Black Experiences beyond Geographic and Linguistic Borders

I am Luana Reis, a poet, educator, and a Black feminist scholar. I was born and raised in Bahia, Brazil, and I am currently a fourth-year PhD student in the department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh, where I also teach Portuguese. Aside from Nigeria, no other country has as many Black people as Brazil. Even so, the production of Black Brazilian writers remains largely absent from school curriculums and textbooks. Therefore, my teaching, like my research, reflects my interest in exploring the intellectual and cultural richness of Black lives. My dissertation research takes an intersectional (considering the complex racial politics of identification linked to gender, class, and other systems of oppression) and transnational approach to analyze how contemporary Black Latin American and Caribbean poets are revisiting historical accounts and rewriting Afro descendants’ experiences. My central axis of analysis are quilombismo and maroonage and its associated ideologies. I argue that their poetic/political constructs allow us to develop a diasporic understanding of Black women by articulating the heritage and legacy of women heroines of maroon communities who fought for human dignity and freedom.

I arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 as a Fulbright Scholar, and since then, I have been involved in a variety of poetic and political projects. In 2016, for example, I founded the poetry collective “ADDverse+Poesia” (@addversepoesia), a group dedicated to celebrating transnational discourses led by Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ writers, poets, artists, and beyond. As the current president of the student organization “Addverse,” I want to bring writers and audiences together across the hemisphere, using the power of poetry as a vehicle for engaging a range of issues – particularly race and gender, freedom and refuge, and language and identity.

My scholarship and community engagement celebrate the intellectual and creative production of Black writers, making their theoretical and literary contributions more accessible. The Humanities Engage Summer Administrative Micro-Internship I completed with the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OEDI) was greatly aligned with my academic research and community-oriented initiatives. The initiative “Black Lives in Focus” launched with four inaugural projects: a multimedia exhibition of art and text; the “Say Her Name” Memorial Gown project; Black Built Pitt, a multi-media tour of historically important sites of Black history on the University’s Pittsburgh campus; and the establishment of a website to serve as a hub for the events and programs across disciplines at Pitt that put Black lives in focus. I had the opportunity to contribute to “Black Built Pitt” by researching and writing about two important aspects of Black history at Pitt – the “Computer Center Takeover” and the “Afrolatinidad Studies Initiative.”

I visited the Pitt Archives to collect materials that are going to be available on the project website, such as the yearbook “As Salaam Alaikum” (1968-69) that showcases the photographs, artwork, and poetry of students and community members supporting the efforts of the Black Action Society. I had the honor of meeting Ms. Valerie Njie, who generously lent me her copy of the book “Say It Loud: The Black Action Society, The Computer Center Takeover, and Transformation at the University of Pittsburgh,” a collection of oral histories and reflections from 1968-69 published in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of this historic event. My experience as a Black, international, and multilingual student at Pitt contributed to conversations about our understanding of the Black experience beyond geographic and linguistic borders. The initiative organizers were very open to the idea of including the Afrolatinidad Studies Initiative at the University of Pittsburgh as one of the sites for the initial launch of the project, and this addition amplifies our understanding of blackness by highlighting the narratives and experiences of people who are racialized as Black with roots in Latin-America. The project organizers also allowed me to convey the stories I was researching through the use of poetry. I invite you to visit the Black Lives in Focus website and celebrate Black voices and the Black experience in our community with us! I am very grateful for the opportunity to add my academic work and personal experiences in helping to showcase the value of Black lives and Black art at the University of Pittsburgh.


The Computer Center Takeover 

Eight flights of stone stairs 
Eight million dollars cold heart 
Twenty-two million standing with their ancestors 
Janitors maintaining the faith 
Guiding the path with political insights 
Seven hours 
Hundreds of years 
Young dreamers embraced by the community 
Blankets quilted with ancient love 
Reassure that we are not alone 
Children of Africa! 
Remember the Past  
Plant seeds 
Get the future 
Do you hear the summoning of the drums? 
Wake up! We still have miles to go 
Take the stairs! 
Luana Reis 
My blackness walks into the room
before I knock the door
before I say excuse me
before I step on the floor
My accent though
creates a space of uncertainty 
Where are you from
A question we understand perfectly
The daily forms intimidating
Asking to check one
Afrolatina is not an option
the human game begun
Luana Reis

Luana Reis
Hispanic Languages and Literatures
September 2021
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