By Dr. Kaye Whitehead

I shall become a collector of our stories

“We are responsible,” my Nana would always say, “with leaving the world better than how we found it. It is not a burden but a blessing to be able to use your time, your talent, and your treasure to be an instrument of change.” It is at this moment, as we prepare to launch the second academic year of the Karson Institute (named after my father) that I think about my Nana and her life. She was a fierce warrior who was one of the first Black nurses in South Carolina. She survived Jim Crow racism, was a deaconess who wore hats like Zora Neale Hurston, and never suffered the fools like Ida B. Wells. She was a dreamer who believed that if we kept fighting and pushing, this world would be reshaped by our hands. I thought about her last night after I reread Sonia Sanchez’s “Wounded in the House of a Friend,” where she wrote:

I shall become a collector of me
i SHALL become a collector of me
i shall BECOME a collector of me
i shall become A COLLECTOR of me.

I take my Nana and Sister Sanchez’s words as both a prayer and a charge for the work that I am doing as the founding director of the Karson Institute for Race, Peace, & Social Justice. I shall become a collector of me, of us, of our stories, of our laughter and our tears. I shall become a collector of all that we have to offer, all that we have done, and all that we will do. I shall become a collector of the moments that we are sharing as laws are passed designed to undo all of the work done to move this nation forward. During this time, as America and the world open back up and the Karson Institute staff starts planning to be on campus in less than a month, we stay committed to rebuilding our campus and Baltimore City community by planning both in-person and virtual activities. We believe that the work we are doing at the Karson Institute is needed more now than ever. We have been here, standing firm and being collectors of ourselves and our stories for the past nine months, and we will continue to be here: to be a voice crying out in the wilderness for justice and equity; to be an advocate for those who need the strength of our Institute behind them to support, uplift, and amplify their work; and to be a lighthouse highlighting the way to a more just and verdant world.

Our 2021-22 Academic Year theme is Stoney the Road We Trod: Conversations about Race and Peace, Slavery and Justice, and we have planned a series of activities specifically designed to address each of these issues across our three centers: The Center for Public Engagement, the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Center for Research and Culture. We are also celebrating the first anniversary of the launch of the Karson Institute on October 28! We are taking this moment to stand tall as Sankofa birds, looking back at what we have accomplished while moving forward. Over the past year, the Karson Institute has led conversations on diversity, equity, and the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community:

Center for Public Engagement

  1. COMloquium Series: We hosted 13 COMloquium events, engaging in critical conversations with Dr. Anthony Fauci, on the impact of COVID-19 in the Black community; Representative Kweisi Mfume, on the legacy of Henrietta Lacks; Dr. Lawrence Brown, on Baltimore City and the Black Butterfly communities; lawyers and public policy analysts after the verdict in the case against Derek Chauvin; among many others.
  2. Students Talk Back: Throughout the year, we invited Loyola students to engage with our monthly questions that ranged from “Will 2021 be the year of the woman?” to “What is your race story?”
  3. Social Media: On both our Twitter and our Instagram accounts, we hosted a month-long tribute to Black leaders during Black History Month and a month-long tribute to women during Women’s History Month. 

Additionally, we partnered with Visit Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun, Maryland Public Television, non-profit organizations, K-12th grade public schools, and universities throughout the country to host virtual Teach-Ins, Workshops, and conversations.

Center for Research and Culture

KI Research Fellows: We welcomed our inaugural doctoral Fellow, María Colompos- Tohtsonie, a doctoral student studying Educational Leadership and Policy at Texas Tech University, and two Senior Research Fellows: Dr. Van Gayton, a retired pastor and theology professor, and Judge Billy Murphy, Esq.

In her paper “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Audre Lorde wrote that what is essential must be spoken, made verbal, and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. We take her words seriously as we move into year two, and we look to create spaces that will have meaning, which will help us build community and share our work. We have planned a series of in-person and virtual events:

Center for Teaching and Learning

Teacher Training: We selected City Neighbors High School in Baltimore City for our year-long teacher training initiative. Teachers and staff will be trained in culturally responsive teaching and instruction, racial equity training, and the social construction of race.

Dr. Kaye Whitehead (Courtesy Photo)

Civil rights activist Ella Baker once said, “We who believe in freedom can not rest until it comes.” For those of us here at The Karson Institute, we believe that this means that we must continue to challenge ourselves and everyone around us to work for freedom, justice and racial equity. We know that the work we are involved in to transform our campus, our city, and hopefully, our country did not begin, nor will it end with us. We are simply the next movement in Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. We must use the time we have to continue to find ways to provide space to help facilitate conversations around some of America’s most pressing questions. We invite you to step into this moment with us, join our discussions and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @KarsonInstitute.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO. Send letters to The Afro-American • 145 W. Ostend Street Ste 600, Office #536, Baltimore, MD 21230 or fax to 1-877-570-9297 or e-mail to

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!