HBCU Students Can’t Produce Black Radical Media

Recent projects by students at HBCUs misrepresent the histories they are trying to reference, resulting in those histories being watered down; but this is by design.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore students, Jada Wilkinson and Keith Cerutti II recently launched their campaign for the UMES student government association. Their campaign was titled, The Empowerment Administration, and was focused on “student empowerment” and “HBCU pride.” 

The campaign imagery used by the Empowerment Administration was inspired by the movie “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The two-hour film covers the relationship between Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and William O’neal, the FBI informant who led the FBI to kill Fred Hampton.

Wilkinson’s portrayal of herself [pictured right] as the traitor to the Chicago Chapter of the BPP while promoting her own “revolution,” is a double contradiction. Jamaad Knight, a junior Screenwriting and Animation Major at Morgan State University explained the contradiction. 

“She and this guy clearly didn’t understand what the movie was about, because if they did she would be the traitor,” Knight said. “So that, with the movie leaving out the socialist history of the figures, and with the fact that they’re using this imagery to advance a politic wholly opposite of who they’re referencing, is just so many contradictions.”

Coppin State University’s N.A.A.C.P. Chapter invited Dr. Umar Johnson to host a discussion on Pan-Africanism as a means of liberating African people globally, on April 17th, 2024. Johnson is famous online for his capitalistic, homophobic, and patriarchal opinions which have gained him virality multiple times.

However, many organizers in the field of Pan-Africanism have critiqued the work of Johnson. Author and member of the All African Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (A-APRP), Ahjamu Umi, wrote an article titled “Umar Johnson isn’t Pan-Africanism,” in the Hood Communist, explaining Johnson’s misrepresentation of the discipline.

“My first strong clue that Umar Johnson was not serious about Pan-Africanism was when I realized he didn’t even have an organization,” Umi writes.

Umi explained the importance of organization in working towards the liberation of all African people globally and the role social media plays in platforming Johnson’s deceptive rhetoric.

“I came to be aware of him several years ago and I’ve been forced to address him nonstop, ever since. The reason for this is because regardless of what you say about Umar Johnson, he has developed a widespread online presence,” Umi wrote.

Aaliyah Graham, a junior screenwriting and animation major at Morgan State University released her first video project,”Rebirth of a Nation,” on Instagram. Her project is a flip on the racist and pivotal film “Birth of a Nation.”

The two-minute video follows a sequence of clips from “Birth of a Nation”, interviews of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, interviews with Fred Hampton, and at the climax, a group of Black students celebrating the hanging of a KKK member.

“I ain’t make this to get no one mad but if they get mad? Hey,” said Graham. “I made this for my people to remind them that the revolution will be televised.”

Gil Scott Heron’s song, which was famous in the 70s, was titled  “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and is often misused or abused to fit a narrative. Similarly to Graham, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Chapter at Morgan State misused and abused the same quote to promote an event.

Mudia Iyayi, culture editor of The Gazette, wrote an article breaking down the infamous poem in consideration of social media and how it interacts with socio-political movements.

“[Gil Scott-Heron] is stating that, when the revolution comes, one will not be able to plug in their television and watch passively from the comfort of their home. He argues that change can only come with the active participation,” Iyayi writes.

Actors in the film Jeana Sia McClary, and Sanai Beck, both junior psychology majors, and Graham weighed in their thoughts on political participation during an interview.

“I feel like [peaceful protests] don’t do nothin’,” said McClary “You’re sitting there in a circle holding hands, and because you’re crossing the lines of government officials they’re going to come and just pick you up and remove you.”

“Martin Luther King talked all the way until they shot him on that railing. [People] gon’ talk til the day they die,” said Graham “Even then though there are some protests where we tweak the fuck out and shit is on fire.”

The twenty-two-year-old filmmaker joked that she doesn’t have a plan or guide for liberating Black people written out, that she just wants to use her platform to create art for Black people, by Black people. 

Dr. Jared Ball, a professor at Morgan State spoke to the ideological dissonance of Graham’s project.

“The outcome [of Rebirth of a Nation] was, and is, ultimately a misrepresentation of Black liberation and it could be seen as something that is trying to culturally move people to a more radical position. But as a standalone item, it performs a lot of the misrepresentation of Black liberation,” said Ball. 

“By not incorporating the allusion or reference to Fred Hampton, without even his own political context and politics and arguments around political education, anti-capitalism, socialism, without all of that being explicit, it conflates and confuses and ultimately I think allows for, a liberal rendition of what are supposed to be revolutionary politics.”

Ball’s sentiment can be applied to all of the projects recently released by HBCU students that divorce the politics from the figures they reference. But Ball pointed to the history and roots of HBCUs to add context to the system at play.

“HBCUs are not here to produce that [radical Black youth]. They’re here to produce a black bourgeoisie or middle class, a compliant and sort of acceptable version of blackness that is decidedly not revolutionary.”