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Black Women's Conference to Focus on the Power of Play


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By Sarah Geegan

The African American and Africana Studies Program at the University of Kentucky will present the 18th annual Black Women's Conference March 22-24.

The conference, titled, "Learning the Ropes: Black Girlhood, Identity and the Power of Play," will center specifically on the lives and expressions of African-American girls. Incorporating expert speakers, performances, panels and activities both on campus and in the community, the conference will reveal the significance of play in the lives of African-American girls.

Melynda Price, professor in the UK College of Law, organized this year's event.

"I am on the advisory committee for the African American and Africana Studies Program, and I was a presenter at last year's conference," Price said. "I am honored that my colleagues have entrusted me with this important component of the program."

In its 18th year, the conference has a rich history and tradition. It was originally founded by Doris Wilkinson, a retired professor from the UK Department of Sociology. Wilkinson was the first African American elected to the UK Hall of Distinguished Alumni, and in 1967 became the first African-American woman to attain a full-time position at UK.

To continue the tradition, Price chose a theme that meaningfully corresponded with the number 18.

"I thought that 18 is sort of a magical number," Price said. "It's like the Black Women's Conference comes of age. So in this process of coming of age and maturing into its own as an important part of the University of Kentucky and the Lexington community, what would be a good focus? I thought, sometimes at age 18 you still feel like a girl. So we are going to focus this year's conference all on girlhood."

On March 22, the opening event will feature Asha French, an Affrilachian poet and doctoral candidate in English at Emory University. French is also part of a new social media group called The Crunk Feminist Collective, which aims to create a cyber space in which the hip-hop generation of feminists of color can support, debate and challenge each other.

"(These women) are really deeply engaged in this social media connected world of young feminists," Price said. "So I'm really excited about her."

On Friday, March 23, the schedule of events begins at 10 a.m. and lasts throughout the day, with events occurring at different locations. Speakers include Nazera Wright, from the Department of English at UK; Kyra Grant, an ethnomusicologist from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College; and Ruth Nicole Brown, from the Department of Education Policy Studies at University of Illinois-Champaign, who is also the founder of SOLHOT (Saving Our Lives Hearing Our Truths) Program for Black Girls and Women.

Friday's events will also include a luncheon and a panel discussion.

"Each of these speakers is a leader or emerging leader in a new area of research called girlhood studies," Price said. "The theme is meant to relay the focus of some of the researchers on how girls use play as a coping mechanism and a form of resisting intersecting race and gender stereotypes."

The closing event on Saturday, March 24 will uniquely pull the various elements of the conference together.

Beginning at 11 a.m. at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, the conference will host the "Zora Neale Hurston Community Play Date for Girls of All Ages: A Village Experience." This program will provide  an abundance of games and activities such as jump ropes, hula hoops, jacks and hand-clap games for the participants to play.

Price described the activities as a "festival of play," that will pass on the oral tradition of what these games mean to young girls. She is optimistic that students and community members will find the conference meaningful and enjoyable.

"For 18 years this conference has been connecting the scholarly work of women faculty at the university to the grassroots activism of women in the black community," Price said. "It represents the best of the way town and gown can work cooperatively for the benefit of both."

To view the full schedule of events for the Black Women's Conference, click here.

To listen to a podcast, produced by the College of Arts and Sciences, in which Price discusses the conference, click here.