The Federation Update
Received from a co-worker or friend? Subscribe here to have the Update delivered right to your inbox!
When I wrote my President’s message on my first day on the job just a little over a month ago, I included one of the Federation’s guiding principles: “The humanities strengthen the civic, cultural, and social fabric of society by fostering understanding and promoting an engaged citizenry.” I reiterate it now as we see our nation urgently needs learning, understanding, and healing. Today we also see the vital importance and evidence of an engaged citizenry across the country.

The Federation expresses our shared grief and condolences for the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and so many often unnamed others who have lost their lives as a result of racial violence. We are also aware of and anguished by the fact that those dying of COVID-19 are disproportionately indigenous people and people of color. We unequivocally believe that Black lives matter.

As we ask ourselves what our response should be in the face of racial violence, inequity, and national upheaval, I return to the imperatives that Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, sets out for those who want to make a difference (and I paraphrase here): to be proximate, to change the narrative, to be uncomfortable, and to be hopeful.

Dr. Lisa Lee, executive director at the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago, describes the power of the humanities to inform and move us forward: “We hope people leave our programs and exhibits armed with facts and an enthusiasm to consider a greater context and the impact of history. And most importantly, we hope people are able to foster a commitment to compassion and empathy in order to become part of the solution, rather than the problem, and to participate in the forging of a collective more inclusive future.”

You’ll find below just a small selection of the many powerful programs that our member state and jurisdictional humanities councils run that engage communities in just the work Dr. Lee describes. These public humanities programs provide historical context and create forums for learning more about ourselves and understanding perspectives different than our own. They also call us to reflect together on the histories of structural and systemic racism that have brought us to this moment. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I urge you to explore these offerings.

As I thought about the role the humanities and humanities councils can play right now, I asked Kevin Lindsey, the CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center and former Human Rights Commissioner for Minnesota, to speak with me. He was gracious enough to agree, and our conversation is included below.
Phoebe Stein, President
Kevin Lindsey, CEO, Minnesota Humanities Center
What role do the Minnesota Humanities Center, the state humanities councils, and the public humanities more broadly have in moving our country forward productively during this time?

LINDSEY : The role of the Minnesota Humanities Center in using the public humanities has never been more important than it is today. This moment in time will be a defining moment for us.

We at the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC), similar to other humanities organizations that comprise the Federation, see ourselves as having three primary roles – convener, connector, and catalyst. All three roles are critically important.

We are among the first responders when our democracy is in crisis. No democracy of the people can exist when so many of its citizens are routinely and systematically disenfranchised.

While this work will be challenging, it is critically important for us to facilitate constructive dialog and conversation so that African Americans can be honestly seen, sincerely heard, and fully empowered within our democracy at this moment of crisis.

We need to have the courage to convene people on difficult issues. We need patience in facilitating sincere connection among individuals that have not always seen the value of collaborating with one another. Finally, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to encourage change.
Following is a small sample of programs offered by the state humanities councils on race, inequality, Black history, interracial communications, and more. These programs use the humanities to provide historical context, share personal experiences, and build understanding to foster empathy.
This Land
Launched in 2017 and recipient of the 2018 Schwartz Prize for outstanding humanities programming, This Land is an online multimedia project that collects and connects stories about land, home, belonging, and identity by Oregon's communities of color. Using film, words, maps, photos, sounds, and graphics by artists and writers of color, this project sheds light on little-known stories about the fight for place, home, and belonging while building a "broader understanding of how policies and laws shape systems of power and land ownership in Oregon's past and present."

Wearing Down the Appalachian Trail - Jim Crow in the Great Outdoors
Listen to this episode of Virginia Humanities' With Good Reason's "Wearing Down the Appalachian Trail" series, which examines the overlooked history of the Appalachian Trail. In "Jim Crow in the Great Outdoors," Erin Devlin from the University of Mary Washington discusses how long-held American past-times of hiking, camping, and gathering in public spaces has long been fraught.

Pandemic & Inequality Conversation
In mid-May, as part of Humanities New York's "Conversations on Your Couch" discussion series, the council hosted "Pandemic & Inequality" to explore how inequality and pandemics feed off each other and whether "the lessons we are learning about justice, fairness, and opportunity outlive the virus." While the event has passed, the council has curated a selection of fiction that examine these issues. All are available to read or listen to online and are free of charge.

Online Event: Angry Black Woman & Well-Intentioned White Girl
On Tuesday, June 30, join the Minnesota Humanities Center in this live event featuring a performance excerpt of the stage play, "Angry Black Woman & Well-Intentioned White Girl." The play is written by author and playwright Amoke Kubat and "explores the cultural impact surrounding 'Minnesota Nice' and the misunderstanding it can cause in interracial interactions."

Following the play excerpt, the artists will share their experiences from their recent tour and participants will breakout into conversation groups to reflect on and grow their intercultural understanding and communications.

Laureates Online with John Warner Smith
Watch and listen to John Warner Smith read his poem, "Faith of Children, For Louisiana," which encourages us all to "call upon our child-like faith" in our shared humanity to get us through crises. Smith is the current Louisiana Poet Laureate and first African American man appointed to the position. His poetry draws upon African American history and his personal experiences of growing up and living in the South.

Check out Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities' to view the full Laureates Online series, which was launched this April during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upcoming Dates and Deadlines
JUNE 9-10
New Executive Directors Orientation
FSHC Nominating Committee Meeting
Democracy and the Informed Citizen Interim Report Due