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Lemon Project’s virtual symposium to celebrate Black women

  • A composite photo showing the faces of three people
    Keynote speakers:  This year's symposium will include keynote addresses from (left to right) Catherine Meeks, director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing; Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation; and Karsonya "Kaye" Wise Whitehead, an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland and founding director of the Karson Institute for Race, Peace & Social Justice.  Courtesy photos
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William & Mary’s 11th annual Lemon Project Spring Symposium will feature panel discussions, keynote speeches and performances — all focused on the history and future of Black women in America.

The event, titled “Four Centuries of Black Women in America: Freedom, Activism and Justice for All,” will be held virtually March 22-27. It is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

 “One of the best parts of our annual spring symposium is how we bring people together — from community members to students to professionals and alumni — to learn and think about the experiences of African-American people. And this year, I’m thrilled we’re focusing on Black women,” said Assistant Professor of History Jody Allen, the Robert Francis Eng Director of the Lemon Project.

The Lemon Project is a long-term research effort to uncover W&M’s involvement with slavery, segregation and discrimination and to strengthen the relationship between the university and the local African-American community as well as students of color on campus.

The symposium will open March 22 with a panel discussion on women and slavery. The day will conclude with the first of three keynotes for the week, this one given by Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Coleman, who received an honorary degree from William & Mary last year, will speak on “Black Women and the Conscience of a Nation,” starting at 6:30 p.m.

Catherine Meeks, director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, will present the next keynote — “Without Ladyhood, Whiteness or Maleness to Stand Upon, African-American Women Invent Themselves” — at 6:30 p.m. March 26. Meeks will also host a workshop titled “Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Malissa A. Jackson and Self Invention” at 2 p.m. on March 27.

The final keynote address of the symposium, “The Fire This Times: Racial Justice, COVID-19 and the Future of America,” will be presented by Karsonya "Kaye" Wise Whitehead at 9:30 a.m. March 27. Whitehead is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland and founding director of the Karson Institute for Race, Peace & Social Justice.

Although we’re saddened that we are not meeting in person this year, the Lemon team is glad that this virtual format allows us to host keynotes by three Black women who are leaders in their fields,” Allen noted.

Throughout the week, community members, alongside faculty, staff, and students from William & Mary and other institutions will explore topics ranging from the fight for civil rights to the power of networks in activism.

The symposium will culminate March 27 with “For Colored Girls Who Inspired the World: Performance Honoring the Impact of Black Women.” The event, which begins at 6 p.m., will include dance, song, spoken word and other performances, including a poetry reading by Poet Laureate of Virginia Luisa Igloria. The event is a collaboration between the Lemon Project and W&M’s Asian Centennial, which kicked off this semester.

 “Eleven years ago when the first symposium was held, I had no idea that it would grow into what it is today, a days-long event where we all come together to encourage healing,” Allen said. “I’m excited for the next 10 years.”