Student Work at Brooklyn’s Flatbush African Burial Grounds
– by Bernice Elizabeth Green
The Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition is a Black-led multiracial coalition of local residents, activists, artists, architects, planners, and educators who have coalesced around protecting the 18th century Negros Burying Ground burial site at 2286 Church Avenue, corner of Bedford Avenue. Last month, Brooklyn College students, toured the 18th-century burial site with CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez (second from left) and Brooklyn College president Michelle J. Anderson. The semester-long paid internship program, in which they are enrolled through a partnership between FABGC and the university, aligns the students’ studies in anthropology and sociology to the present-day struggle for racial justice.
First found on a map dating to 1855, the burial ground is reported to have been in use since at least from the 1700s through to the abolition of slavery in New York in 1827.It dates to the period when Brooklyn held the largest concentration of enslaved people north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Now burying ground sites around the country, as Matos said about the CUNY project, are inspiring “Social change” through these students, in their research and learnings. “The Flatbush African Burial Grounds internship program provides a powerful illustration of CUNY’s multidisciplinary expansion and reconceptualization of Black, race and ethnic studies as a living, breathing academic field that can provide many avenues for students” to work with the community and protect sacred grounds.”
The internship program is among 126 projects that are part of CUNY’s Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative (BRESI), launched March 2022 to create a more inclusive curriculum, increase opportunities for students to engage in BRES-related research and internships and improve communication, and encourage understanding and empathy between diverse groups that make up CUNY’s campus communities. More than 22 CUNY colleges have received awards to fund such projects thanks to a $3 million grant from The Andrew Mellon Foundation.
The student-interns, in photo above, work up to 10 hours a week with FABGC in conjunction with a course taught by anthropology professor Kelly Britt, who is co-project leader on the FABG program alongside Emily Tumpson Molina, associate professor of sociology and director of Brooklyn College’s Center for the Study of Brooklyn (CSB). This program is in its second semester.
“On behalf of the Coalition leadership, one of the objectives of FABGC is to continue to inform and educate the youth within the community about the importance of this sacred site. This site is not only a site of Brooklyn history, but global history,” said FABGC President Samantha Bernardine. “We believe it is imperative that we empower the next generation to be civically engaged and responsible for protecting and preserving the legacy and contributions of Black people to this city and world.”
“The Flatbush African Burial Grounds internship program provides a powerful illustration of CUNY’s multidisciplinary expansion and reconceptualization of Black, race and ethnic studies as a living, breathing academic field that can provide many avenues for students to drive social change in their communities,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “As CUNY students participate in experiential learning opportunities and expand the breadth and depth of their understanding of the evolving significance of race and ethnicity in our society, they can also acquire knowledge and skills that will help them to thrive in their chosen fields of study and careers.”
“We are incredibly proud of the work being done by students and faculty in Brooklyn College’s 17 BRESI projects,” said Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson. “These projects enlighten students about ethnic studies and inspire them to become experts and leaders in these fields.”
Supports Growing Community Interest in Black History
and Progressive CUNY “Black, Race, Ethnic Studies” Courses