For Kaleb Davis ’22, being one of the first students to receive support through the Black Laurentian Initiative’s (BLI) Fund for Racial Justice and Equity Project (RJEP) is particularly symbolic. As one of the BLI’s early members, he watched the process of establishing the fund come full circle.
“It is an honor to be a part of the history of this grant especially since I was involved in some of the meetings that helped create it when it was still just a thought,” says Kaleb, a performance and communication arts (PCA) major and film and representation studies minor from Dallas, Texas.
The BLI is a coalition of passionate alumni and students committed to advocating for institutional changes that uplift BIPOC Laurentians. Following its formation in the summer of 2020, the BLI partnered with the University on a series of action plans, including the establishment of the RJEP Fund. This $100,000 fund from the President’s Office is awarded in amounts up to $3,000 to projects that engage the University community in research, teaching, and service-focused missions that addresses issues of racial injustice across academic disciplines.
Kalila Calame ’22, a fellow member of the BLI and current president of the Black Student Union, was also among the first cohort of the fund’s recipients. Its support empowered both her and Kaleb to investigate their interests, spark conversations around the topics that matter to them, and establish more space to share and celebrate Black experiences on campus.
A Performance and Communication Arts (PCA) major and African American Studies minor from Brooklyn, New York, Kalila’s funding assisted her photography and video project “Unearthly: The Beauty of Blackness.” It features fellow students’ reflections on their identity as both beautiful and alien and compels the St. Lawrence community to embrace Blackness.
“Being considered ‘other’ has always fascinated me, but I wanted to explore more specifically why it is intensified when referring to Blackness,” says Kalila. “Black people are always discussed as though they are not a part of this world, that they are, in fact, unearthly. The beauty of Blackness can never be comprehended through our white societal standards. It is imitated, but never duplicated.”
Kaleb, a member of the football team and the Black Laurentian Athlete Coalition, also pursued a digital media project. He worked with his teammate Sid Spencer ’21 on How Did We Get Here? The American Phenomenon, a documentary exploring the economic disparities between Black and white neighborhoods in Mercer County, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City.
“We both saw the disparities between the neighborhoods we grew up in compared to the ones our peers grew up in,” He says. “Redlining intentionally denied residential loans to black families in order to discourage them from moving out of inner city areas.”
Funding through RJEP allowed Kaleb and his project partner to explore this issue in multiple cities and helped them secure the equipment needed to bring the stories they discovered to life.
“Film is a medium that shows—not just tells. It allows us to fully immerse our audience in the treacherous systematic issue of the racial wealth gap and its impacts on residential areas,” says Kaleb.
Kalila also feels that the funding helped her create a bigger impact—enabling her to harness new techniques and grow as an artist.
“I knew that I wanted to elevate my next photography project, and this grant lined up perfectly with what I was trying to accomplish and communicate with the SLU community. I can now explore more creative worlds within my photos and have less limitations on what I can do,” she says.
Both Kaleb and Kalila’s work has previously appeared in Ubuntu., a BIPOC magazine created during the Spring 2021 semester and run by St. Lawrence students.
As some of its first recipients, both Kalila and Kaleb play an important role in the RJEP Fund’s goal of amplifying Black stories, voices, and artwork for the entire Laurentian community.
“It feels great to show what can be accomplished with this grant and inspire the next cohort to come,” says Kalila.
“The most rewarding part would probably be the responses we got from our interviewees and their words of encouragement and appreciation for making the film and displaying their stories,” says Kaleb. “That made me proud. It reassured me of the importance of what we were doing as well as the power that film has in presenting transcendent stories.