On February 4, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS) hosted a lecture as part of a series of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of DAAS’ founding. The lecture, titled “Roots, Routes, and Performative Mobilities: The Next 50 Years of Knowledge Production for African and its Diasporas,” was presented by Dr. Yolanda Covington-Ward, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

It explored the movement of people throughout history, and the impact of movement on African and its diasporas. The presentation focused on Liberia and its relationship with the United States, and how this historical relationship will impact the next 50 years of knowledge production. 

DAAS Chair, Matthew Countryman, introduced the event and spoke briefly about the 50th anniversary and upcoming events. He then introduced DAAS Associate Professor, Omolade Adunbi, who spoke of Dr. Covington-Ward’s achievements and relationship to DAAS. As a DAAS alum, Dr. Covington-Ward made the most of DAAS’ support and mentorship through opportunities like receiving funding for her research to teaching as a Graduate Student Instructor. 

Dr. Covington-Ward’s presentation featured vignettes from her work, particularly told from the perspective of African Americans who left Liberia and returned years later. She spoke of the hardships some African Americans faced in returning to Liberia, and the social divisions that existed between people who stayed in Liberia and Liberians with mobility, who were seen as privileged. 

“Mobility, which was always a part of defining social status during the 19th century has become even more foregrounded post civil War, since more and more Liberians regardless of background were able to migrate the boundary between these two major socially distinct groups,” Dr. Covington-Ward said. “The interaction between returnees and stayees in Liberia, and among returnees themselves are significantly shaped by access to mobility to education and to social ties abroad.”

After the presentation, the event shifted to a Q&A session hosted by Associate Professor Adunbi, inviting questions from viewers. 

The event raised questions about how to bridge social divides in Liberia and in Africa and its diaspora as a whole. While Dr. Covington-Ward provided great insight and perspective on how to approach the issue as a whole, she emphasized the importance of communication and collaboration on both sides of the issue to understand one another and bridge the gap. 

“There was a project to try and redo the emblem (of Liberia) to try and be inclusive for all… I think people are interested and committed to moving things forward,” Dr. Covington-Ward said. 

Dr. Covington-Ward published “Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in Congo” in 2015 and is currently working on her second book “Transformation through Migration: Community, Conflict, and Identity Formation in the LIberian Diaspora” to further explore this issue.