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)

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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 Café; 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.