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Elma Lewis Center’s Hidden Figures Syllabus to Celebrate Black Women’s Contributions

The Elma Lewis Center's Hidden Figures Syllabus is inspired by the Oscar-nominated film and by Candice Benbow's Lemonade Syllabus.

Taking a page from the reading syllabus inspired by Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, Emerson’s Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research has launched an “open” syllabus in honor of the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

The Hidden Figures Syllabus Project launched on Monday, February 27, a day after the Academy Awards ceremony, to collect recommendations for text, audio, or visual resources that recognize and celebrate powerful black women whose work is often erased from history.

The syllabus was introduced with a dozen artists, writers, civic leaders, educators, and musicians of the 19th and 20th centuries, but the Elma Lewis Center is hoping users will contribute to a growing collection of cultural and civic stories and works.

“The idea of influential black women as ‘hidden’ in history resonates with the Center’s mission to highlight Elma Lewis [‘43] as a prominent yet often ‘hidden’ figure in Boston and in the Black Arts movement in general,” said Judy Pryor-Ramirez, executive director of the Elma Lewis Center, in a statement.

Hidden Figures, based on the nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, tells the story of three black women mathematicians who were instrumental in NASA’s early operations. The film adaptation, starring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monáe, was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Spencer. It took home a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

The Hidden Figures Syllabus won’t focus solely on black women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. Initial entries on the site include artist Loïs Mailou Jones; Melnea Cass, Boston civil and workers’ rights activist; Cape Verdean folk singer Cesaria Evora; and Rosetta Douglass-Sprague, daughter of abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass and a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women.

The project launched on the Division of Diversity and Inclusion’s blog, The Luminary, as well as on the Elma Lewis Center’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Center will use the hashtags #ElmaTaughtUs and #HiddenFiguresSyllabus to track social media engagement.

Once a robust crowdsourced list of resources is compiled, Pryor-Ramirez said, the Elma Lewis Center will gather all the entries into a single document that will be shared widely on social media, similar to other viral social media campaigns such as #LemonadeSyllabus and #FergusonSyllabus.

The Lemonade Syllabus, launched last year by writer and educator Candice Benbow after the release of the album, grew through social media and online contributions to 36 pages. This year, following the Grammys, the A Seat at the Table Syllabus to honor Solange Knowles’s album was lauched by the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University.








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