For Brittany Levingston F’21, researching the work of playwright August Wilson has reminded her of the importance of sharing Black stories beyond historical figures, legislation, and dates.

“My favorite revelation from Wilson’s work is that the lived experiences of every day Black people like myself are the ones that matter,” she explained. “Wilson wanted us to realize that. Black people, despite having suffered under slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination, have full and complex lives outside of trauma, which unfortunately still feels like just as much of a revolutionary concept as it did when Wilson was writing.”

Levingston is an ACLS Leading Edge Fellow with PA Humanities, working on the project “August Wilson’s Century Cycle and the African American Experience in Pennsylvania.” The ACLS Leading Edge Fellowship program pairs recent PhDs in the humanities and interpretive social sciences with social justice organizations. These year-long collaborations are designed to demonstrate the potential of humanistic knowledge and methods in addressing challenges, building capacity, and advancing social justice and equity efforts in communities across the United States.

A primary goal of Levingston’s work with PA Humanities is to program events staging scenes from Wilson’s Century Cycle, which chronicles the ordinary lives of Black people across the 20th Century, in Black communities across Pennsylvania in fall 2022. Following the readings, participants will be invited share their own stories centered around three themes from Wilson’s work: the dynamics of the Black family, the migration of Southern Black people to Pennsylvania, and the struggle for Black Pennsylvanians to realize full citizenship.

“Our goal is to collect and share the stories of Black people in a way that acknowledges their contributions to the history of the state and the country while amplifying their individual voices and those of their communities,” Levingston said.

In Dallas, Texas, Stacie McCormick F’21 is also creating new and innovative spaces to tell Black stories and work with communities on ways to build a brighter future.

McCormick, an associate professor of English and co-director of African American and Africana Studies at Texas Christian University, is partnering with The Afiya Center through a Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship on “The Livable Black Futures Project,” which aims to gather stories of Black experiences with gynecological medicine.

“‘The Livable Black Futures Storytelling Project’ has been and continues to be a transformative, expressive space for community building, healing, and a space to envision livable Black futures: ones that prioritize Black dignity, Black safety, Black community, and Black freedom,” McCormick said.

The Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship program is an experimental initiative that selected nearly 40 faculty from PhD-granting institutions and provided them with opportunities to pursue year-long, publicly engaged scholarship through partnerships with nonprofit, community-centered organizations. The fellowship is designed to enrich faculty scholarship, teaching, and mentoring of graduate students in their schools.

‘The Livable Black Futures Storytelling Project’ has been and continues to be a transformative, expressive space for community building, healing, and a space to envision livable Black futures: ones that prioritize Black dignity, Black safety, Black community, and Black freedom.

Stacie McCormick
2021 Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellow

Photo: The Afiya Center’s Birth Justice Team (Left to right: Qiana Arnold, Stacie McCormick, Helen Zimba, D’Andra Willis)

McCormick’s storytelling research initiative aims to bring as many voices into the conversation as possible, particularly those who are not often considered. The project is inclusive of those who identify as Black women, as well as transgender and non-binary individuals in North Texas. The next phase of the project will focus on working with those who have experienced gynecological medicine while incarcerated.

LC Johnson is Founder and CEO of Zora’s House, a co-working and community space for women of color in Columbus, Ohio, which has partnered with ACLS on both the Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society and Leading Edge Fellowship programs.

“It’s really important for me as a Black woman to make sure that spaces exist in my community that are dedicated to catalyzing the leadership, creativity, scholarship, activism, and dreams of Black women and other women of color,” Johnson explained.

Zora’s House first partnered with ACLS through Scholars and Society Fellow Treva B. Lindsey F’20. Through the fellowship Lindsey worked with the organization to develop the Black Feminist Night School, a series of evening workshops examining contemporary issues from a Black feminist lens. More than 1,000 women and gender expansive individuals participated in the events over the course of a year.

LC Johnson at Zora’s House

In 2024 Zora’s House is serving as a host organization for the Leading Edge Fellowship Program. As the organization works to expand programming, raise capital, and increase their footprint, they will host a Leading Edge Fellow in the role of Metrics and Impact Manager, helping codify and communicate the impact of Zora’s House.

“Not only will the work of our Fellow be integral to the organization’s growth in the coming years, but the Fellow will have the opportunity to be part of one of the most exciting times in the organization’s history,” Johnson explained. “They will get hands on experience helping to develop a theory of change, while watching the work happen – seeing the connection between their work and real-life community change.”

For McCormick, this process of bringing theory and scholarship into practice has shown her that social transformation requires public engagement and creative knowledge-making beyond the academy. It also has equipped her to support her doctoral students exploring career options outside the professorate.

“This fellowship supported me in collaborating with my community partner and has given me the opportunity to see possibilities for academic training and work beyond the academy in more tangible ways,” McCormick said.

The opportunity to develop professional skills in areas outside of academia was also one of the aspects that drew Levingston to the Leading Edge Fellowship.

“I knew I was ready to leave the traditional path,” she said. “This fellowship is allowing me to explore my options while developing valuable skills and connections along the way.”

Learn More

Leading Edge Fellowships

In 2024, the Leading Edge Fellowship Program supported by the Mellon Foundation will offer 21 two-year fellowships partnering recent humanities and interpretive social sciences PhDs with organizations advancing social justice and equity in communities across the US. Applications are open until March 13, 2024, 9:00 PM EDT.

Apply Now

Read more about our fellows and partners

  • Stay in touch with Zora’s House and learn more about their upcoming events.
  • Watch a recent livestream from The Afiya Center featuring Stacie McCormick in a discussion marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and its impact on Black women.
  • Be on the lookout for the launch of Brittany Levingston and PA Humanities’ programming on August Wilson in fall 2022.