Three years ago, the Black Miami intellectuals you will meet in the following pages received cold emails from me inviting them to write a reflective essay on how Miami and its institutions shaped their formation. My own Jamaican immigrant route into the late 1970s’ U.S. began in the northernmost edges of what we consider South Florida—in West Palm Beach. In my childhood imagination, Miami was a proper big city in contrast to the small town where I was raised by my maternal grandparents for four years before re-uniting with my parents in Brooklyn—the place I feel most at home, despite gentrification. Joining the faculty of the University of Miami in Fall 2012 led me to confront how the twinning of race and ethnicity palpably structures the most quotidian of engagements in Miami and has inspired new intellectual itineraries.
Prior to our April 20, 2018 convening, I had only known Juana Valdes and Nathan Connolly—who was on sabbatical. Edda Fields-Black and Tera Hunter were also on leave. Anthony Jack was transitioning from graduate fellow to assistant professor with his first book in press. Jemima Pierre and Kevin Quashie were busy with full teaching loads. Still—they all interrupted their schedules and generously and graciously said yes. April 20, 2018 was an arresting academic experience as these scholars (in generational order) spoke their life histories into the room. The papers/presentations delivered simultaneously captivated and devasted us. But they gave us a proper education in the complexities of Black Miami. I am forever appreciative and in admiration for the vulnerabilities expressed and the courage revealed. My UM colleague, collaborator, and old New York friend Jafari Allen guided us in the richly textured conversation that followed. Turning his keen ethnographic sensibilities to our intellectual life histories, he provided clarifying analytical frames and enabled us to breathe light into the occasion. I cannot thank him enough for re-composing us that afternoon.
I thank also the anonymous peer reviewers, our research and editorial team: Jordan Rogers, Laura Bass, Ben Moats, and Felicia Casanova as well as Gladys Gomez-Rossie, Cameron Riopelle, and Martin Tsang. Daniel Correa of DaLiMediaLab did the beautiful videorecording which will be available at both UM libraries and the Black Archives—where I thank Luis Berthin, Jocelyn Hurtado, and Dr. Dorothy Fields. Barry Williams photographed the contemporary Black Miami spaces of our writers’ childhoods with special care. Thanks to Mrs. Lisette Pierre for opening the doors to her congregation’s church. A special thanks to my colleagues for encouraging this work: Faith Smith, Mabel Wilson, Jerry Philogene, Mia Mask, Charlton Copeland, Gera Peoples, Marcelyn Cox, Germane Barnes, Sophia Charles, Sallie Hughes, Moses Shumow, Lillian Manzor, Beatrice Skokan, Tim Watson, Leonidas Bachas, and Ana Dopico. I had the most careful readers in Harvey Neptune, Scott Heerman, Joseph Keith, Allan Isaac, and Matthew Chin. Georgette Spratling and Rosie Gordon-Wallace continue to be my best Black Miami native and immigrant informants and friends.
My former and first UM graduate student and now colleague, Allison Harris, has been an invaluable interlocutor throughout the entire process.
Funding from the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences as well as the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas made our convening possible. A grant from the Mellon Foundation and our ongoing collaboration with Gean Moreno at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami make the ongoing work of the Reproducing Race Initiative imaginable.
Thank you, gracias, mesi ampil,