Award-winning journalist Sofiya Ballin—who was named 2017 Journalist of the Year by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists—just launched the third installment of her essay project Black History Untold. Featuring vivid photography from Philly lens master Shawn Theodore, the acclaimed series dissects Black history education via poignant texts penned by activists, artists, and more. The new installment includes words from Grammy award-winning singer Estelle and activist Deray McKesson.
It’s an opportunity to not only educate but to highlight the diversity of perspective and background within us.“The Black History Untold project explores the power of our history, a lot of which has been untold, through the stories of Black people,” Ballin tells CASSIUS. “This is important because it’s an opportunity to not only educate but to highlight the diversity of perspective and background within us. It’s also a critique on our education system.”
Following up on previous parts of the identity series—which can be found on the official website—Ballin is highlighting essays on social media throughout February to “bridge the gap between Black past, present, and future.” We caught up with Ballin to learn more about the project and what it means to transport the Black community into the future.
CASSIUS: Tell us a bit about this installment. The project is now independently produced?
Sofiya Ballin: I started the project while working for Philly.com/The Philadelphia Inquirer, so the first two installments I did with the company. After the first year, I knew I wanted to produce this project independently in order to maintain creative control and ownership of the work. I left my job as a reporter last fall and took it with me.
This is the first year the project is Black-owned and it feels incredible. I think that it’s tangible in the project as well. Producing this independently wasn’t easy at all without the same backing of a company. It was funded and run by me. But it has been beyond worth it.
C.: It’s been stated that this project will “transport readers/viewers to the future.” Can you elaborate on this?
S.B.: This year, I asked participants, “What does Blackness look like in the future to you? How did we get there? How does this propel you and your work? What are some historical or present-day figures we should be paying attention to in order to inform that future?”
Each entry will take you to the Black future each participant envisions or hopes for. Some people talk about time travel, the power of fostering not only generational wealth but generational love, or the necessity for revolution and how we manifest it.
C.: What makes this important?
S.B.: [Black History Untold is] asking: Are we really learning about ourselves? And when we do…how does that change how we view ourselves and our community?
Last year, we did that through the lens of Black joy. There’s the saying, “You don’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been.” That is very much the premise of the entire series and in this installment, we answer both. Where we are going and where we’ve been.
For the first two years, we explored where we’ve been and I wanted to find out where folks thought we were going. Afrofuturism was always something I wanted to explore and I found that, initially, I couldn’t get a strong understanding of it until I realized it really is what you make it. It’s subjective. It’s imagining what your Black future looks like to you. There’s power in that.
When I look at the history of Black people in America, a lot of agency over our future was taken from us. In many ways, it still is. I wanted to examine that and give people a chance to imagine that world. A lot of the participants never have. In many ways, the questions reacquainted people with why they do what they do. It made them think of the power their work could have long-term. I want readers to really begin thinking decades and centuries from now. Right now, they’re writing their own history.