“I always say that I don’t give people a voice. I don’t like the idea that I’m giving people a voice; I don’t do that. I put the microphone and recorder in place. My job is to elevate [voices]. The voices have always been here. You just haven’t been listening.”
Those words from journalist and storyteller Sofiya Ballin concisely describe the purpose of the fourth edition of her annual Black History Untold essay series. Black History Untold is an online series of essays and stories that discuss stories about the Black experience that most people don’t know about. This year’s edition highlights the untold stories of Black women. To commemorate this year’s Black History Untold, Ballin will discuss her work at a Black History Month-themed History After Hours event at the Museum of the American Revolution on Tuesday, February 19.
Ballin recognizes the importance of being able to share Black stories in a museum centered around the American Revolution, a historical event that has not always included people of diverse backgrounds in its narratives.
“There’s a sense of revolution and power in having us in spaces that never seemed to want us there, knowing that in many ways we built this country,” Ballin said. “Speaking at the Museum of the American Revolution is huge to me because I understand that when we speak about patriotism, whether white America realizes or not, that portrait has never fully included everyone. When I talk about the American portrait, I’m talking about indigenous people, Latin people, Asian people, aren’t included in that portrait that we see in the back of our minds. Even though we are so woven into that history, we’re not included. So to speak at this museum, I’m aware of the weight, responsibility and honor of that in sharing these untold Black stories. I want people to leave knowing that we too are part of America.”
What also makes Black History Untold this year is Ballin’s partnership with the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets. “Early on that was an opportunity that came out of nowhere but was and is a blessing. It was a massive learning experience and they brought me on to produce ten profiles of Black figures, specifically in New York and mostly Brooklyn, to share their stories of historical Black figures that impacted them.”
Ballin wanted to make each essay in the project a love letter to Black women, a group that is not commonly thought of in a nuanced manner. “We talk about Black history and how much we don’t know and how much of that knowledge has been suppressed, but specifically with Black women it has been more suppressed,” Ballin said.
“Some of the topics that really struck me were women in the project discussing who impacted them and who they are. Someone said, ‘I want to focus on Black women who are also victims of mass incarceration.’ That’s something we don’t talk about a lot because we often talk about Black men,” Ballin added. “I have a Black women preacher talking about sex positivity and why that’s important for her to preach to Black women because sex has become taboo in the church. There’s a [transgender] Black woman talking about how even post-slavery Black trans people fought to proclaim their identities proudly. There’s so much to learn and I’m so excited to talk about it.”
Sofiya Ballin is speaking at the Museum of the American Revolution’s History After Hours event Tuesday, February 19 from 6-7 p.m. History After Hours is from 5-8 p.m. and admission is $10, with full museum access included. Check out Black History Untold at https://www.blkhistoryuntold.com.