Roundtable: Diversity vs. Merit: A Response to the DS Controversy

African American Public Address Pre-Conference 
at the 
National Communication Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland

Day: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Place: Baltimore Convention Center
Room: 344 (300 Level)

**The conference is free, but you must register. If you are interested in attending the conference, when you register for NCA, please sign up for the conference as well. If you are not attending NCA but would like to attend the pre-conference, sign up here.

***To see the other panels, click here

Official Social Media Hashtags:

Roundtable: 11:30am-12:45pm

Diversity vs. Merit: A Response to the DS Controversy

“As important as the Distinguished Scholar issue is, the far more important issue is what sort of organization the NCA will be. One where selections are made on intellectual merit or one where identity is prioritized over intellectual and scholarly merit? One where new journal editors are chosen on their background, publication record, vision, and experience, or one where the color of one’s skin or one’s gender trumps everything else? Will we be a field in which journal submissions are judged by competent reviewers who are blind to the identity of the author, or a field where editorial boards are filled with the “right” number of people from the “right” categories...Let me be clear: I strongly support diversity and recognize that social, cultural and racial perspectives make a difference in what is studied and how it is studied. The work of the field has been enriched as it has become more diverse. That is a belief, I am sure, shared by the distinguished scholars as a group. We support diversity, but not at the price of displacing scholarly merit as the chief criterion for selecting distinguished scholars, choosing journal editors and evaluating research.”-Martin Medhurst, June 10, 2019 

"The fact that structural changes within NCA are difficult to make speaks to the deep-seated racism that the association itself was founded upon. While we recognize that this moment is unlike other moments in the association’s history, moments make movements. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge, listen to, and work alongside groups like the AACCD/BC who have been committed to building a better and structurally more inclusive NCA since our inception...Sadly, the same concerns of exclusion that led to the creation of the Black Caucus in 1968 and the African American Communication and Culture Division in 1996 still exist. As we continue to stand in solidarity and work tirelessly through our scholarly contributions and service to NCA, what we hope to see most is how our allies will use this timely movement to do more. We look forward to seeing how the association will reposition itself to reflect one that is truly diverse, inclusive, and socially just; one that practices and honors the mission it preaches."-Statement from the Executive Officers of the African American Communication and Culture Division and Black Caucus; June 25, 2019

Roundtable Participants (Confirmed):

Jack Daniel, Co-founder of the Black Caucus of the National Communication Association


Dr. Daniel is a retired Vice Provost and Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. His 2019 book is entitled Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
Dorthy Pennington, University of Kansas

Dorthy Pennington’s teaching and research areas are intercultural and interracial communication/critical race theory, cultural rhetorics, African American communication and culture, the discourse of terror and trauma, and African American regional church history.
Richard Besel, Grand Valley State University

Dr. Besel is a new addition to the Grand Valley State University's School of Communications (SoC), joining the unit in 2019. His areas of expertise include rhetorical theory, history, and criticism; environmental communication; science communication; media studies; and political communication. Before serving in his role as SoC Director, he chaired the Communication Studies Department at California Polytechnic State University. He is co-editor, with Dr. Jnan Blau, of Performance on Behalf of the Environment, published in 2014 by Lexington Books. A second book, co-edited with Dr. Bernard K. Duffy, titled Green Voices: Defending Nature and the Environment in American Civic Discourse, was published in 2016 by SUNY Press. His work also appears in a variety of books and journals, including Applied Environmental Education and Communication; Communication Theory; Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture; Journal of Risk Research; Making Connections: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cultural Diversity; Science in Context; and the Southern Communication Journal. He is a past president of the National Communication Association’s Environmental Communication Division and a past chair of the Western States Communication Association’s Environmental Communication interest group.

Kimberly Moffitt, University of Maryland Baltimore County


Dr. Kimberly R. Moffitt is an associate professor and director of the LLC Doctoral Program and an affiliate associate professor of Africana Studies. Her teaching interests include culture, media studies/criticism, Black hair and body politics, sports and media, and popular culture.

Dr. Moffitt’s research focuses on mediated representations of marginalized groups as well as the politicized nature of Black hair and the body. She has published four co-edited volumes, including Gladiators in Suits: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Representation in Scandal (Syracuse University Press, 2019), Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair and Body Politics in Africana Communities (Hampton Press, 2010), The Obama Effect: Multidisciplinary Renderings of the 2008 Campaign (SUNY Press, 2010) and The 1980s: A Transitional Decade? (Lexington Books, 2011). She has a forthcoming volume exploring the legacy of former First Lady Michelle Obama. Additionally, Moffitt has also published her work in academic journals and several edited volumes. Her current research projects continue to explore the black body such as her work exploring white femininity in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and the representations of Black males on Disney television programming. She extends her research interests into the community by offering workshops on Black hair and body politics as it relates to bullying among middle school girls.

Carlos Morrison, Alabama State University


Dr. Carlos Morrison is Professor of Communication in the Department of Communication at Alabama State University. He received his BA in both Mass Communication (emphasis on Broadcasting) and Human Communication from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, his MA in Communication Theory and Rhetoric from the University of Alabama and his PhD in Intercultural Communication and African American Communication from the Kathy Hughes’ School of Communication at Howard University in Washington, DC. Dr. Morrison teaches courses in both Communication Studies and Mass Communications.

Dr. Morrison is the author of "Still work to be done: The Million Man March and the 50th Anniversary Commemoration Selma to Montgomery March as Mythoform and Visual Rhetoric" (with Jacqueline Allen Trimble), "The Evolution of an Identity: GI Joe and Black Masculinity," and "The Power of Performance: Tyler Perry’s Madea as Village Sage and Super-Woman" (with Jacqueline Allen Trimble and Ayoleke D. Okeowo).

Elizabeth F. Desnoyers-Colas, Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus


Twitter: @MOVEprofPHD

Dr. Elizabeth F. Desnoyers-Colas is an Associate Professor of Communication and Africana Studies at Georgia Southern University (GSU) Armstrong Campus, Savannah Georgia and serves as the Armstrong campus coordinator for the Communication Studies program. Dr. Desnoyers-Colas authored two books that feature her academic interest and study of the importance of raising one’s voice, communicating and celebrating one’s existence. Her first book Sistah MC Droppin’ Rhymes with a Beat: Rap, Rhetoric, and Resistance outline how African American women use the hip hop lifestyle and rap music to lyrically establish and sustain their own rhetorical voice. 

She also wrote Marching as to War: Personal Narratives of African American Women’s Gulf War Experiences, an oral history gathering work that highlights the lives of a conglomerate of African American servicewomen who represent all facets of professional, sociological, and interpersonal experiences black women typified through their Gulf Wars service.

Academe is Elizabeth Desnoyers-Colas’ second career. She spent 15 years in military service as an Air Force Public Affairs Officer (PAO) and was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal upon her retirement from active duty. Her military duties time included serving as a speechwriter for senior DOD military and civilian officials on EO/EEO related issues, operating as the Director of the Joint Task Force Information Bureau, Haitian Refugee Humanitarian Rescue Effort at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She also served in Operation Desert Storm and was deployed to Central Air Forces, Forward, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, as the Director of Public Affairs/Protocol, Operation Desert Storm.

Aside from her academic work, she is a professional voice over artist who does narrative performance work for audiobooks, documentaries, and podcasts. She is a Strategic Communication consultant with a special business focus on Crisis Communication Management for corporations. 

Roslyn Satchel, Pepperdine University


Twitter: @rsatchel

Instagram: docrazzledazzle

Dr. Roslyn Satchel is an activist-scholar who studies and teaches about media and cultural competence. She serves as a Professor of Communication at Pepperdine University. In Dr. Satchel’s book, What Movies Teach about Race: Exceptionalism, Erasure and Entitlement, she brings her media, legal, and religious background together to examine cultural representations in the most influential films of all time.

Prior to entering academia, Dr. Satchel was a successful community organizer, policy advocate, pastor, and non-profit executive. A pioneer in using citizen journalism and social media for community organizing, her work influenced several state, national, and international policy changes and grassroots initiatives—for which she received several awards and significant national media coverage.

Dr. Satchel worked in interfaith coalition building, human rights, child advocacy, and indigent defense. She also trained clergy and lay leaders on complying with ethical standards, policies, and state/federal law pertaining to sexual misconduct and abuse of power.

Currently, as a member of Black Lives Matter - L.A., she commits daily to social justice in practice and scholarship.

From “Film’s Political Economy and Django Unchained” to “Religion, Race, & the Fourth Estate: Xenophobia in the Media Ten Years After 9/11” (with Jonathan C. Augustine), Dr. Satchel’s publications and presentations stimulate debate and a boundless research agenda. Her newest project addresses best practices in church responses to domestic violence.

Dr. Satchel earned a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Media & Public Affairs at Louisiana State University, Juris Doctor and Master of Divinity (JD/MDiv) degrees at Emory University, and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Communication at Howard University.

She is an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church with 20 years in ministry. Her son, parents, and canine kids keep her inspired in a multigenerational village of love and caregiving.

Moderator: Andre E. Johnson, University of Memphis


Twitter: @aejohnsonphd

Instagram: aejohnsonphd

Andre E. Johnson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies in the Department of Communication and Film at the University of Memphis. He teaches classes in African American Public Address, Rhetoric Race and Religion, Media Studies, Interracial Communication, Rhetoric, and Popular Culture, and Hip Hop Studies. Additionally, along with his academic titles, he currently serves as Senior Pastor of Gifts of Life Ministries an inner-city church built upon the servant leadership philosophy in Memphis, Tennessee.

In addition to collecting the writings of Bishop Turner, Dr. Johnson is the co-author (with Amanda Nell Edgar) of The Struggle Over Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. He is also the author of The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition (2012) that won the National Communication Association (NCA) 2013 African American Communication and Culture Division Outstanding Book Award. He is the editor of Urban God Talk: Constructing a Hip Hop Spirituality (2013) and he is also finishing No Future in this Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner which the University Press of Mississippi plans to release in 2020. He is also the curator and director of the Henry McNeal Turner Project (#HMTProject); a digital archive dedicated to the writings and study of Bishop Turner.

Panel Four: Future Directions

African American Public Address Pre-Conference 
at the 
National Communication Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland

Day: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Place: Baltimore Convention Center
Room: 344 (300 Level)

**The conference is free, but you must register. If you are interested in attending the conference, when you register for NCA, please sign up for the conference as well. If you are not attending NCA but would like to attend the pre-conference, sign up here.

***To see the other panels, click here

Official Social Media Hashtag: 

Panel Four: 2:30pm-3:45pm

Title: Future Directions

Chair: Lionnell "Badu" Smith, University of Memphis

Lionnell Smith, affectionately known as Badu, is a 2018 Fulbright-Hays Fellows, recipient of the 2018 Monica Pombo Early Career Teaching Award, and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Memphis. His research centers on critical intercultural communication studies with particular emphasis on language and identity and critical communication pedagogy. He is a member of the Carolinas Communication Association, the Southern States Communication Association, and the National Communication Association.

Kelly Jakes, College of Charleston 


Dr. Jakes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the College of Charleston. Her research program focuses broadly on issues pertaining to rhetoric and culture, with special attention to social movements, resistance, and music. She examines how marginalized or dissident citizens use verbal and nonverbal discourse to build solidarity, reassign political authority, and contest norms of national identity, gender, race, and class. Overall, her work combines concepts of subjectivity and performance with the deeply contextualized study of oral communication. This approach is best exemplified in her recent book, Strains of Dissent: Popular Music and Everyday Resistance in Occupied France, 1940-1945. There, she argues that popular music served as rhetorical material for dissent and resistance in German-occupied France between 1940 and 1945. Currently, she is working on a new book manuscript on the subject of black music and American citizenship.

Paper Title: “Natural Virtuosos: The Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Quest for African American Citizenship”

While the oratory canonized in Foner and Branham’s anthology represents a key mode of African American public address, this rhetorical tradition does not include the musical performances through which black Americans have also worked to constitute community, argue for freedom, and lay claim to the nation. This paper helps to restore this musical rhetorical tradition to the scope of African American public address through the examination of the case of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Formed in 1871 to raise funds for then-fledgling Fisk University, the Jubilee Singers toured internationally and domestically in the Post-Reconstruction Era, popularizing African American spirituals among a worldwide audience in the midst of the domestic debate over freedpeople’s political future. Known for their perfect intonation and skillful pianissimo, the Singers demonstrated African Americans’ capacity for self-control and, by extension, self-government. By positioning this musical skill as uniquely innate to the black body, the Singers laid the argumentative groundwork by which even uneducated African Americans could claim citizenship. Fine singing was proof, in other words, that the black body already possessed the qualities of restraint and discipline needed for American citizenship. Through the analysis of the choir’s programs, the diaries of individual singers, and press reviews of their performances, I hope to draw scholars’ attention to the ways that musical performance and its representation has been crucial to the rhetorical process of making the black body American.

Carolin Aronis, University of Colorado Boulder


Dr. Carolin Aronis is a Postdoctoral Scholar and a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado Boulder, and an Affiliated Faculty member of Communication at Colorado State University. Her research is placed at the intersection of critical media studies, media ecology, gender studies, architecture, and rhetoric of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism. Much of her work relates to innovative communicative perspectives on media, intimacy, urban life, motherhood, activism, and death. She holds a Ph.D. in Media and Communication Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2015) and has published her work in the Journal of Communication, Explorations in Media Ecology, and Discourse & Communication, among others. Her paper: "Communication as Travel: The Genre of Letters to the Dead in Public Media" will receive a Top Paper Award in Philosophy and Communication at the 2019 NCA Annual Convention. Currently, Dr. Aronis is working on several publications: a monograph on liminal architecture and social media, the performance of Sojourner Truth’s speech in textbooks and YouTube (with Dr. Natasha Shrikant), and the practice, rhetoric, and impact of swastikas and nooses in the built environment of U.S. campuses (with Dr. Eric Aoki).

Natasha Shrikant, University of Colorado Boulder

Natasha Shrikant uses ethnographic and discourse analytic approaches to studying the relationship between communication, culture, and identity. She has several publications examining the discursive construction of racial, ethnic, gender and sexuality identities. Her most recent project examines how organizational members construct racial and ethnic categories as professional identity categories and invoke these identities in interaction to accomplish organizational goals

Paper Title: The (ideological) journey of Sojourner Truth’s well-known speech: From oral to written and back

Sojourner Truth’s well-known speech commonly titled “Ain’t I a Woman?” has become a symbol of an African American oratory performance. First delivered at a Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 in Akron, Ohio, this speech has been used for more than a century and a half in historical books, academic textbooks, theater, and the free web to reflect and encourage African Americans’ empowerment, American (and international) women’s rights movements, and messages of intersectionality. However, this speech was not based on a previously written text. Rather, it was given both from and by heart to a mostly White audience and was transcribed by two White individuals who were present at the convention, recording the powerful words, and publishing it later for the world to read (in a newspaper and anthology). The speech appears in many versions that vary in representations of words choice, dialects, and rhetorical practices. Authors of each version, taking into consideration different audiences, have altered Truth’s identity, her message, the genre of the speech, and other related aspects.

This paper explores the changes of the written speech through time and within different contexts and venues of publications and performances. Using approaches from media studies, multimodality, and Critical Discourse Analysis, we reveal practices of reconstructing ideology, exclusion, and racism that usually hide within translations of oral words into written ones and vice-versa. Our analysis starts with the originally written publications of the speech and traces its changes throughout books up to more recent performances on YouTube by African American women activists. This case provides insights into the fascinating relationships between oral and written words, between Black and White voices and it uncovers the power of the African American oratory tradition across racial, gender, and national boundaries.

Kristine Warrenburg Rome, Flagler College

Kristine Warrenburg Rome, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Communication who joined the Flagler College community in 2009-2010. Her research is driven by the problems concerning the politics of difference. Such politics – of race, class, and/or gender – resonate in the situational context of communication interaction and create opportunities to re-produce hierarchy and/or transformation. Her research has appeared in Contemporary Argumentation & Debate, as well as in multiple international argumentation conference proceedings and more recently as book chapters concerned with critical cultural ethical communication. Her work on Robert F. Kennedy’s April 4, 1968 announcement of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, which has been presented at over a dozen national and international scholarly conferences, is still ongoing.

Paper Title: Time, Tone, and the Trace of Ethics: Commemorating Injustice & Calling for Peace 50 Years Later

On April 4, 2018, Congressman John Lewis returned to 17th & Broadway, the Indianapolis location where he stood 50 years prior to witness Robert F. Kennedy announced the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to community members, gathered at King Park. Despite the eruption of violence in the wake of King’s death, the Hoosier community remained peaceful and as such Indianapolis has “…a story to tell…to spread around our nation and around the world,” bellowed the 1968 audience member turned lifetime civil rights activist and civic leader. Lewis was one public speaker in a day filled with commemorative performances. Tony Sytxx, an Indianapolis native, teacher, and spoken word artist was another. Sytxx reminded 2018 audience members of the lingering choice individuals have when hearing the call of the RFKMLK legacy.  One can either “…watch the world burn” or “Bring the Water In.,” which is also the title of his spoken-word piece performed near the close of the 50th commemoration celebration. 

This essay, along with celebrating the African American rhetorical tradition is concerned with the trace of ethics, as reverberations that reminds one of resounding individual responsibility and obligation to the Other in and through timeless gesture (Levinas, Arnett, Hyde). More specifically, Lewis and Styxx both forward an ethical eloquence that demands response by way of heightened affectivity found in tone, rhythm, inflection, voice, and more, which foregrounds visceral sound as a key condition for uncovering the trace of ethics by “listening otherwise” (Lipari, 2009 & 2012).

Nicholas Prephan, Wayne State University

Instagram: lifeof314

Nicholas Prephan’s research focuses on the role of memorialization of tragedy in group identity construction. By utilizing a narrative framework, he draws attention to the ability of re-told stories of the past to impact the politics of today. Nick also served as a communication consultant for Ingrid LaFleur’s Afrofuturist mayoral run in Detroit. He is currently an instructor at Adrian College.

Arthi Chandrasekaran, Wayne State University


Twitter: @ArthiSChandra

Instagram: lifeof314

Arthi Chandrasekaran is a Detroit-Futurist, storyteller, and communications consultant. She was one of Ingrid Lafleur’s speechwriters during her historic Detroit campaign for mayor wherein the AfroFuturist aesthetic was politically animated for the first time. Arthi is passionate about the cross-sections of the communication of leaders and community organizing. She mobilizes her marketing background to consider strategic communication opportunities within an organizational context.
She is finishing a Masters in Business Administration at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business next semester. Concurrently she is working on a Doctorate of Philosophy at Wayne State University’s College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts."

Paper Title: Pleasure Activism: Defining a political form of Afrofuturism

Coined in 1993, the term Afrofuturism has long described an artistic movement that seeks to imagine a future for African-Americans that is decoupled from their traumatic history, and more tied to their diasporic African roots and utopian possibilities. This analysis seeks to understand how Afrofuturism can be applied to a political context. 
In 2017, this philosophy was mobilized by Ingrid LaFleur in her campaign for mayor of Detroit. She labeled herself as a protest candidate, who ran not to win but to get issues such as marijuana legalization and the creative economy into the political conversation. Her run garnered national attention, with the New York Times and NPR doing stories on the LaFleur campaign. 

One of the most important moments of the campaign came when Lafleur was invited, alongside her long-time collaborator Bryce Detroit, to give a speech at the Scarab Club. This institution has long been the seat of culture in the city of Detroit, where artists such as Diego Rivera and Norman Rockwell held court. This address was centered on how Afrofuturism when politically energized, can work towards centering ones focus on pleasure in a social justice context. Rather than hedonism, Pleasure Activism centers experiences that create positive futures for everyone involved. LaFleur and Bryce Detroit laid out a means of enacting Afrofuturist ideology outside of a purely artistic context. This analysis seeks to utilize their definitions and approach to better understand how Afrofuturism can be mobilized in this way.

Respondent: Robert Terrill, Indiana University


I am a rhetorical critic. From my perspective, this means that I engage in an analytical practice that is informed by rhetorical lore and that takes as its goal a contribution to civic culture through the invention of just and capacious discourse. My work is animated by an effort to enable and encourage active participation in public life through the close study of exemplars. I participate in a long tradition of rhetorical criticism understood as a project of making public discourse available as civic equipment, a tradition articulated, for example, by Isocrates, Quintilian, and Kenneth Burke. Of course, my work also continues to be influenced by my mentors, including Janice Hocker Rushing and Michael C. Leff.

I have been particularly interested in African American public address, in part because circumstances often demand that marginalized rhetors be especially inventive as they address the limitations and exclusions that bar access to full citizenship. I have written about some of the ways that Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Stokely Carmichael, and Barack Obama have contributed to civic culture through their practices of rhetorical invention.

A natural outgrowth of these intellectual commitments has been my interest in pedagogy, and in particular, the role that training in rhetoric should play in the liberal arts and in civic education. In this work, I argue for the continuing relevance of ancient rhetorical theory for analyzing, critiquing, and intervening in contemporary civic culture.

In addition, beginning in graduate school and extending to the present, I have had an abiding interest in the rhetorical analysis of film. In its cultural reach and multisensory appeal, film affords rich potential as an inventional resource, and its narrative form makes it an especially appropriate site for analytical work at the intersection of rhetoric and myth. In my current projects, I find myself energized by returning to these interests in my teaching and research.

Panel Three: Womanist Rhetorical Theory and Criticism

African American Public Address Pre-Conference 
at the 
National Communication Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland

Day: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Place: Baltimore Convention Center

Room: 344 (300 Level)

**The conference is free, but you must register. If you are interested in attending the conference, when you register for NCA, please sign up for the conference as well. If you are not attending NCA but would like to attend the pre-conference, sign up here.

***To see the other panels, click here

Official Social Media Hashtag: 

Panel Three: 1:00pm-2:15pm

Title: Womanist Rhetorical Theory and Criticism

Chair: Ayo Morton


Twitter: @ayo_morton

Ayo M. Morton is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Communications from Hampton University, a Master of Divinity from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University and a Master of Theology from Union Presbyterian Seminary where she was a Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership Fellow. She is a current Doctor of Philosophy student at the University of Memphis where her work is centered on rhetoric and Black sound. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. In addition to being a licensed and ordained minister, she has written three novels, a devotional and released a spoken word CD.

Kimberly P. Johnson, Tennessee State University


Twitter: @KimberlyPJohns2

Dr. Kimberly P. Johnson is an Associate Professor in the Communication Studies concentration area at Tennessee State University. She brings to the Department of Communication, her areas of specialization; Political, Religious, and African American Rhetoric, Rhetorical Criticism, Cultural Criticism and Womanism. Dr. Johnson has presented her research at professional communication associations such as the National Communication Association, Rhetoric Society of America, Southern States Communication Association, and the Tennessee Communication Association. She is the author of The Womanist Preacher: Proclaiming Womanist Rhetoric from the Pulpit (Lexington Books, 2017) and currently working on a womanist reader.

Paper Title: 
Womanist Preaching and Redemptive Self-Love

This presentation highlights a chapter from my book, The Womanist Preacher: Proclaiming Womanist Rhetoric from the Pulpit, in order to explore how womanist preaching attempts to transform/adapt the third tenet of womanist thought to make it rhetorically viable in the church. I use Stacey Floyd-Thomas’ term to represent Alice Walker’s third tenet of the womanist definition, redemptive self-love, which means to unashamedly love self and stand up for self and I examine Melva L. Sampson’s sermon, “Hell No!” in an effort to understand what Walker means when she says that we are to love ourselves regardless. As we will see in this sermon, regardless does not come without a price. Sampson helps us recognize what rhetorical strategies are necessary for a preacher who needs to confront commonly held stereotypes. Her sermon, “Hell No!” demonstrates redemptive self-love because it expresses the courage of a woman who refused to become objectified by her husband.

Tiffany J. Bell, Valparaiso University

Dr. Tiffany J. Bell joined the Department of Communication at Valparaiso in 2017. As scholar, researcher, and teacher, she has had many unique experiences; which support her ability to work effectively with diverse populations and contribute to greater intercultural and international understanding. Dr. Bell received her undergraduate degree from Indiana University and was a McNair scholar under the mentorship of Dr. Carolyn Calloway-Thomas. She holds a Ph.D. degree from the Communication and Culture department at Howard University. For two years, Dr. Bell worked in China at China Agricultural University, as the freshman Communication Coordinator for ICB. During that time, she created a demonstration course incorporating intercultural pedagogy for the Chinese Ministry of Education. She also earned an excellence in teaching award. In her downtime, Dr. Bell enjoys roller skating and traveling.

Paper Title: Ntozake's Rhetorical Impulse: Voice, Empowerment, and Survival

The lines in this poem illuminate Ntozake Shange’s rhetorical impulse to give voice to the Black Woman’s story. In addition to the Black Woman's voice generally, this poem also gives voice to her own private struggles projected into a public space in order to empower, enlighten, and educate. In 1974, Ntozake (pronounced In-ta-za-key) Shange used what is called a choreopoem to give voice to the Black woman in her work, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.” According to Shange, a “choreopoem” is a combination of poetry, prose, rhythm, and physical movement, and is performed on a stage (Shange, 1977). Fittingly, the choreopoem was developed to creatively recover and legitimize the importance of the Black female’s perspective. Shange used the choreopoem as a rhetorical instrument to highlight and vocalize the struggles and dilemmas of women of color. She states that her own "solo voice began its journey to many voices,” as she explored the use of the choreopoem (Shange 2010). Shange used the frame of Womanism to voice the struggles of Black women. Although she states she is a black feminist, womanism and black feminism are frequently interchangeable. Womanism “voices” the commonality of women and their struggles regardless of their age, material status, social status, sexual orientation, and religion. Using the choreopoem, Shange challenges the discourse surrounding Black women and encourages them to create their own voice as they choose, not the dominant discourse. In this manner, she changes the dynamic of discourse and makes it possible for society to hear voices that are new and different.

Dianna Watkins-Dickerson, University of Memphis


Twitter: @diannanik86

Dianna's scholarship begins at the intersections of rhetoric, race, religion, and gender. While she is trained as a rhetorician, the heart of her work deals with Black Christian women reclaiming their bodies and voices, not as acceptable sacrifices, but as beautifully, wonderfully made carriers of hope, power, vision, and tenacity living in the abundant life promised to them. Dianna is also the co-author (with Andre E. Johnson) of the recently published book chapter "Fighting to be Heard: Shirley Chisholm and the Makings of a Womanist Rhetorical Framework" in Gender, Race, and Social Identity in American Politics edited by Lori L. Montalbano.

Paper Title: Crafting Womanist Utopias: Black Women’s Novels as an Axiological Springboard for Womanist Rhetorical Theory

In this presentation, I examine three primary themes taken up by three different Black female authors. Written directly before or during the first wave of womanist scholarship, the importance of these narratives go beyond communication scholarship, either in composition or speech departments, as they build a qualitative and quantitative body of discourse to persuade audiences of the importance of womanism as a method of inquiry. The narratives I will study are Toni Cade Bombara’s Gorilla, My Love; Gloria Naylor’s Bailey’s CafĂ©; and Alice Walker’s Coming Apart. The three themes I will consider weaved within each of these texts are: 1) Black women’s [and the men around them] identity formation in the midst of a society oppressing them in three socially stratified dimensions; 2) womanist maternal thought as an ideal for Afrocentric mothering; and 3) Black women’s literature as a site for doing womanist rhetorical theory. In order to do this, I will foreground my analysis with a brief summary of each text, highlighting significant scenes and characters to foreground information to frame this study.

A. Madlock-Gatison, Independent Scholar

Twitter: @PNKBLKProject


Dr. A. Madlock Gatison is an independent scholar and university professor. Gatison completed her doctoral work in Communication and Culture at Howard University. She is an award-winning author with over 40 publications and over 45 national and international professional presentations and workshops. Dr. Gatison’s notable publications include Health Communication and Breast Cancer Among Black Women: Culture, Identity, Spirituality, and Strength (Lexington Books, 2018) with Lexington Books and Communicating Women's Health: Social and Cultural Norms that Influence Health Decisions (Routledge, 2018) 

Paper Title: Michelle Obama Womanist Rhetorician

African American women now stand in a historic moment that gives the appearance of having a voice socially and politically, what Patricia Hill Collins calls “symbolic inclusion.” A type of inclusion in spaces where our words are welcome, but our physical presence at times is not. From community activists, journalists, politicians, pundits and a Black woman who once occupied the White House Black women have made their way into a variety of sociopolitical spaces once off-limits yet still hostile. The question is, how does one make room for the total presence of the Black woman. The former First Lady Michelle Obama has been the subject of various studies that examine her identity, personhood, and crafted image through an intersectional lens of race, class, gender, and socioeconomic status that test and contest her presence in closed and public spaces. This essay examines the former FLOTUS as a womanist rhetorician in those spaces and her ability to craft narratives that motivate and engage her audiences. Nvivo is the data analysis tool used to code Michelle Obama’s speeches, interviews, and social media messages for themes that provide a voice and affirmation to the lived experience of Black women. Words that reject oppression and are committed to social justice (Katie Geneva Cannon, 1988).

Respondent: Toniesha L. Taylor, Texas Southern University

Web Page


Instagram: drtonieshat

Toniesha L. Taylor is a Department Chair and Associate Professor of Communication in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Texas Southern University. Her research melds the boundaries of African American Studies, Afrofuturism Studies, Intercultural Communication, Gender Communication, and Digital Humanities. 

Toniesha’s recent research and conference presentations center womanist rhetoric as method and theory; practical social justice pedagogy for faculty and students; and digital humanities methods for activist recovery projects. Recently, Dr. Taylor contributed “Reflections on Sandra Bland on the 3rd Anniversary of Her Death” to the Online Roundtable on Sandra Bland, Black Perspectives, July 13, 2018, and “World Making or World Breaking?: A Black Womanist Perspective on Social Media Crises in Higher Education” in Communication Education 68, no. 3 (July 3, 2019): 381–85.

Dr. Taylor is working with colleagues on a project focused on communication, policing, intervention and public engagement in urban and rural communities. Dr. Taylor is an affiliate of the Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies at NYU and a National Teaching partner for the Colored Conventions Project.

Panel Two: Religious Rhetoric and Oratory

African American Public Address Pre-Conference 
at the 
National Communication Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland

Day: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Place: Baltimore Convention Center
Room: 344 (300 Level)

**The conference is free, but you must register. If you are interested in attending the conference, when you register for NCA, please sign up for the conference as well. If you are not attending NCA but would like to attend the pre-conference, sign up here.

***To see the other panels, click here

Official Social Media Hashtag: 

Panel Two: 10:00am-11:15am

Title: Religious Rhetoric and Oratory

Chair: Melissa Renee Harris, Howard University


Melissa Renee Harris is a doctoral student at Howard University in the Communication, Culture, and Media Studies department. Her research interest includes rhetoric, race, and media representations. She is the co-author (with Ashley R. Hall) of the essay “My Living Shall Not Be in Vain”: The Rhetorical Power of Eulogies in the Face of Civil Unrest published in the Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric. Her current research focus is “The Talk” that African Americans have with their children about race.

Earle Fisher, Memphis Theological Seminary


Twitter: @Pastor_Earle

Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher is a native of Benton Harbor, Michigan. This preacher, professor, writer, and social advocate graduated from Benton Harbor High School in 1996, earned an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts in 1999 from Lake Michigan College, a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Computer Science in 2003 from LeMoyne-Owen College and a Masters of Divinity Degree in 2008 from Memphis Theological Seminary. Rev. Fisher is a dually ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Missionary Baptist Church denominations.

Dr. Fisher received his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Memphis in 2018. Professor Fisher serves as Adjunct Instructor of Religion and Humanities at several local colleges and universities. Pastor Earle is also the Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, and founder of #UPTheVote901 – a nonpartisan initiative which gives more political power to more people and pushes to increase voter turnout in Memphis and Shelby County. Most of Dr. Fisher’s research focuses on the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion with an emphasis on prophetic rhetoric and the personality Albert Cleage, Jr. 

Paper Title: "Sermonic Militancy and #TheSoulOfBlackPreaching – Dileneating Between Social Consciousness and Social Justice in Black Prophetic Rhetoric."

Drawing from the work of Frank Thomas in his book, How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon, I extend the boundaries of prophetic rhetoric to more readily identify militancy within the scope of the sacred. In so doing, my aim here is not to fashion a how to work on sermon militancy, but to offer sermonic militancy as a rhetorical framework that helps us to acknowledge our propensity to erase, reduce, minimize and demonize more militant rhetorical presentations (sermonic and otherwise) which are necessary for the full scope of black liberation projects and social movements to be actualized.

Nicole McDonald, Christian Theological Seminary


Dr. Nicole McDonald is a native of Hampton, Virginia. She attended the University of Virginia and earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Civil Engineering. After working as an engineering consultant for several years, Nicole answered her calling to ministry. She earned a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Union University’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology and a Master of Science in Patient Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Recently, Dr. McDonald completed a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. McDonald serves as an Associate Minister at New Calvary Baptist under the leadership of Rev. Dr. William Marcus Small and a Bereavement Coordinator for Sentara Hospice.

Currently, Dr. McDonald is a Ph.D. student in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary. Her research interests focus on the intersection of preaching, rhetoric, and pastoral care. Her recent projects have focused on Black preaching and cultural trauma in Benjamin E. Mays' eulogy of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Paper Title: The Influence of Julia A.J. Foote’s Call Narrative in “The Threshing Sermon”

In the African American church, the written call narratives of African American women are forms of activism that resist the socio-political oppression of Black women and challenges the ideology of the role of women in the church and society. Additionally, these call narratives become a theo-rhetorical lens that shapes African American women clergy’s views of God, which informs their interpretation of scripture. And lastly, the written call narratives of African American women legitimize their ministry for those who still believe that God does not call women to preach. Therefore, this paper analyzes Julia A.J. Foote’s sermon, “The Threshing Sermon,” using the rhetorical analysis of close reading in order to determine the ways in which the theo-rhetorical lens of her call narrative influences her biblical interpretation and sermonic development.

Scott Varda, Baylor University


Dr. Scott Varda is an associate professor of communication at Baylor University, where he teaches about rhetorical theory, rhetorics of race, and contemporary media and society. His work exists at the intersections of rhetoric, race, gender, and class and has appeared in Critical/Cultural Communication Studies, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Argumentation & Advocacy, and Rhetoric & Public Affairs. He is currently working on a book analyzing the rhetorical practices of Noble Drew Ali, and a co-written book, with Dr. Leslie Hahner, on Rape Culture and Rhetorical Precarity.

Paper Title: "Rhetorical Syncretism: Noble Drew Ali and the Moorish Science Temple of America"

The Noble Drew Ali, the founder of the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA), represents one of the more influential, yet least theorized, religious leaders in the African American oratorical tradition. As Michael Gomez observed, “By virtue of his disproportionate impact,” Ali should be understood as “a principal architect of early-twentieth-century black social thought and movement.” This essay interrogates the suasory principles of this architecture through the rhetorical syncretism of Drew Ali’s oratorical practices. 
Following the First World War, Black American political culture was dominated by seemingly oppositional approaches to liberation—coarsely described as assimilation or separation. Rhetorically symbolized in the competing discourses of Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, Drew Ali offered a way to traverse this dichotomy by crafting Moorish Americanism as a “both/and” response via an inventive synergy of seemingly competing thought. This essay, part of a larger book project, investigates the religious, secular, and apocryphal influences from which Ali produced the rhetorical logics of the MSTA. This essay shows how Ali galvanized disparate traditions from Black Christian Churches, the Apocrypha of the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, and the secular practices of the Prince Hall Freemasons. In short, this essay attempts to better explain the rhetorical brilliance of Ali’s particular vision of religious identity and practice.

Matt Farmer, University of Georgia 


Instagram: MattFarmer901

Matt Farmer is a M.A. student in Rhetorical Studies. Prior to enrolling at the University of Georgia, Matt earned a B.A. in both Economics and Communication Studies from the University of Memphis. His research interests include the rhetoric of social movements specifically relating to economic empowerment and criminal justice reform. He also studies critical race scholarship and hegemonic effects in public spaces.

Paper Title: Preachers in Place: Respectability & Liberation in Mayoral Addresses of Shelby County, TN. 

In the Trump era, black liberation theology can serve a very important role for activist preachers. With its roots in Rev. James H. Cone’s Black Theology & Black Power, black liberation highlights the inherent value of African Americans and, through religion, strives to overcome oppressive political, economic, and social forces. However, there has been a parallel rise in some preachers’ message of respectability. Respectability politics, a term coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in the 1990s but existing in practice for centuries, offers a message of deferential obedience and conformity to an oftentimes white-created idea of proper blackness. These distinct ideologies are not merely academic arguments; rather, they manifest themselves in everyday life.

This presentation looks at these ideologies in practice by analyzing two mirroring events: the opening programs for Memphis, Tennessee Mayor Jim Strickland’s 2019 State of the City address and Shelby County, Tennessee (of which Memphis is the County Seat) Mayor Lee Harris’ 2019 State of the County address delivered roughly two weeks later. Rather than explore the actual speeches, this presentation looks at the ceremonies preceding these speeches. Each had roughly twenty minutes of preliminary introductions offering very different ideas of what it looks like to be a black citizen. The presentation highlights the moral and political commitments made in both programs, particularly focusing on the deferential invocation led by Rev. Ivory Jackson ahead of Strickland’s address and the liberating theology of Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher ahead of Harris’s address. 

Respondent: David G. Holmes, Pepperdine University

Currently, Dr. Holmes is the Associate Dean of Curriculum and General Education and Professor of English at Pepperdine University, Seaver College. As of January 1, 2020, he will become the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Lipscomb University in Nashville.


"Black Religion Matters: African American Prophecy as a Theoretical Frame for Rhetorical Interpretation, Invention, and Critique." Reinventing (with) Theory in Rhetoric and Writing Studies: Essays in Honor of Sharon Crowley. Andrea Alden, Kendall Gerdes, Judy Holiday, Ryan Skinnell, editors. University Press of Colorado, Utah State University Press: 243-255.

"Seen and Heard: Negotiating the Black Female Ethos in Selma." Black Camera: An International Film Journal, Volume 10, Number 2 (Spring 2019):184-194.

"Breaking the Chains of Science: The Rhetoric of Empirical Racism in Django Unchained." Black Camera: An International Film Journal, Volume 7, Number 2 (Spring 2016)73-78.

"'Hear Me Tonight': Ralph Abernathy and the Sermonic Pedagogy of the Birmingham Mass Meeting." Rhetoric Review, 32:2 (April 2013): 156-173. Winner of Theresa Enos Anniversary Award for Best Essay.

"Speaking of Moses and the Messiah: Ralph Abernathy's Rhetoric for and by the People." Journal of Communication and Religion. Vol. 35 No. 1 (Spring 2012): 1-11.

"The Civil Rights Movement According to Crash: Complicating the Pedagogy of Integration." College English, Volume 69, Number 4 (March 2007) :314-321.

Revisiting Racialized Voice, February 2007 by Southern Illinois University Press (Paperback edition).

"Affirmative Reaction: Kennedy, Nixon, King and the Evolution of Color Blind Rhetoric." Rhetoric Review, Volume 26, Number 1 (January 2007) :25-41.

"Say What?: Rediscovering Hugh Blair and the Racialization of Language, Culture, and Pedagogy in Eighteenth-Century Rhetoric." Calling Cards: Theory and Practice in the Study of Race, Gender, and Culture. State University of New York Press, March 2005.

Revisiting Racialized Voice, February 2004 by Southern Illinois University Press.(First Edition Hardback).

"Color Me Author." Journal of Teaching Writing, 19.1-2 (2001): 1-13.

"The Fragmented Whole: Ralph Ellison, Kenneth Burke, and the Cultural Literacy Debate." College Language Association Journal, Volume XLIII, Number 3 (March 2000).