The Art and Design of Black and Indigenous Creative Public Pedagogies

In this project, members of Black and Indigenous creative collectives:


Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths

Fire in Little Africa / The Space Program

were invited by Drs. Emery Petchauer and Ruth Nicole Brown to assemble together to think through and reflect on how they enact radical forms of togetherness through speculative, ancestral, and embodied practice.

Due to COVID and the need to shelter in place, for the first year of this project we met regularly via Zoom to exchange skills, strategies, and solidarities — exploring together, as a matter of principle and practice, how collectives reseed themselves over time. The restrictions of COVID offered a willingness to devote to deep reflection, dialogue, and listening, which was a gift we may not have taken up so readily outside of a pandemic.

In the midst of the pandemic, each collective was already reflecting on what movement is for them now and contemplating regeneration and sustainability in private and internal conversations. The opportunity to process and share relevant questions with each other, held by care and familiarity already present among each person, made space to appreciate difference, listen intently, and express yearnings to come together, visit with each other, dream, and maybe create something all together. 

A result of Emery’s insightful will and invitation, the People’s Sound Studio in New York City was our opportunity to create together, practicing in public how we move, sound, organize, and collectivize in the now as the pandemic receded. New York was a neutral playground for us, as each collective names some place else as most meaningful to their work.

Taken as an ensemble — these exchanges, these visitations, these minor experiments in Black Study — we offer this website as an apparatus of movements suspended in time by digital space. It is sound, ritual script, image, beadwork, and practices we created over the two years of the project. Through cooperative and collaborative design, the desire to create, make, and share our artistry was the earliest and sincerest question asked of us and also the earliest and sincerest answer to our initial questions. Through a complex, intuitive, and iterative process of thinking-feeling-creating, we opened the enclosures and specificity of each collective to show you how we mean everything. Theory, praxis, production, analysis, testifying, strategizing, organizing, making, sounding, healing, and meeting became knowledge we mobilized into a collective of collectives that we believe is super dope.

Want to know more? 
Contact Drs. Emery Petchauer and Ruth Nicole Brown


is a collective in southwest Detroit that uses guidance from ancestral Indigenous-based knowledge systems for cultural production and storytelling experiences through traditional, contemporary, and experimental media, music, film, and design. “The Aadizookaan” means “the sacred spirit of the story” in the language of the Anishinabe, the original caretakers of the Waawiyatanong/Detroit lands.

Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths

is a Black girlhood visionary and performative space that has evolved through analogue, physical, and digital modes since 2006. This evolution has taken the form of Black Girl Genius Week; The Institute for Whole Persons, Communities, & Creativity; and place-based SOLHOT sessions.

Fire in Little Africa

is a collaborative hip-hop album and documentary commemorating Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK, 100 years after its bombing. Fire in Little Africa evolved out of The Space Program, an award-winning Black participatory research project and hip-hop album.

Credit / Gratitude

Gratitude grows us all. To the Spencer Foundation, thank you for entrusting us to answer the call, share knowledge, and practice stewardship as a recipient of the Racial Equity Special Research Grant program.

We extend loving-kindness and much gratitude to our research assistant and project participant, Esmé R. Bailey, and the collectives and individuals who carried out this project together: The Space Program/Fire in Little Africa, Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths, The AADIZOOKAAN; Am’re Ford,  Mark C. Francis II., Sandy Gatan, Stevie “Dr. View” Johnson, Sacramento Knoxx, Jessica Robinson, Jacobi Ryan, and Blair Ebony Smith.

Our respective departments at Michigan State University; African American and African Studies, English, and Teacher Education, and the College of Arts & Letters deserve a shout out for providing administrative support and institutional recognition of this work. Particularly, Associate Dean Bill Hart-Davidson, Barbara Miller, Marianne Triponi, Joy Franks, Lillien Waller, Kimberly Popiolek, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Divya Victor. We appreciate you!

Thank you Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz and Bettina Love for the invitation to share our work in progress with Teachers College, Columbia University, and to Jared D. Milburn for the creative support.  

Sean Deyoe, thank you for your artistry and design skills. We are especially heartened by the process of its creation and your willingness to get free with us through conversation and desecration.  

Ruth Nicole: This project would not be possible without the humanity of Emery Petchauer. Emery’s brilliance, commitment to collectivity, Virgo tendencies and assurances, impeccable generosity, and friendship consistently inspired the tempo and texture of this work. Because you did not let up, the possibilities end coded into the process and impact of all we have done will surely come to mean much more for us all in the years to come than we now know. The awe, creativity, and joy of togetherness we experienced doing FoF during a global pandemic is testament to the beauty and power of your lifeforce. There is so much more to say about the necessity and sufficientness of your craft and …and I will…but for now, I thank you for meeting me in soulfulness, growing pains, and the Black funktastic futures of my heart’s desires to motivate our best. 

Emery: Ruth Nicole Brown brought a certain poise to this project that is from the not-yet: a projection of futurity into the now, seeing into the dimensions of how things might be if we push into the hurt-joy-funk of it all. This seeing is why, I think, the Homegirls call you visionary. Your life’s work that is SOLHOT was the creative potential that made the radical movement of this project possible. Your wisdom to ask the question rather than give the answer you already saw that other people couldn’t — let us squeeze between pain and possibility during the most intense moments. And your presence, as The Candle in the Spotlight Era, lit up a way of being together that is wholly more than we could have come to know or remember without you.