Cortland Gilliam | Jerry J. Wilson
Cortland Gilliam is a scholar, poet, educator, and budding visual storyteller. He is a doctoral candidate in Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In his graduate research, Cortland studies the implications of school discipline and youth activism for greater conceptualizations of citizenship.
Jerry J. Wilson is a scholar, activist, and educator committed to making learning environments productive and welcoming for all students. Jerry’s work centers on Black teachers and representation, the politics of education, civic learning, and the educational experiences of marginalized students.
Meet the Artists
To be black at Carolina is to constantly want to be seen. It is to compromise. It is to want to hide. While paradoxical, my time here as a black person, a woman, a STEM major have all be influenced by my race and the way it's been received by others. At this point, my race has become an issue I'm tired of debating. It has become a talking point, an aggressive reminder, an exhausting excuse for my accomplishments and failures. To be black at Carolina truly is to be tired but any place of easy rest and relaxation would not be representative of reality. And so, in the work I present at this event, I am interested in the unfiltered and improvisational expression others can bring to the table on this topic, because to be black at Carolina is truly be in constant performance.
To be black at Carolina is to always be a representation of "diversity" and to always know that you are not the norm anywhere on campus. Carolina is very proud of its "growing" diversity and to make sure that everyone else knows this, it is common for my "diversity" to be brought up in every class, meeting, poster, announcement, etc. It's great that we celebrate diversity more than we have in the past but singling out the only black person in the room is not the way to make me feel like I am in a comfortable, equal space. By pointing our my blackness, people simply remind me that the color of my skin is not the norm on this campus. Being mixed, I don't only feel like I don't fit in because I'm black but also because I'm white. Whether I am in white spaces or black spaces on campus, I'm the odd one out and that feeling is draining. Always having to explain myself to one group or another and be reminded that I'm not enough to fit into either group of people is exhausting. However, being black at Carolina has taught me how to be different from everyone around me because, frankly, right now, I don't have any other choice. Even though it can be isolating and lonely sometimes, it has given me the strength to be who I am no matter who's around and enjoy it. For that, I'm thankful to be black at UNC.
For me, being black at Carolina is balancing the concept of duality. When navigating white spaces, I am prone to imposter syndrome and have to actively reject feelings of doubt, incompetence, and uncomfortableness. As a professional student, I have mastered the art of code-switching, filtering aspects of my personality to what may be more “acceptable,” and evading questions of my routine or beliefs. My art depicts this notion through an abstract version of myself in a white background, symbolizing this space. On the other hand, I make an active effort to create communities where I feel completely comfortable in my own skin — seeking black spaces at UNC that fosters empowerment and encourages me to remain resilient in the face of adversity. The other half of my work symbolizes this feeling of pride in black spaces of Carolina that allows me to be a more realistic version of myself — unguarded. Being black at UNC is a privilege that many like me are not afforded, a persistent challenge to find your niche, but a prayer that God answered twice. For that, I am blessed to be #BlackOutLoudUNC.
As a young black woman at Carolina, I honestly don’t feel the need to prove my worth to others, but rather to myself. It is easy to get caught up in the competitive nature and academic “race” towards success, especially at a university that was not built with people of colors’ best interest in mind. I’m challenged with remaining confident in my own abilities, while continually supporting my black peers.
I am a second-year Robertson Scholar at UNC Chapel Hill & Duke University, and I identify as a Black woman fiercely in love with my University and what it can be. Last semester, I was enrolled in Race and Memory at UNC as part of the Race and Reckoning Initiative. As a class, we examined slave logs, photographs of former enslaved housekeepers, escheatment documents, and the history of those who have enforced and romanticized white supremacy in affiliation with the University. I wish to highlight this history as someone that in physically affected by it, because this University’s history is my own. James B. McCallum from Robeson County, son of John McCallum, who graduated from the Class of 1860 at UNC Chapel Hill with a combined real and personal estate value of $38,900 at the time and owning 17 slaves, one of whom was my ancestor.
Being Black at Carolina made me realize that as a black male people will immediately judge my character, abilities, and motivations before even getting to know me. While this realization can be disheartening, I utilize these opportunities to fully express myself how I please. I feel that if others will prematurely judge who I am as a person before our first encounter, then I have no reason to hold back when I show up in these spaces.
When it comes to being black- or in general a person of color at UNC, there's this weird unspoken contract that I feel like I signed to be here. When it comes to most individuals that I regularly hang out with- most of the time I don't feel like the color of my skin is thought about by others. It isn't until groups of prospective students tour around on campus, or when I constantly see high amounts of weird propaganda given out by UNC showing a vast array of stereotypical diverse students in one area. When I go along with it, it makes me feel as if I am being used as a token although anytime I point it out to certain individuals words are tied around and instead they play the victim card. To me, being black means a whole lot and nothing at the same time; it’s nothing major that I feel I have to think about until it seems like it becomes a factor to someone else.
Being black at Carolina means never fully feeling safe, never knowing when white supremacists will be welcomed onto our campus. Being black at Carolina means protecting your psyche, your spirit, and your mind at the expense of others' freedom of speech. Being black means always laboring to cultivate safe spaces for yourself on a campus that was not constructed with you in mind. As someone who experiences the intersectionality of multiple identities that have been read as oppressed and as someone who is simply inherently flawed, I believe social justice and equity should be the lens through which we all employ to envision a different world. My poems are the manifestations of these visions for a better world. I believe in the inextricable power of language and love spending my free time writing poetry when I've exhausted my ability to speak out loud.
I submitted to Black Out Loud UNC because it is important to cultivate places of love, acceptance, and black excellence in a town as historically black as Chapel Hill. To be dark on this beautiful campus is to be a performer. The burden of expectation and hypervisibility on black students is both ancestral honour and present damnation. My work comments on the various gazes experienced by black bodies in this town - of self, of others strange, and of others intimate. By grounding my words in physical locations of Chapel Hill I hope to elucidate the real experience of being, feeling, and moving about this space as one unlike others. Some of it is metaphor, some direct. The point is not comprehension, but I rather illumination. I’m happy to talk about it at anytime, if anyone is so interested.
Blackness at UNC is a statement in itself. It is an affirmation, a quiet prayer, deciding which battles to fight, breaking through silence the institution wishes to place upon us. It is seeing other Black faces in the room light up when you walk into the class, those quiet silences beside the Unsung Founders Memorial, heading your mom brag about you to her friends, and pushing through all odds.
Being Black at UNC means that you are an outlier. This University, no matter the diversity statements or incorporation of people of color, was created for white students. This has made it hard to fully enjoy the college experience because I am constantly thinking of how I do not belong, and actively trying to prove that I do. Those thoughts coinciding with the stressors of life and college have had an impact on my mental health. This project brings together four, upperclassmen, Black women. The goal of this work is to look at how their mental health has been impacted. But it is also to look at how they do belong, as they stand in their favorite places on campus. They are the outlier, but they are also here and glad to be here.
Being Black at UNC Chapel Hill, and also being socially aware, means that at some point you start to develop heroes: people you see on campus who are visibly and actively addressing microaggressions and macroaggressions. It also means finding heroes for yourself within your academics: people whose thoughts, opinions, feelings regarding being Black in academia you can relate to. And this is what my poem, "An Ode to Audre," stems from. My prayer/thank you letter to Audre Lorde is an acknowledgement of the importance of the visibility of Black academics that we can learn from and relate to and find comfort in while navigating being at a PWI. In reading and hearing my poem, I hope you feel my gratitude to Black women academics, and are able to reflect on Black academics who have supported you.
On the last day of class for the 2018-2019 school year, I went around with my camera with the intention of capturing the celebrations happening around campus. It was my first time out in the Pit on LDOC (I slept through LDOC 2018 my first-year) and I had seen photos and videos of celebrations from that year. For LDOC 2019, I wanted to capture Black UNC in celebration because that school year, many of us lived and studied in fear and were constantly attacked on all fronts with the everything that happened on campus. I wanted to record this moment for us to hold on to and look back on and I wanted to share the beauty, smiles, and joy of Black UNC - and other POC's on-campus - experienced. In a space that carried so much grief, terror, history, and hurt, we took up and reclaimed that space, bathing it in joy, music, smiles, love and beauty. In those few hours, I felt more at home on campus than I had ever before.