Black Studies program inspires new ways of thinking about East St. Louis

On Nov. 9, the SIUE Black Studies program hosted “Ways of Thinking About East St. Louis,” an exhibit which is part of a continuing series of events under the theme, “Thinking About Urban Spaces.”

The audio and visual exhibit featured visual depictions of parts of East St. Louis as well as controversial images documenting a range of political, cultural and social events that occurred in the history of that city.

“The pictures of the riot stood out the most to me,” said Jazmine Sanders, a freshman in the SIUE School of Pharmacy. “There was a picture of a man being burned alive. I was never taught about that in school. I’m just amazed at what I wasn’t taught about the history of East. St. Louis in school.”

Those who participated also listened to the voice recordings of several SIUE students, all from East St. Louis, who recited poetry inspired by their hometown.

“We always try to incorporate students’ and faculty members’ creative work into our exhibit,” said Adrienne Smith, graduate assistant for the Black Studies program and an organizer of the event. “The range for students who participate in our exhibits is undergraduate to graduate level and they’re always eager to participate.”

Andrew J. Theising, director of the SIUE Institute for Urban Research, has researched and written extensively about East St. Louis. He was interviewed by the organizers of the exhibit beforehand and his thoughts and words were also presented on the posters and in the audio recordings.

Andrew Theising, director of IUR at SIUE, explores the 'Ways of Thinking About East St. Louis Exhibit.' His work was also featured in the exhibit.

“I think the biggest challenge about working [researching] in East St. Louis is that very little of the history is preserved,” his voice echoed during one section of his interview that played during the exhibit. “… To understand today, we really have to understand yesterday.”

The exhibit chronicled parts of the history of East St. Louis. Whether a goal of the exhibit was to tear down stereotypes of the city, this seemed to be the impression for many participants.

A poem, “Beauty from Ashes,” written and read on the audio recording by graduate student Cindy Lyles, reads like an ode to the author’s beloved hometown, while inspiring images of Jackie Joyner Kersee, a native of East. St. Louis, sent messages that East St. Louis is not entirely a crime-ridden and oppressed city.

“I think that the exhibit touched on a lot of different things that we tend to overlook because you often hear the negative stereotypes of East St. Louis,” said Danielle Hall, a graduate student  majoring in historical studies. “The bigger [idea] is to understand why the city is in the predicament that it is in; it’s important to look at what is underneath all the negative and that’s where you find the buried treasure.”

Hall is slated to participate as a poet in the next Black Studies “Thinking About Urban Spaces” event which will highlight the city of St. Louis.

The Black Studies program is continuing to build its reputation as a vibrant and dynamic part of SIUE by organizing a range of diverse yet equally exciting activities for students and faculty members.

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  1. llafond says:

    Another great exhibit by Black Studies! Looking forward to seeing “Thinking About Urban Spaces.” This has been a great series of exhibits and events this fall.

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