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UB Humanities Institute invites entire community to play an innovative Zoom game that envisions socially just futures


Mon, Mar 22nd 2021 01:30 pm

By the University at Buffalo

The University at Buffalo Humanities Institute (HI) is presenting an innovative, card-driven storytelling game delivered via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 25. All are welcome to participate.

“Afro-Rithms from the Future” is a dynamic and creative forum designed to inspire positive social change. Its collaborative format and inspirational environment is a safe space that challenges players to use the power of stories as an instrument for imagining and creating more equitable and democratizing futures.

The event is the centerpiece of HI’s “Humanities to the Rescue” spring programming, an annual project focused on how the disciplines within the arts and humanities can help analyze, interpret and propose solutions to contemporary issues and problems. Each year has a different theme: The theme for 2020-21 is “Utopia.”

There is no charge to participate in (or simply watch) “Afro-Rithms from the Future,” but attendees must register in advance.

The game’s co-creators, Lonny J Avi Brooks, Ph.D., and Ahmed Best, who also host the “Afrofuturist Podcast,” will facilitate the game with host Dalia Muller, Ph.D., an associate professor of history in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.

Brooks is an associate professor of communication at California State University, East Bay. Best is a lecturer and senior fellow at USC School of Dramatic Arts and USC School for Communication and Journalism, in addition to being an accomplished musician, writer and actor who starred in the musical “Stomp” and provided the motion capture and voice of Jar Jar Binks, a character in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy.

Thursday’s 60-minute game, followed by an optional 30-minute brainstorming session, will feature a “team” of 10 live players comprised of faculty, community representatives and students in order to draw from a wide range of disciplines and experiences to imagine social justice strategies to democratize the future.

Featured players are: Naila Ansari, SUNY Buffalo State assistant professor of theater and Africana studies; Taylor Coleman, a UB doctoral candidate in Africana and American studies; Elana Cunningham, a UB undergraduate in English and creative writing; Ekua Mends-Aidoo, chief equity and inclusion officer at Evergreen Health and co-host of the “Black Gems Dive In” podcast; Nicole Morris Johnson, UB assistant professor of English; Ndubueze Mbah, UB associate professor of history; James Ponzo, UB clinical assistant professor of Africana and American studies; Samina Raja, professor and co-director of UB’s Community for Global Health Equity; Stacey Robinson, assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Dana Venerable, doctoral candidate in the UB department of English.

“We’re hoping for a true communal effort, and we’re extending a broad invitation to our Buffalo campus and the community to play the game and contribute ideas for the team to work with, as well as amplify ones they hear as the session rolls forward,” said Christina Milletti, associate professor of English and executive director of UB’s Humanities Institute. “Our hope is that ‘Afro-Rithms from the Future’ can spur challenging, speculative conversations that will help us all imagine what our future can look like, together. “

“Afro-Rithms” begins by dealing three different card types that form the framework of the universe. Tension cards establish the parameters of the universe while considering what happens if a particular issue increases/dominates or decreases/disappears. With four possible multiverses, the game’s inspiration cards then serve as prompts for what might inspire change, while the object cards name objects or institutions that can shape the future.

(Watch a video of a previous game.)

“Ahmed and Lonny are incredibly charismatic guides,” Milletti says. “They draw players in, and help them generate unexpected responses to the cards that will get everyone thinking about race, class and gender and the creative paths we can take to work toward a better future.”

As the game progresses, an artist – in this case, Black Kirby artist and UB MFA alum Stacey Robinson – illustrates the responses on an evolving storyboard and designs an “artifact” so that each iteration of “Afro-Rithms from the Future” generates a unique material result arising from the players’ discussion and interaction.

“We hope to activate that artifact for further programming,” Milletti says. “We don’t know how at this point since the artifact hasn’t been created yet, but our Buffalo campus and community are rather ingenious, aren’t they? I fully expect we’ll have some incredible events planned in the very near future, especially for the Humanities Festival in the fall.”

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