'Blueprint Roundtable' to discuss complexities of being black and male in U.S.

UCSC event featuring students, faculty and community leaders to be held April 3 at Oakes College in conjunction with Sesnon Gallery 'Question Bridge: Black Males' exhibition

UC Santa Cruz undergraduate student Jason Harper, listening to artist Chris Johnson speak
UC Santa Cruz undergraduate student Jason Harper will be one of the participants in the multigenerational roundtable discussion along with faculty and community leaders on April 3 at Oakes College.
Artist Chris Johnson, shown in the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery
Artist Chris Johnson, shown at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, will moderate the Blueprint Roundtable.

Students, faculty, and community leaders will respond to questions and issues raised by Question Bridge: Black Males—an exhibition currently on display at the Sesnon Gallery—at a “Blueprint Roundtable” on April 3 at Oakes College.

The participants will include Santa Cruz city councilmember Drew Glover, UCSC professor of history David Anthony, academic counselor Abiel Russom, retired Watsonville teacher JJ Porter, and UCSC undergraduate student Jason Harper, who will discuss the complexities of being black and male in the U.S.

Designed to foster dialogue between black men across generations, the roundtable provides an opportunity for young black students to pose questions to black men of older generations.

The discussion will be moderated by artist Chris Johnson, who originated the Question Bridge concept with a 1996 video installation he created for the Museum of Photographic Arts and the Malcolm X library in San Diego, California.

“I created the Question Bridge Blueprint Roundtable format of community engagement in response to one poignant question that came directly from the QB project,” said Johnson. “The question was from a hip hop generation man who, speaking to members of the Civil Rights generation asked: ‘I know that you look down on us for the way we behave, and yes, we’ve made many mistakes. But, why didn’t you leave us a blueprint?’”

“Knowing that this is a prevalent question among young and elder Black males everywhere, I thought it would be important for members of various communities to have a tangible way to speak back to the Question Bridge installation projects by addressing questions that exist between generations of Black males everywhere,” said Johnson. 

That question became the catalyst for multigenerational discussions across the country about local barriers to communication between Black males; values, and strategies for overcoming social issues that have emerged in local communities over the past four decades.

These roundtables have taken place in venues ranging from the Oakland Museum to the Brooklyn Museum to the Atlanta Civic Center.

“The questions range from ‘heavy issues’ like the blame that both elders and youths feel that the other is projecting at them due to the breakdown of marginalized Black families and youth violence in Black communities everywhere, to ‘lighter’ issues like: ‘How can I learn to tie a tie if I don’t have a father or grandfather in my home?’ said Johnson.

“I would say that the questions are both universal, like the ones about Black on Black violence, and local, like when a Black man on the Wesleyan Campus commented on how he was welcomed on campus as a student but ostracized as a non-student,” he added.

Both the roundtable event and the Question Bridge multimedia exhibition are presented by the campus’s Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery in partnership with the Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS) at UC Santa Cruz.

"I'm delighted that the Question Bridge: Black Males exhibition at the Sesnon Gallery has generated so much interest among students, faculty and community members,” noted Sesnon director Shelby Graham. “With the collaboration of IAS, we've served over 500 students from UC Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College, Watsonville High and surrounding schools, with group and individual tours.”

“We are hoping the live format of the Blueprint Roundtable at Oakes College will generate local and interactive forms of participation in the project using the same engaging intergenerational questioning format as the video installation,” she said. “This is an exciting way to start the spring quarter with safe and critical discussions on race, humanity, and American Identity." 

The gallery exhibition, which opened at the beginning of February, will run until April 6. 

“Having Question Bridge here on campus is an amazing teaching opportunity,” added John Weber, director of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

“The Blueprint Roundtable event we are planning here will allow for wide-ranging questions and dialogue. Chris Johnson has done programs like this at a number of the many showings the piece has had nationally, and they have been deeply meaningful, integral aspects of the exhibitions,” said Weber.

The April 3 Blueprint Roundtable begins at 6:30 p.m. with a reception and screening at Oakes Learning Center, located on campus at Oakes College. The discussion starts at 7 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.