BGHRA North America: Black German Studies in the United States and Canada

Blog
May 17, 2022
Author(s):
Lisa Semchuk, Acting Policy Lead, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Hosted by German Studies Canada (GSC) at Congress 2022, Dr. Rosemarie Peña, founder and president of the Black German Heritage and Research Association, gave an overview of the organization’s history, vision, and mission.

About the BGHRA

The BGHRA documents and supports the activities of Black Germans internationally and promotes scholarship relating to the historic and contemporary presence of Black people in Germany, Black Germans in the United States, and beyond. In partnership with interested scholars, institutions, and organizations, BGHRA advocates for the interdisciplinary inclusion of Black German history, life experience, and contemporary culture in education, and encourages bilateral exchange opportunities.

Why this work matters

Dr. Peña’s research explores displaced childhoods and the historical and contemporary intersections of adoption and child migration. Her personal journey as a member of the postwar cohort of dual heritage Black transnational adoptees from Germany to the US is reflected in her research. Many speakers featured in the BGHRA’s activities or interviewees in Dr. Peña’s research share similarities in their experiences as Black adoptees.

The work of Dr. Peña is a way to write people back into history who have traditionally been excluded. For Dr. Peña, it is critical that the stories of Black Germans are told by Black Germans. There is a need for this scholarship, and for this work to be conducted empathetically and ethically. 

But Dr. Peña stated she can’t be the only voice speaking on these issues. It is a distinct and uniquely North American privilege to get a PhD in Black German Studies. Through the work of the BGHRA, Dr. Peña carefully considers what voices to elevate and how, with the hopes that this will change. At the moment, this means circumventing the lack of available Black German scholars, and providing events, materials, or resources to inspire others in Germany or throughout the world. 

Recent accomplishments of the BGHRA

The BGHRA recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and fifth international conference, All Black Lives Matter: Black Germany & Beyond. The conference featured a lineup of nine speakers and screenings of Ivie wie Ivie (Precious Ivie) and the film library of Branwen Okpako. An online world and virtual conferences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have led to exciting opportunities, inspiring international collaboration and dialogues across borders. 

Since its inception, the BGHRA has been building its presence on social media, which Dr. Peña called her “unconventional classroom.” The BGHRA also hosts an expanding media library and online course materials on its website; these resources are collected to support and encourage fellow scholars of Black German studies. 
Aspirations for the future of the BGHRA include developing a BGHRA scholars program and a Black & Abroad program, as well as continuing to build this safe space to celebrate Black German culture. 

Getting involved

Undergraduate or graduate students interested in Black German studies are encouraged to reach out and inquire about the BGHRA scholars program. There are many opportunities for scholars and universities to support the BGHRA’s work hosting events, conferences, and speakers in the future. You can learn more at on the BGHRA website

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