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Alumni Spotlight: Ericka Blount Danois

February 28, 2014

UntitledIn the spring of 1994, Ericka Blount Danois graduated from The University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English and an African American literature focus. After making a decision between attending Spelman College and Penn, Danois spent part of the summer after her senior year of high school participating in the Africana Studies Summer Institute. When she arrived at Penn in the fall, she was working toward becoming a medical doctor. It did not take her long to realize that was not the best fit for her. With time, she soon realized that her interests resided in the arts, which led Danois’s decision to major in English major.

While in school, Danois convinced the editor of The Philadelphia Tribune to give her a position as a Penn correspondent. Danois was also very involved on campus during her time at Penn; she was a member of the Black Student League, African Rhythms Dance and Drum troupe, and the Gamma Epsilon Philadelphia City Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Danois also held a job with public safety and during her tenure at Penn, she studied abroad in Ghana.

After leaving Penn, Danois continued to work in journalism for magazines such as the Source, Vibe, The City Sun, and The Wall Street Journal.  She earned a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University several years later. In 2009, she began working on her recently published book entitled, “Love, Peace, and Soul,” which looks critically at the wildly popular television series Soul Train. When speaking about her career path and the qualms she once had about studying  English in college, Danois stated, “If you do good work, the money will come.” Her life is certainly a testament to that principle and current undergraduate and graduate students alike can look to her as an example of what hard work and passion can manifest.

Rachel Palmer Wharton’16


Alumni Spotlight: Yao Nunoo

February 24, 2014

UntitledYao Nunoo, Ghanaian screenwriter, actor, and UPenn graduate, was nominated for a best actor award by the African Film Development Awards for his role in The Destiny of Lesser Animals.

In 1997, Nunoo left his hometown in Ghana, moved to the United States, and enrolled in Knox College with a double major in Economics and Sculpture. His first major acting performance in the US was his role in Wole Soyinka’s Nobel Prize winning film, “Death and a King’s Horseman,” for which his performance was greatly commended by Soyinka himself.

After prematurely leaving Knox College due to financial difficulties, he enrolled in UPenn’s Cinema Studies Undergraduate program. During his time at Penn, he was cast in the lead role of Tom Molineaux in Albright’s “The Legend of Black Tom” and did a great deal of creative work in the Philadelphia area.

The Destiny of Lesser Animals was written by Nunoo and directed by Deron Albright. The story is set along Ghana’s southern coast and eastern region, and is about a man, Boniface (played by Nunoo) who is looking for his stolen passport, which is his only way back into the United States after being deported ten years before. According to Nunoo, the movie is “redolent of life’s multiple paths and the differences in between. [The film] is also about the country itself, and “tension and contrast” of its old and new forms.”

Yao Nunoo will be participating in a panel in Huntsman Hall on Wednesday, March 18th titled “The New Africa: Challenging Traditional Ideals” in honor of Africa Fest—a week hosted by Penn’s African Student Association dedicated to celebrating African cultures.

Nina Blalock CAS’14

Honoring the Life of Terry Adkins

February 20, 2014

ImageOn Friday, February 7, 2014, Penn lost an educator and artist. Terry Adkins was an instructor at the School of Design and taught graduate seminars in Figures of Thought and Sonic Measures and general studio courses in sculpture and installation.

In 1975, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University, where he studied printmaking and sculpture. He continued his printmaking studies with a master’s degree from Illinois State University in 1977. He then went on to receive a master’s in fine art from the University of Kentucky in 1979.

Terry Adkins was best known for his interdisciplinary interest and work in art, music and culture. According to galleristny, his sculptures were often inspired by (and dedicated to) historical figures, from musical heroes like blues singer Bessie Smith, guitarist Jimi Hendrix (whose music he credited with saving his life and drawing him away from friends who were negative influences), and composer Ludwig van Beethoven. His other works drew inspiration from writer and activist W. E. B. Du Bois and even the abolitionist, John Brown.

Professor Adkin’s sculptures and other works have been featured in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and among many other studios.

His final work, a three-dimensional representation of bird songs made from cymbals and percussion instruments, will be displayed on the walls of the Whitney Biennial 2014 from March 7 – May 25, 2014.

Toluwaloshe Ayo-Ariyo CAS’17

Alumni Spotlight: Jamil Smith

February 19, 2014

jamil_smith_252_jrwJamil Smith is a 1997 graduate of Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences. While on campus, he was involved in many of the happenings at The W.E.B. DuBois College House as a resident. He was also a campus rape crisis center counselor and a writer for The Daily Pennsylvanian. His interest in journalism developed in the 9th grade, and he was able to grow as a writer through his very own column, Invisible Man, which he wrote for five semesters during his tenure at Penn.  His writing and involvement on campus truly informed his position today on MSNBC.

Currently, Smith is a segment and digital producer at The Melissa Harris-Perry Show. The MHP Show’s goal is to stretch the boundaries of news–as it relates specifically to race, gender, and class–and provide current information in a way that is entertaining and engaging to audience members. In his capacity as a segment producer, Smith is responsible for the content of a show. This includes conducting the research, writing, video, sound clips, and prepping the show’s host, Harris-Perry, for each segment. As the digital producer for the show, Smith also handles all of its online content. He is responsible for all the tweets that coined the infamous #nerdland, he archives the videos of each segment to the website, and he controls the show’s media handles such as the official Facebook page.

While Smith has had quite a few positions that shaped him for his position today and he has worked through his fair share of adversities, his advice to students is to keep pushing. Upon visiting campus on February 17th to speak to undergraduate and graduate students, he noted, “There are people who celebrate your quitting. Even if you get tired, don’t quit. Don’t give them that satisfaction.”

Rachel Palmer, Wharton’16

John L. Jackson Jr., Ph.D.

February 17, 2014


Dr. John L. Jackson Jr. is the Richard Perry University Professor for Communication, Africana Studies, and Anthropology. Dr. Jackson integrates his knowledge in these disciplines to explore how “mass media circulates locally, nationally, and internationally” from an anthropological and ethnographical perspective.

Dr. Jackson received a B.A. in Communication from Howard University, and received his Ph. D. in Anthropology from Columbia University. In addition to having taught graduate and undergraduate courses at Penn, Dr. Jackson taught in the department of cultural anthropology at Duke University, and was a junior fellow at the Harvard University Society of Fellows.

Dr. Jackson has produced fictional films, documentaries, and short films that have been screened at festivals internationally. As a writer, he has published several books including Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America (2001), Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity (2005), Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness (2008), and Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem (2013).

Nina Blalock CAS’14

West Philly and Penn Community Service

February 13, 2014

atlas1872hopkins_indexmap600Beyond the Penn bubble lies a lively community filled with a great extent of history–West Philadelphia. However, West Philadelphia also possesses an abundance of poverty that continues to be perpetuated into the community for a number of historical reasons. In 2012, the homicide rate was raised by 10%, and as of late, the high school graduation rate for Philadelphia is more than 10% less than the National average. The employment rate has decreased by nearly 10% since 2004, according to the PEW Trust census.

West Philadelphia’s conditions prompt several efforts on Penn’s part to take steps that contribute to the community. There are hubs such as Civic House and Netter Center that promote student led-community service through programs like CSSP and the Penn Corp pre-orientation program. Additionally, there are organizations within the Black community that are making strides to contribute to West Philadelphia’s improvement.

The Black Greek systems on Penn’s campus are dedicated to supporting local communities through outreach and community activist programs. Last fall, the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. volunteered at the Hillel soup kitchen and hosted a street clean up project in Germantown. The Penn African Student Association (PASA) facilitates a program, known as Timba, which matches PASA members with an immigrant student in the West Philadelphia community, and provide them with mentoring, tutoring, and any social and academic support these students might need.

The Black Student League hosts an internal undergraduate mentor and mentee program at Penn where upperclassmen serve as mentors for BSL freshmen. As of late, the organization has been working on a partnership with Powell Elementary School where BSL members go to second and third grade classrooms and assists the students with their school work.Ase is a summer program where middle school and high school students from the surrounding community visit Penn’s campus and receive mentoring and tutoring from undergraduate volunteers. Every Saturday, the students get an opportunity to engage in activities that further their academic and social interests.

Getting involved in organizations within the Black community is not only a way for students to be immersed in a familiar and comfortable setting, but also a way for them to immerse themselves in the communities surrounding Penn in an impactful way.

Toluwaloshe Ayo-Ariyo CAS’17

Black Arts: The Inspiration

February 12, 2014


The Inspiration is the University of Pennsylvania’s only a cappella group dedicated to celebrating music written and performed by members of the African diaspora. The mission of the group is to entertain and educate audiences through performance of music from a wide range of genres while honoring the legacy of African diasporic peoples in music.

The Inspiration was founded in 1989 by a group of Penn students that noticed a void in the representation of music in Penn’s existing a cappella community. R&B, gospel, hip-hop, “world music” from the African diaspora, and Negro spirituals are only a short list of genres that were grossly underrepresented in Penn’s a cappella community.

Twenty-five years since the groups founding, the Inspiration’s repertoire includes arrangements of pieces from diverse artists ranging from South Africa’s Lady Blacksmith Mambazo, to Whitney Houston, to more contemporary artists like Lianne La Havas. For its members and alumni, the Inspiration is an invaluable musical outlet for students to create, learn, and perform a cappella arrangements that celebrate the brilliance, innovation, and beauty of Black music.

Nina Blalock CAS’14