BY EILEEN O’ GRADY ’18
Mount Holyoke College alumna Nana Konadu Cann ’16 returned to campus on Monday afternoon to discuss the role of Black Twitter in activism and whether it has succeeded black churches as a place for organizing.
“Where previous generations have found their communities at work, school and church, our generation has turned to social media,” said Cann, addressing students assembled in the New York Room of Mary Woolley Hall. “Instead of people turning to religious places to build community, they are turning to the Internet to build community.”
Cann spoke at Mount Holyoke College as part of the Association of Pan Af-rican Unity’s event series entitled “Bridging the Gap: Insights into Our Many Communities,” which will continue throughout February in honor of Black History Month.
During her talk, Cann explained that the role black churches once had during the Civil Rights Movement is the same role that Black Twitter has today for the Black Lives Matter movement. In the 1950s and ’60s, she explained, black churches served as gathering places, hubs of social, religious and political activity and spaces that those in the black community could call their own.
Today, Cann said, although millennials are less likely to go to church, they still have the same level of spirituality and a desire for connectedness. The way they choose to express it, however, is not through a church community, but through Twitter.
“I think the reason why we turned to social media is because we all wanted a safe space to be able to relate to other people, and being able to reach out to other people in different areas and in a wider geographic location. Social media gave people ease of access to do that,” Cann said. “Black Twitter is important because it is a community. We watch shows together, we watch the Grammys together on Twitter, we watch TV, we listen to music, we experience Beyoncé as a new mother of twins together, we are sharing all of these things together as black people on Twitter.”
Cann, who now works as Assistant Principal at Achievement First Charter School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, majored in Sociology at Mount Holyoke with a Nexus minor in Educational Policy. Her concept of the sociological link between black churches and Black Twitter began as an assignment for a class with MHC Africana Studies professor Lucas Wilson, and quickly developed into a working thesis that she decided to pursue in-depth.
Cann presented her findings, now in the form of a presentation entitled “Black Church, Black Twitter,” at the New Jersey Students of Color Conference in 2016.
Members of Mount Holyoke’s APAU board — on which Cann served for four years — remembered her project from last year and recognized it as an impor- tant topic to elevate during this year’s Black History Month event series.
“What we really wanted was a talk about activism in our contemporary that could harken back to a past activist presence in the black community,” said board member Nyasha Franklin ’19, who helped to organize the event. “So when we heard about [Nana’s project] we were like ‘This is perfect for what we want to talk about!’”
In her speech in the New York Room, which was attended by a small group of APAU members, Cann explained the importance of Black Twitter as a conversation platform, an organizing tool and source of news. “Black Twitter is important because it is a community,” Cann said. “People would tweet out ‘There’s a protest going on and the police have left the body in the street. Here’s pictures, here’s what’s going on, here’s what CNN isn’t covering.’ You are getting live footage of what was going on and that is crucial to helping organize and mobilize people to be a part of the movement.”
The talk ended with a group Q&A discussion session about the role of black churches and Black Twitter in the lives of the participants.
Organizer Franklin said that she hopes this event will spark conversations on campus about what activism looks like today.
“It would be cool if this conversation raised other conversations in the APAU community but also in the broader community about what our activism looks like as millennials,” Franklin said. “This talk definitely helped me think about the internet in a different way that I hadn’t been thinking about before.”