In honor of Black History Month, which is dedicated this year to a celebration of “African Americans and the Arts,” we asked Black faculty and staff from around the university to share a few of their favorite works by Black artists. Here are their recommendations.
Giants: Art From the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys at the Brooklyn Museum
As an avid art spectator, I love exhibits and art galleries that boldly celebrate who we are and showcase the breadth of Black culture. I am looking forward to visiting Giants in my home location this month. When I think of Black art, I think of Gordon Parks, Basquiat, Carrie Mae Weems, and Nina Chanel Abney. The Brooklyn Museum will honor these cultural icons and more through Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys’ expansive art collection. Examining iconic Black art through another artists’ lens provides a layered perspective, and I am excited to fully immerse myself in this exhibit to seek out what stories are being told – of both joy and resistance – and to explore how we show up across the Black art canon.
– Natasha Benjamin, director of communications and marketing, Division of Undergraduate Admissions, Rutgers-New Brunswick
You Are Your Best Thing by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown
I have so many books on my reading list, but I wanted to revisit the anthology You Are Your Best Thing at the start of the year. This anthology is the collective stories of 20 Black scholars, activists, writers and public intellectuals that expanded Brené Brown's research on shame and vulnerability to give space to the experiences of Black people to process the trauma of their lived experiences, in a world that doesn't often acknowledge the full humanity of Black people. Some of my favorite powerful essays that I often come back to visit are by writers Tanya Denise Fields, Kiese Makeba Laymon, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, and Jessica Williams. Williams's essay, "Black Surrender Within the Ivory Tower," was especially relevant after the recent events that affected the lives of former Harvard President Claudine Gay and Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, an academic administrator whose suicide prompted a national discussion on the treatment of black women in higher education. Her essay reminds me that their experiences were not isolated incidents but symptoms of a more extensive broken system.
– Jakora Thompson, director, Paul Robeson Cultural Center, Rutgers-New Brunswick
The Garden Within: Where the War with Your Emotions Ends and Your Most Powerful Life Begins by Anita Phillips
My next audiobook listen is The Garden Within: Where the War with Your Emotions Ends and Your Most Powerful Life Begins by Anita Phillips. I originally was introduced to Phillips through her podcast, In the Light, where I appreciated her mix of psychology and spirituality as she tackled everyday issues from personal boundaries to relationships. She was definitely dropping gems and I had a lot of aha moments from the podcast so I'm looking forward to more personal growth and insight to becoming my best self from the book.
– Bernadette Gailliard, assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, School of Communication and Information, Rutgers-New Brunswick
The Terrell Show on YouTube
I stumbled upon The Terrell Show on YouTube when some of the clips began appearing in my reels and in my YouTube suggestions. When I finally gave the show a try, I absolutely loved it from the start. The core of the show is singers play a game called Song Association where Terrell gives them a word and the singer has 11 seconds to sing a song with the word in the title or in the lyrics. It is so much fun seeing which songs the singers will sing and which will stump them. What I love most is that Terrell is a proud Black gay man who is using his platform to celebrate well-established artists, but also promote up-and-coming talented artists. His show is so entertaining that I played two of the games (Song Association and I Know You Lying) at a virtual networking event and both were hits! If you haven’t seen this show yet and love music, do yourself a favor and subscribe to The Terrell Show!
-Oscar Holmes IV, associate dean of undergraduate programs and associate professor of management, School of Business-Camden, Rutgers-Camden
As with much of Black history, there are people we simply never learn about. It wasn’t until I watched the 2022 film Chevalier that I learned the fascinating story of the “Black Mozart,” Joseph Bologne, also known as Chevalier de Saint-Georges. This film tells the story of an enslaved Caribbean who reached the highest echelons of 18th century French society. Born to a Senegalese mother and her enslaver, Chevalier was sent to France where he excelled as a champion fencer, abolitionist, virtuoso violinist and classical composer, despite the racial and societal prejudices of his time. The most essential element in this story – and that of any Black artist – is Chevalier’s undeniable self-confidence, perseverance and genuine talent. His story reminds us that we can succeed with persistence and grit. The film opens with a masterful scene where Chevalier upstages Mozart at his own concert by challenging him to a musical battle, thus setting the incredible story of the “Black Mozart.” A bonus of the film is its soundtrack, which includes excerpts from Chevalier’s Violin Concerto.
– Kareem Mumford, director of communications and marketing, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers-New Brunswick
Rising by Lawrence Brownlee
Lawrence Brownlee is a Black opera singer of international acclaim, whose brilliant tenor voice can be heard singing leading bel canto roles in the most prestigious opera houses. In addition to his numerous appearances on operatic recordings, Mr. Brownlee has many solo projects to his credit. His most recent solo album, Rising, features six Black composers (Damien Sneed, Brandon Spencer, Jasmine Barnes, Joel Thompson, and Shawn E. Okpebholo) who all set poetry from the Harlem Renaissance, including works by Claude McKay, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. The poems highlight "joy, empowerment, faith, love and strength in the face of challenge." Mr. Brownlee initiated this project to "create something that speaks not just to our struggles, but to our triumphs." Rising received a 2024 Grammy nomination for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album.
– Brandon Williams, associate professor of music and interim director of choral activities, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers-New Brunswick
Glory Hour by Victory Boyd
Victory Boyd, a professional singer-songwriter, began singing at a young age and played in a group with her siblings. Her distinct sound draws on soul, folk, jazz and gospel music, which she learned growing up in a musical family. She is an inspiration to the next generation of musicians on many levels and I highly appreciate her drive and tenacity. I love that she describes her gift as not only a sound but also a responsibility of what she carries as an artist, entrepreneur and advocate. Her journey has never been about becoming famous, but more of a strategy of being excellent at what you do. I love her distinct, rich, smooth rasp that can take you on a rollercoaster ride. It is noted that her sound has earned her comparisons to the amazing Nina Simone for both her unusual voice and her jazzy inclination. The birth of Glory Hour began in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic when she saw how much she needed the comfort of a savior and knew that she had to keep writing the message of the gospel in song – for herself first and then for the world. I appreciate the deep richness in her tone and look forward to hearing more from her in the years to come!
– April Parker, staff assistant, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers Health
Victory Lap by Nipsey Hussle
Nipsey Hussle’s last album, Victory Lap, is what you listen to when you need that extra motivation at the gym. It’s what you turn on when you’re riding into work and when you’re leaving. It’s the soundtrack to your personal success story. Victory Lap is a mindset, a lesson for the young, and a motivator for everyone on their grind. It’s a reminder for Black folks that we are “prolific and so gifted.” It’s a testimony and result of what “hard work plus patience” can give. It’s a reflection on community, life, education, code, business, money, and power. I recommend this album for anyone searching for purpose or living in it. Long live Nipsey Hussle.
– Joshanna Holyfield, senior program coordinator, Paul Robeson Cultural Center, Rutgers-New Brunswick
The Table With Anthony O’Neal
Anthony O’Neal is a YouTube personality and creator of The Neatness Network. His podcast The Table provides advice on finances, faith and a few other aspects of life. Anthony’s podcast was created to help people of all walks of life, with a focus on the Black community, to gain financial literacy, become debt-free and create generational wealth. I was drawn to Anthony’s ability to provide this information in a relatable and digestible way. I continually listen for the stories of other Black people who have made it out of debt, who started their own businesses, creating legacies for their families and are thriving.
– Bryanna Mason, administrative assistant, Paul Robeson Cultural Center, Rutgers-New Brunswick
Black Girls Heal With Shena Lashey
Black Girls Heal is one of my faithful resources to elevate mentally and emotionally. The podcast covers topics from learning to love oneself, facing and handling trauma, as well as creating and sustaining boundaries to become the healthiest version of yourself. The podcast provides Black women resources and insight on different perspectives regarding self-preservation, healthy relationships and learning emotion regulation. Black women silently hold the title of being strong and emotionally numb to reach success. Yet the podcast covers the vulnerable side of being a woman in a culture that is just understanding the positive impacts of therapy. Fellow listeners would enjoy, if looking to unlearn unhealthy patterns, finding themselves and learning to create a safe space for themselves. Everyone needs tools to navigate through life. I pride myself on impacting others through my career as a higher education professional. However, I value being healthy holistically to exhibit and teach ways of self-improvement. Being an active participant in transforming emotionally is vital to future generations to live a prosperous personal and professional life.
– Roselena Twyne, assistant director, Office of Student Life and Leadership, Rutgers-Newark
Confederates by Dominique Morisseau
What does the life of an enslaved Black woman rebel during the Civil War have in common with the experiences of a tenured Black woman political science professor in a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) in the 21st century? This is the provocative premise of MacArthur Fellow Dominique Morisseau’s play Confederates. The play forces us to confront the mechanisms of gendered racism, its historical continuities and its creative coded transformations and manifestations in our modern day. The parallels between life for Black women in a plantation and a university are daunting and serious. And yet, Morisseau manages to infuse it with a satirical realism that captures the full humanity of Black womanhood: its heaviness, beauty, lightness, humor and joys. In a moment when challenges are being leveled toward diversity, equity, inclusion, and Black and ethnic history and studies, this play highlights that the work toward greater justice is not over and done. It reminds us that institutions of higher education and their members are central to the struggle and that we all can use a bit more critical reflection about the steps we can take toward institutional transformation that moves the dial toward liberation.
– Zaire Dinzey Flores, chair and associate professor, Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers-New Brunswick