On Feb. 11, The Museum of American Revolution hosted the showing for the third installment of Sofiya Ballin’s “Black History Untold” (a self described award winning jawn)—an identity series that broadens our education on Black history through personal essays.
Sofiya Ballin is a former writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer and recipient of the National Association of Black Journalist (NABJ) Best Feature: Series Award in 2017. The writer, curator and producer launched the project back in 2016 for Philly.com titled, “Black History: What I Wish I Knew.” She said, “I learned the most about black history in whispered tones while my mother braided my hair‚ after school when my father listened to talk radio‚ as my grandmother grated coconut and at the dinner table set with shades of brown and opinion. In those moments I learned of the rise and destruction of Black Wall Street‚ the inhumanity of the Tuskegee Experiment‚ the tales of Angola’s Queen Nzinga‚ the triumph of Queen Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons and the Haitian revolution.” Ballin writes in her first chapter as part of her story on how she came to know, appreciate and love Black History.
The goal of the project is to educate the broader public on the history of Black folks throughout the diaspora. Through personal narrative, interviewees share a story of a figure — or moment in Black History — that helped define what revolution is for them. In its first year, the series looked at the overarching untold stories of Black History as told by 29 candidates. In its second year, the focus shifted to perseverance of Black Joy, and in its third and most recent installment the theme centers Black Revolution.
Ballin wasn’t the only one to share her story. Her work garnered the attention of many prominent Black voices in the community who share not only her love for a passionate narrative, but for rich and vast history. Past voices included actor/activist Jesse Williams, singer Jazmine Sullivan, Senator Cory Booker and illustrious poet Sonia Sanchez. 2020’s 29 stories are untold by activist Marc Lamont Hill, Jamira Burley, Mike Africa and Baba Zayid Muhammad to name a few.
Each segment, no longer than five minutes, does well covering not only the history of Black people in the US, but all over the world. From the history of the Kru Tribe to Haitian revolutionary mambo Cécile Faitman, these small fragments of our past together make up the makings of a tapestry of Black history, revolution and resilience. Artist and fellow storyteller Doriana Diaz talks about the impact of the most recent installment, “I knew the screening was going to be like nothing I have ever seen before. I have worked with Sofiya in creative spaces more than once, and every single time she takes my breath away.”
While the show has passed, and Black History Month draws to a close, Ballin’s Untold stories remain present for the public to experience whenever on blkhistoryuntold.com. Black History Untold is an absolute necessity in talking about the subject in its entirety. Just listen to the testaments of Cathie Wright-Lewis and her recounts of the busing program of the 60’s for integration, or Fredrick Bates (Freddie Folay), who shares his appreciation for the authentic Philly sound in his search for Black history. Throwing out the mandated history textbook — Ballin ventures past the surface of what’s known and finds comfort in sharing these untold stories with family, friends and those in need of some untold Black history.
Kiersten Adams is a fourth-year English major with minors in African & African American literature and media & culture. KA875655@wcupa.edu