Black Voices

SOLHOT: An Interview with Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown

by Cara Walsh

“Saving Our Lives, Hear Our Truths,” or SOLHOT, is a program dedicated to creating a space for freedom and celebration of Black girlhood. Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown founded this organization at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 2006, after volunteering with the local Boys and Girls Club for over a year. Brown was able to build upon the research she did for her dissertation, on the subject of girl empowerment programming, in which she noticed that programs that reported to support all girls disproportionately punished Black girls for things like demonstrating leadership. 

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According to Brown, "I said, There has to be a space for Black girls where they can just be themselves, and they don't have to endure any obstacles on the way." 

Dr. Brown knew from her research in curriculum and programming that to experience freedom, not everything could be shared publicly. So, for a very long time SOLHOT was intentionally underground and is still very deliberate with the work that they share. 

Although Dr. Brown and her homegirl collaborators set the project in motion, the path for SOLHOT was paved by the girls in the community. Through collective organizing, SOLHOT was developed according to the girls’ own vision. In the nearly sixteen years since its founding, SOLHOT has expanded to several locations across the United States. The branches showcase the truths of Black girlhood through projects such as essays, books, music, performance art, film, and exhibitions. These works include essays and books, as well as an exhibition currently on display at the Krannert Museum in Champaign entitled, “Homemade with Love: More Living Room” curated by Dr. Blair E. Smith and “We Levitate,” a collection of songs available on SoundCloud.

Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown was born and raised in the South suburbs of Chicago after her parents and grandparents moved from Kentucky during the Great Migration in the mid-1930s. Dr. Brown grew up in Park Forest, IL in Chicago Heights and attended Rich East High School.

Brown says of her upbringing, “It was a vibrant community and offered a rich Black social life, and so I certainly grew up understanding the importance of collective organizing, getting together, maintaining, and making community. About community, I know it's something that has to be made, and I watched Black folks do it with so much art, skill, and talent to keep us, to keep the community surviving, to practice this thing called community, and to look out for each other.  These kind of values are so important to me. And it was certainly these values that led me to even think I could do something like a SOLHOT." 

After completing her doctoral studies in Political Science at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Brown moved back to Illinois to raise her daughter near family and began working at the University of Illinois where SOLHOT was eventually founded. She currently works at Michigan State University as a Professor and the Inaugural Chairperson of the Department of African American and African Studies, and she continues to support the girls and mission of SOLHOT. Brown says she still is very connected to the community she grew up with, noting that a career highlight was bringing SOLHOT back to the very middle school she attended in Chicago Heights.

Book Review

Black in the Middle

The Great Migration

By Hayley Hines

The role of African Americans’ influence on the Midwest dates as far back as the early 20th century. Between the end of the First World War and the 1970’s, approximately 6 million African Americans migrated from the southern states to other regions of the U.S., including the Midwest. This movement is now known as the “Great Migration,” which brought a more even distribution of African Americans to other areas of the country. By the 70’s, only 18% of African Americans remained in the rural south. Chicago and Detroit were the centers of major industries, which made them key areas for those who were looking for employment. This movement had a mighty impact on American culture and livelihoods, including religion, music, politics, and the fabric of urban neighborhoods. 

The migration promised escape from the harsh realities and violence that existed for Black Americans in the Jim Crow South. However, African Americans were unable to escape the prejudice so heavily associated with the southern U.S. states. Diplomat and writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “Racial prejudice appears to me stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where slavery still exists, and nowhere is it shown to be as intolerant as in states where slavery has always been unknown.” Midwesterners demonstrated resistance and antagonism towards the new Black migrants. Many states in the region passed laws that placed special taxes and other restrictions on the newcomers. Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa even prohibited Black migrants from coming to their territories. 

 

However, this prejudice would be a catalyst to the world-changing activism of the Civil Rights Movement that worked to bring equality and eliminate injustices against the Black community in America. Some of the movement’s key moments originated in the Midwest, including the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case and the first National Black Political Convention in 1972. Over the course of the twentieth century, Black activism has worked to support labor organization in cities like Detroit and St. Louis and fight against housing inequality in Chicago and Milwaukee. Today, Black Americans in the Midwest are contributing their voices to the Black Lives Matter Movement to confront police brutality.

Isabel Wilkerson, an American journalist and the author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration,” gives intimate details about the Great Migration in this 2018 Ted Talk by giving insight into the various hardships these people had to face by choosing to leave their homes in pursuit of better opportunities.