By Dr. Brian Lozenski, an Assistant Professor at Macalester College and a member of the Twin Cities Solidarity Committee. This post is the third in a new blog series on stories of education for liberation work happening in the Twin Cities and surrounding region, leading up to the 2019 FMFP conference.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ethnic Studies in higher education at institutions like San Francisco State, Cornell University, and the University of Minnesota, it is imperative to recognize that for the vast majority of people in the US, Ethnic Studies remains inaccessible.
K-12 schools largely continue to dispossess youth of their own histories, cultural knowledges, and lived scientific and mathematical expertise. A Free Minds, Free People podcast documented the St. Paul Public School’s Student Engagement and Advancement Board’s (SEAB) campaign to make Ethnic Studies a requirement in the district. SEAB is a youth committee, demonstrating the desire and passion that youth have for being subjects of their own educational journey.
With K-12 schools and institutions of higher education steeped in Eurocentric curricular and cultural paradigms, the question must be asked: “Where can people go to experience an educational environment based in the knowledges and experiences of people of color?” Historically, community-based institutions have filled this void, and they continue to do so.
One such community-based entity that has met this need for the last four years is the Nu Skool of Afrikan American Thought in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Nu Skool is the brainchild of Elder Mahmoud El Kati, a stalwart of Black education in the Twin Cities, who has built institutions (e.g. U of MN Afro Studies Department, The Way), community forums (e.g. Communiversity, Friday Night Black Film Series), and myriad intellectual spaces for the masses of Black people for over fifty years. The Nu Skool is a monthly topical lecture and dialogue series, facilitated by a volunteer collective called the Twin Cities Solidarity Committee made up of educators, activists, and scholars of African descent.
The Nu Skool’s mission is “to engage people of African descent in their own liberation through historical, political and cultural education”. Solidarity works to accomplish this mission by creating a space, based in dialogue, where anyone can come to learn from and with Afrodiasporic scholars who have expertise in disciplines that bridge the field of Africana Studies. Nu Skool presenters have included academics, journalists, community organizers, ministers, college students, and social service providers. Participants have ranged in age from 10 to 90, spanning racial, ethnic, and linguistic identities.
The Nu Skool is an unapologetically Black space that approaches all of its content through a black liberatory lens. That being said, the presenters and attendees bring various political, cultural, and social ideologies such as Afrocentrism, Black Radicalism, Black Nationalism, Black Feminism, and Black Liberalism. The intersection of these philosophical traditions makes the Nu Skool a lively and generative space for debate, conversation, and love among people of African descent.
The following video was created to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Nu Skool in March, 2019. It shows the Nu Skool’s origins at the Black owned Golden Thyme Coffee Shop in the historic Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. As the Nu Skool grew it moved to the High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), a Black-run charter school. The Nu Skool meets at HSRA on the fourth Friday of every month.