your Entertainment, my heart swelled with pride because Ed had truly left his legacy at UVA with those pieces. When the cast told us where they had come from, it was all I could do not to break down sobbing.

The sobbing came later when two of the actresses from the first year of doing the show ran up to me afterwards, telling me how they’d seen me and tried not to make eye contact because they knew they’d laugh or smile, radiating happiness and love, and I fell into them, crying, because in that moment, I was home again.

I carried all of this love and hope with me as I moved through my last day at the conference, and finally home to Williamsburg, where I prepared myself for my next adventure, Comicon.

I had a whole adventure before we (my friend Adrienne and I) even left as I’d been so exhausted the last three days that I’d passed out before I remembered I had to go get spray on hair dye to turn myself into Storm for the convention. I ran around all morning, picking up a pair of black jeans here and dye there. By 10 AM, I was a dead ringer for Ororo Monroe, so we left, Storm and Ms. Marvel, for the festivities.

Admittedly, it wasn’t as fun as I had imagined. It was small and cramped with a lot of people. The panels weren’t particularly organized nor did I just decide chat with anyone. I did however get to look at a lot of cool stuff, including amazing, nerdy woodworkings, a lot of comics, and a ton of art. Most of my fun was looking through all of the artists’ portfolios and getting to chat with them about their work. I eventually picked up a Black Panther poster from an artist, along with an X-Men patch, then Adrienne (who had accumulated similar goodies) and I decided it was time to go. We took some really fun pictures outside of the convention center before we hit the road back to the Burg.

All in all, it was an enormously fun four days. It just speaks to the fact that I refuse to be stuffed in a box that I attended a slavery conference, a show on Black experiences and a Comicon in less than a week. This has been me living my best life. I want to continue to be moved in all kinds of directions, and find somewhere to land no matter which path I take. I want to continue to believe in my ability to decide which form speaks to my thought the best. I want to continue to be unapologetically me as I move through grad school and into a career– and to do that, I have to accept my complexity.
I’m never going to be just one thing and I take pleasure in knowing my future will be very complex, very multi-dimensional, and thus very, very rich.

My attempt at joining the Academy