AHA Member Spotlight: Derrick Lanois
Derrick Lanois is an assistant professor of history at Norfolk State University. He lives in Norfolk, Virginia, and has been a member since 2015.
Alma mater/s: BA (history), University of Memphis, 2000; MA (liberal studies concentration in African American history and culture), University of Memphis, 2003; MA (journalism), University of Memphis, 2013; Grad Certificate (gender studies), Georgia State University, 2013; PhD (African American history), Georgia State University, 2014; MFA (documentary filmmaking), University of Mississippi, expected December 2022
Fields of interest: African American, media studies, Black masculinities, nonfiction storytelling, southern studies, hip hop studies
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
Curiosity! In undergrad, I became a member of Prince Hall Affiliated Freemasonry (PHA), where they told me about all of the great members and things they had accomplished. I was a history major in undergrad and was taking every course on campus that had African American or Black in the title. None of these classes even mentioned African American fraternalism and made me believe that my organization was being grandiose about its imagined past. I left undergrad with an insatiable curiosity about the connections between African American history and culture. I had grown up in an economically depressed community where I did not learn anything in school about African American history and culture. I began my graduate studies in pursuit of no more than to learn as much as I could about how the history of African Americans impacted their culture and if there was any truth to my organization’s claims. I did my thesis project as a paper on the history of PHA in Tennessee from 1870–1920 and it started to become clear that history was the culprit. It had ignored African American fraternalism for decades and made it into a social organization who dressed up in funny outfits.
I started my PhD program with the goal of uncovering the role PHA had in the South and this is what I did. Funny thing happened on my way to finishing my PhD. I was adjuncting at Spelman College and challenged my students to involve themselves as not only consumers of media but for them to be producers as well. I wanted them, no matter their major, to engage media production using their knowledge of thier major to help the African American community. These savvy students took on the challenge but they in turn challenged me to engage media production. My time in Atlanta helped me to see my degrees were not just for myself but for me to have a praxis of change using them to help the African American community. It was the perfect storm that made me realize that I could not lock myself up in the ivory (ebony) tower and write for other academicians. The students made me think about the old civil rights saying—“if not me then who and if not now then when”—and this launched my pursuit of media production. I wanted to tell African American nonfiction stories in a way that my 90+-year-old great aunt could understand who had not made it out of elementary school to my nonbiological daughter who at the time was in elementary. I first chose journalism to be my conduit for these nonfiction stories, but I wanted more training in audio and filmmaking that was not connected to doing television news. I am finishing my MFA in documentary expressions to be able to tell Black stories that challenge our collective thinking about freedom and the future of Blackness.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
The potential! Norfolk State University is at the heart of that potential in this community. It graduates the current and next set of Black thinkers, leaders, artists, and activists and are shaping their minds of the possibilities of tomorrow.
What projects are you currently working on?
I was recently awarded the Virginia Humanities HBCU Fellowship for the academic year of 2022–23, where I will be working full time on my manuscript about PHA in the South during Jim Crow, podcasting on the Black South, and a documentary on African American fraternal organizations.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
Yes, I have recently picked up Black childhood studies and afrofuturism.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
The role PHA had on the Great Migration.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Foundation on Apple TV.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
It is the only traditional field that has interdisciplinarity baked into it because there is a history to everything humans have ever imagined, including the history of thought.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
The networking and learning with and from other practitioners of the craft.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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