Black Heritage Celebration

Black Heritage Celebration

Spring 2023
Image of Charmaine Nelson with text reading: Commonwealth Honors College Presents: Slavery, Mobility, and the Creolized Counter-Knowledge of Resistance, Charmaine A. Nelson, UMass Amherst, Provost Professor of Art History, Department of History of Art & Architecture, Feb. 22, Annual Black Heritage Month Celebration  CHC Events Hall 5:00 p.m. Reception to Follow, This event is supported by the Williamson Lecture Funds

For its Annual Black Heritage Month Celebration, Commonwealth Honors College welcomes groundbreaking presenters who are working at the intersection of art praxis, racial justice, and the embodiment of change as pathways to liberation. This year's focus, supported by the Williamson Lecture Funds, is on the intersecting histories of Transatlantic Slavery in both Canada and the USA and how it has been strategically suppressed in different ways. 

The keynote speaker is Charmaine A. Nelson, Provost Professor of Art History in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Director of the Slavery North Initiative at UMass Amherst. From 2020-2022, she was a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University in Halifax, CANADA where she founded the first-ever institute focused on the study of Canadian Slavery. Before that she worked at McGill University (Montreal) for seventeen years (2003-2020). Nelson has made ground-breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, Black Diaspora Studies, and Black Canadian Studies. She has published seven books including The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (2007), Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (2016), and Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (2018). She is actively engaged with lay audiences through her media work including ABC, CBC, CTV, and City TV News, The Boston Globe, BBC One’s “Fake or Fortune,” and PBS’ “Finding your Roots”. She has blogged for Huffington Post Canada and written for The Walrus. In 2017, she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University, and in 2021, a Fields of the Future Fellow at Bard Graduate Center (NYC). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2022) and a member of the American Antiquarian Society (2022).


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The 2022 Commonwealth Honor College Black Heritage Month celebration event took place on February 17, 2022

It was focused on visual storytelling within the African diaspora, and the Afro-Futurist movement. The keynote speaker was costume design visionary Ruth E. Carter, the 2019 Academy Award winner in Costume Design for Marvel’s “BLACK PANTHER”  who has made history as the first African-American to win in the category. Her costumes tell stories so intriguing and unforgettable they influence music, fashion, culture, and film-making: they help us to understand ourselves better. In a career spanning more than three decades in theater, cinema, and television, Carter has teamed up with some of the most prolific directors from Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg, Ava DuVernay, to Ryan Coogler. She has over forty film credits, including two Academy Award nominations for “MALCOLM X” (1993) and “AMISTAD” (1998), and an Emmy nomination for the reboot of the television mini-series “ROOTS” (2016). Carter became only the second Costume Designer, 60 years after the first, to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2021). 

Carter is a member of the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation, and co-founder of the Mildred Blount Scholarship Fund, which was created to assist BIPOC costume designers. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts from Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia and an Honorary Doctorate from Suffolk University, Boston, Massachusetts.


The 2021 Commonwealth Honor College Black Heritage Month celebration event took place on Monday, February 15, at 6:30 p.m. 




Jamila Lyiscott, PhD (Dr.J)

Spoken-Word Poetry




Juana Valdés, MFA

Visual Arts



J.Al Bilali

Judyie Al-Bilali, MFA

Performance and Theater