Local conference explores Black life and identity

Black Table Arts
Attendees at Black Table Arts event. Courtesy of Black Table Arts

Hundreds are expected to gather this weekend for an inaugural conference creating a space for young Black communities in Minnesota and beyond to network, empower and heal one another around issues impacting Black communities.

While Minnesota cities are touted nationally as some of the best places to live, people of color — particularly African Americans — continue to face racial disparities in economics, health, housing, and food. Add the anecdotal effects of police-involved shootings, and pockets of poverty in communities of color, and African Americans can experience a not-so-nice Minnesota disconnect.

Keno Evol, a twenty-something poet and educator has teamed with a core group of organizers, artists, healers and educators for “Because Black Life Conference.” The event aims to create a safe space for conversation and movement around issues that affect Black communities.

“I was thinking of it as a statewide check-in,” explained Evol. “Black folks checking in with each other to really think about what are the possibilities, the protocols, the tools and the processes we are developing in the state of Minnesota that exercise possibility in Black life from a variety of topics.”

The daylong gathering features panel discussions along with a rotating block of breakout sessions running the gamut from financial literacy and Black intellectualism and liberation to zines, media and film representation and dance. Speakers include Dr. Rose Brewer, Hana Dinku, Neenah Furgerson, Brian Lozenski, Keith Mayes and Mel Reeves.

Keno Evol
Keno Evol Dani Weaner Photography

“We’re talking about food justice, we’re talking about gentrification, we’re talking about police brutality, we’re talking about issues of deportation,” Evol continued. “So in this moment, what are the conversations that are imperative to have, that we cannot do without?”

The conference is part of a larger movement Evol is building through his organization Black Table Arts, founded in 2015 to connect creatives and cultivate Black life around what he calls “sci-fi social work.”

“It’s the process of community engagement where we intentionally activate imagination for the future,” he said, “and think about how do we put it into practice in our daily lives.”

The conference has also gained support from such organizations as Black Visions Collective, the NAACP Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis (along with chapters in Los Angeles and Louisville, Ky.) and Voices for Racial Justice.

Jane Henderson, one of the conference organizers and panel moderator, said the event also looks to dispel the myth of a monolithic Black America. “We have real complex sets of identity and experiences,” said Henderson, challenging the narrative of only connecting Blacks to violence.

“We are also artists and educators and so much more. We are very complex, and we are created by a whole variety of things, so our Black identity isn’t quite as rigid. I hope participants take away [the idea] that there is a whole wide range of possibilities of what it means to be Black – that there isn’t just one way to be Black and to live a ‘Black’ life.”

Black Table Arts
Attendees at Black Table Arts event. Courtesy of Black Table Arts

Evol added that he hopes the conference will lead and inspire more connections and conversations to impact change by creating what he has coined a “(Black)mosphere.”

“This (Black)mosphere,” he said, is an intentional space focused on “Black thought, Black people and Black concerns. This is a bridge for networking which we will leave, perhaps, with mentors and mentees. We want to have community engagement initiatives from our conversations. We want to engage community about a service and really be with community shaping this event as opposed to imposing an agenda. So, it’s a different sort of power relationship.”

What does this ultimate Black utopia look like to him? It’s “a space for sound and color. What I mean by that is space where possibility and organic, convivial research can emerge and people can check in with each other and meditate on what the future can be and how we can shape [it].”

The “Because Black Life Conference” takes place Saturday, August 18, 10 am to 6 pm at the University of Minnesota Rarig Center, located at 330 21st Ave. South in Minneapolis.

For more information, visit blacktablearts.com.