Dr. Karida Brown and Charly Palmer.
by Megan Kirk
Fisk University is one of the earliest founded HBCUs. Since 1866, Fisk, located in Nashville, Tenn., has been a staple in the community as it is the oldest higher learning institution in its city. With a rich foundation in social justice and the arts, a Black power couple is getting ready to join its ranks and bring their expertise to Bulldog territory.
Together for five years, Dr. Karida Brown and husband Charly Palmer are both iconic in their own fields. Dr. Brown is an author, educator, social scientist and social justice leader, while Palmer is a well-respected artist whose work has hit a global scale. Both entered Fisk University for a one-year period to impact its students and bring their individual fields of expertise to Nashville.
In its 155-year history, the university has been a beacon for Black students. In 1960, a student by the name of Diane Nash had begun to make a name for herself in the realm of civil rights. Leading Nashville sit-ins, challenging segregation laws and fighting for the equality of Black men and women, Nash believed in non-violence and founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Now, more than 60 years later, Nash has allowed her name and legacy to be used for Fisk University’s inaugural Diane Nash Descendants of the Emancipation Chair at the school’s John Lewis Center for Social Justice; and assuming the Chair in a visiting role is Dr. Karida Brown.
“Ms. Nash is, of course, still with us, living in Chicago. She’s very much aware of this chair. In fact, it’s one of the very few things in her lifetime that she’s allowed the use of her name to be attached to. Fisk is her undergrad alma mater and it’s where she cut teeth in learning to organize,” says Dr. Brown.
Currently serving on several boards including The Obama Presidency Oral History Project and the Du Boisian Scholar Network, Brown is an advocate for social change and says her career is based in love for Black people. Working alongside a top California sports team, Brown was appointed Director of Racial Equity & Action for the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, Dr. Brown will further Fisk’s strides in race and social justice while bringing her own expertise and experience to the table.
“We are committed to continue to be at the center of the national conversations around race relations and social justice and are so excited by the depth of expertise, passion and leadership that Dr. Brown brings to our students and the John Lewis Center,” says Jens Frederiksen, executive vice president of Fisk University.
Charly Palmer has set out to create art that “would generate conversation at the family dinner table.” With works that span the Olympics, Grammy-award winning performer John Legend, Time Magazine and NBA 2K22 video games, Palmer has made an imprint on the art world and intends to bring that knowledge to Black artists at Fisk and to the surrounding communities. Formally teaching design and illustration and painting at Spelman College in Atlanta, Palmer is will be teaching for one year; mentoring and instructing the university’s students.
“Art is about telling our story. I started very early about telling our story. Although a lot of the images were about our struggles, it was also about the celebrations of the victories,” says Palmer. “I’ve always been a Black history buff. I’ve always had a personal connection and interest in Black history and I thought this was a way for me to express my love for that.”
In recent years, social justice and activism have played center stage in America’s show. Artists, the visual storytellers of history, are using their medium to express emotion in the fight for equality. As Fisk University continues its legacy in social justice, the power couple will bring a fresh perspective to its already robust history.
“We are equally excited by the partnership between Dr. Brown and Charly Palmer, a highly respected artist who has made the celebration of Black life and history his life’s work and who was asked by Time Magazine to create its cover for its important issue on racial reckoning,” says John Jones, Fisk provost.
Brown and Palmer have collaborated in the past and as a result created In The Paint alongside the Los Angeles Lakers, which helps aspiring Black artists. The couple has also worked together to create children’s books.