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The Black Midwest Initiative (BMI) was created in 2017 by Dr. Terrion Williamson alongside a coalition of Black academics, artists, and community organizers. As a response to the growing conversation around “Middle America," the group brings attention to the nuanced experiences of Black people living in the Midwest. Such perspectives have been overlooked in both past and present public discourse, so the purpose of BMI is to counter this erasure of Black voices through events, resources, and community-building efforts that highlight the work of people and organizations across the region.

The UIC Black Studies Department is heavily involved in the efforts of the Black Midwest Initiative. Dr. Terrion Williamson, Associate Professor in the UIC Departments of Black Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies, is the founder and first director of BMI. In addition, Dr. Freda Fair, UIC Assistant Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies, and Tryce Prince, UIC Ph.D. student in Sociology, serve on the BMI leadership team as council members. Sha' Kurra Evans, UIC Ph.D. student in Sociology and Black Studies, also works with the Black Midwest Initiative as their current Graduate Assistant.

BMI is committed to an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach to social justice that goes beyond academia when finding solutions to the issues that impact people of African descent. At the same time, the initiative dispels the notion that people are defined by oppression through a dedication to Black joy, love, and care.

Visit the BMI Website!

Dr. Terrion Williamson, Director of BMI Heading link

Dr. Terrion Williamson (she/her/hers) has served as director of the Black Midwest Initiative since its formation in 2017. She founded BMI in order to address the lack of consideration given to the diverse Black midwestern experience during the 2016 Presidential Election cycle. She was compelled to create a space for those within the community to come together and address this and many other challenges throughout the region.

Dr. Williamson is a Black feminist scholar with research interests in black cultural studies, feminist theory, media studies, contemporary African American literature, midwestern studies, and racialized gender violence. She is also the editor for the BMI anthology collection titled Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest. At UIC, she is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Black Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. To learn more about Dr. Williamson, visit her faculty profile.

Visit Dr. Williamson's Faculty Profile

BMI Work and Events Heading link

The Black Midwest Initiative offers several events and opportunities to engage with Black midwestern academics, activists, and community members. The vision of their work is to “build an expansive network of similarly aligned people across the region whose individual and collective creative, organizational, and scholarly pursuits on behalf of Black Midwesterners are acknowledged, supported, and developed.” These opportunities center Black voices, justice, support systems, and creativity.

"Black in the Middle" Anthology

Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest is a collection of stories, analyses, artworks, and commentaries on the experience of blackness in midwestern America. The collection combines visual art, poetry, and prose from both rural and metropolitan perspectives to bring focus to the often underacknowledged narratives of this region. Black in the Middle is edited by Dr. Terrion Williamson, UIC Associate Professor and Director of BMI.

David C. Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund

The David C. Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund was created in honor of David Cornelius Smith. David was a 28-year-old Black man from Peoria, Illinois who lived and worked in the Twin Cities, where he was tragically killed during an altercation with two Minneapolis police officers in September 2010. He was a life-long learner that enjoyed the arts and took classes at community colleges in Minneapolis. In respect to his life and memory, the Black Midwest Initiative provides two $500 Smith Scholarships to students that demonstrate a commitment to social justice in their community and who attended community college in the Midwest.

BMI Summer Institute

The Black Midwest Initiative Summer Institute, hosted at UIC, brings together practitioners in the areas of academics, art, and activism for a series of workshops and discussions on practices and organizational work in Black midwestern communities. The institute features 15 individuals and 5 facilitators from across the Midwest each year, and previous participants have included public historians, photographers, teachers, dancers, and many other accomplished practitioners and innovators.

The Black Midwest Symposium

The Black Midwest symposium is a biennial symposium that involves community members across disciplines and professions to discuss Black life in the Midwest. Previous conversations have focused on healing and resistance, protest, the diaspora, Black Studies, and many more crucial topics and issues. The next symposium will take place October 17th-19th, 2024, at the Dayton Metro Library in Dayton, Ohio.

BMI Resources Heading link