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Black creatives reframe Black stories in Des Moines speaker series at Mainframe Studios

Abena S. Imothep

Mainframe Studios, Des Moines -- Sunday, Feb. 20 at 5 p.m.

Joshua Brooks

Mainframe Studios, Des Moines -- Sunday, April 17 at 5 p.m.


Abena Imhotep discusses the myth of Iowa Nice during a TEDx talk in July 2021. — video still

Mainframe Studios and Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) have teamed up for a four-part speaker series during Black History Month called Reframing Racial Injustice in Creative Communities. They are halfway through the series, and the next speaker — educator, advocate and polymath Abena S. Imhotep — will present on Sunday, Feb. 20 at Mainframe Studios (900 Keosauqua Way, Des Moines).

The first speaker, Joshua Barr, started the series with an overview of the many factors that contribute to the injustices Black Americans experience in everyday life. Dr. Madison DeShay-Duncan and Richard Duncan took the microphone next, focusing on the rich history of Center Street and how to honor that history. (The pair are currently crowdfunding to produce a 90-minute documentary on the Des Moines neighborhood that was once a thriving Black residential and business district.)

Next up is Imhotep, the founder and director of Sankofa Literary & Empowerment Group, focused on promoting literacy among Black children through the reading and scholarship of books by Black authors. She has also been featured on TEDx Des Moines many times, leading discussions that further our understanding of Blackness in Iowa.

Along with leading, Imhotep continues to be a student. She attends Drake University’s Bright College, which is a program that allows adults to earn their degree in only two years. Through Bright College, you attend classes three days a week for three hours. In order to remain diligent, you must continue to gain knowledge and share that knowledge with the community.

Imhotep is an actor and singer, performing with the Pyramid Theatre Company and Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre, and co-hosts a podcast, Black and Privileged in America, addressing “the uncommon, the uncomfortable and most importantly, the unavoidable conversations that Black people need to have in order to help us navigate today’s landscape,” Imhotep says.

She lives in Des Moines with her husband and family, and sits on the board for a number of state institutions, including the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. A believer in the vitality of Black stories, Imhotep is also a writer herself.

I believe in Black people. I believe in the African diaspora. I believe in the principle of “I am we,” which is to say that I believe in the power of our umoja/unity and that we can accomplish whatsoever we will. I believe we are a force for good and for justice. I believe that our story and struggle are sacrosanct. I believe we can make it. Survival is our cultural ethos.

Mainframe Studios is a nonprofit that works to provide affordable workspaces for artists and change the way creatives are viewed in the Des Moines community.

“We want other communities to recognize that they have very valuable assets and that should be taken more seriously and [artists should be] invited to the table and seen as real assets to the community,” said Siobhan Spain, director of Mainframe Studios. “Artists are here day in and day out and are in our communities. They are the connection point to our communities, and they know what our communities need.”

SURJ helps white community members and organizations follow through with their mission to contribute to racial justice. Spain describes SURJ as an ideal partner for the Reframing Racial Justice four-part speaker series. “They’ve been a great asset with just being able to talk about our priorities and helping connect us with the right speaker possibilities, and they really helped with logistics.”

The series’ last speaker, Joshua Brooks, will relate everything learned throughout the series to creativity. All events are free and open to the public, but space is limited. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., the presentation begins at 5 and the event is scheduled until 6:30. Complimentary snacks and a cash bar will be available.

The goal of the four-part series is to give community members the resources and knowledge to dismantle racial injustices through creative patterns. They want audience to feel prepared to move forward together as a community with the resources provided through reframing racial injustice.

“I think these speakers are making us walk the talk in an authentic way,” Spain said.


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