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Fall 2020 Message from the Director

Welcome back! The Center for African Studies has another busy year ahead despite our mostly remote operation. It’s a hard time to be apart when we typically begin the Fall semester with excited reunions, in-person orientations for new students and faculty, and charged discussions of recent research and travel. This summer was very different. Most of us stayed put, not straying far from home or a small circle of friends and family and remaining in close/frequent communication with those far away. We watched closely for Covid’s spread in Africa and sought news of curfews quarantines, public health measures and calls for testing as we coped with the same here. To great relief, evidence suggests the virus fatalities on the continent are considerably lower than initially anticipated, although there’s little escape from the global economic downturn.

In the midst of it all, valued staff member Aaliyah Clark took a new position in the Department of Political Science. Candace Aho ( is now at the Center to handle budgets, travel, purchasing, and personnel matters alongside Office and Financial Manager Sarah Foxx ( Alani Ilori received a promotion, adding program development to her responsibilities (

We are going forward with a full slate of activities for the Fall Semester, albeit relying on Zoom and other remote programming platforms. Baraza will occur Friday afternoons as usual using the tools of Zoom Webinar. CAS has an expansive array of Working Groups on the Fall agenda. We invite you – faculty, affiliates, grads and undergrads — to join-in, learn and contribute. Working Groups offer an opportunity to share research, interact with guest experts and promote collaboration. Some of our Working Groups are well-established, such as Islam in Africa, Social Change and Development, Institutions and States, and Natural Resource Management. This year we launch a new group, Mixing Africa’s Disciplines, to explore how the diverse disciplines that compose African Studies get mixed together. Besides guest speakers, the group is hosting several roundtables throughout the fall on fieldwork and grants. Building connections across UF College of Medicine, Emerging Pathogens Institute and Public Health and Health Professions, a new Health in Africa Working Group will be examining collaborative approaches to positive health outcomes and the CDC Global Health Strategy. The Natural Resource Management group invites participation in its new Sustainable Savannah’s Initiative and welcomes input on research, policy and opportunities for international cooperation.

SASA, the Student African Studies Association, continues to provide a platform for research sharing and will feature fieldwork updates from PhD students working in Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Benin. SASA will also continue its weekly Zoom ‘tea-times’ allowing for informal discussions and check-ins with classmates near and far. Again, all are welcome: faculty, staff, graduate, undergraduates.

Two major conferences are slated for Fall 2020.  Achebe|Baldwin @ 40, originally scheduled for April, will be held Oct 22-23. Utilizing an on-line format, it will include panels, roundtables, performances, readings, and live Q&A sessions on literature, politics, history to commemorate the extraordinary first and only meeting of James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe on the UF campus in 1980. Scholars, writers, activists from across the country will probe the ongoing significance of the 1980 event and the insights afforded by bringing the works and lives of these two luminaries in conversation with one another and the circumstances of the present. Visiting Writer-in-Residence Okey Ndibe will be working with UF and high school students and community members during the week of the conference. There will be a screening of the film ‘I heard it through the Grapevine’ recording Baldwin and Achebe together in Florida. The events will culminate with a Graduate Student Forum on The Future of Blackness at UF. Visit this page for event information and registration.

The Annual Gwendyln M. Carter Conference is scheduled for Dec 10-11, 2020.  Organized in conjunction with IFAS Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, the topic of this year’s conference is “Shifting Momentum in African Agriculture through Research & Technologies: Improving Resiliency, Livelihoods, and Nutrition.” Stay-tuned for the full program. This too will be entirely remote involving expert practitioners, scholars and policy makers from around the world and offer ample opportunity for class participation and student involvement. Contact Andrea Bohn for more information.

Though they will not be face to face, all of these activities will continue to offer a dynamic platform for knowledge and relationship building and vibrant exchange of ideas. Despite its inconveniences, the new format offers an opportunity to enlarge our audience and the breadth of our conversations. Please help us spread the word to our alumni, collaborators, academic counterparts and professional networks in Africa and elsewhere in the US. Given the current limits to travel and research, these exchanges are all the more important. Do share our calendar and website, as well as our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube accounts broadly.

At the same, we cannot overlook matters closer to home, whether the inequities of Covid’s effects or the violence of race-based exclusion and abuse of force that continues to plague the US. The Center for African Studies takes seriously UF’s renewed commitment to racial justice and inclusion on campus and beyond. We continue to build our strong partnership with Alachua County schools to promote African and African American culture and history in K-12 education, including the recognition of Africa-based scientists and scientific knowledge. We vigorously promote teacher and high school student participation in our campus programs. Moreover, we have strong outreach programs in community colleges, HBCU and minority serving institutions in Florida and the wider region, including Georgia and Alabama. CAS is also working with the UF Graduate School to address the unique needs and concerns of students from Africa to best enable their academic success and personal well-being.

In this spirit, I welcome the new Director of African-American Studies, historian Dr. David Canton, who comes to UF after many years leading Africana Studies at Connecticut College, directing the Center for Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity and serving as Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. I look forward to new opportunities for partnership and program building with Dr. Canton and African American Studies.

I look forward to seeing everyone at our many events this semester. Stay-tuned for information on our Virtual Fall Reception and Dance Party!

All the best!

Brenda Chalfin, PhD
Director, Center for African Studies