February 12, 2021
Graphic promoting the upcoming John T. Washington Lecture Series: Uprooting Racism

Don Harrell, adjunct professor of Africana Studies and co-founder of Orisirisi African Folklore, will speak at the third annual Dr. John T. Washington Lecture Series benefitting scholarships for UCF students pursuing minors in Africana Studies. Hosted by the UCF Department of History and Africana Studies program in partnership with UCF Alumni, the lecture series honors Washington’s commitment to community and service.

“Our society continues to see new ‘firsts’ for African Americans and women. As one of our first Black faculty members, John T. Washington was certainly one of those notable ‘firsts’ at UCF,” explains Lyman Brodie, executive associate dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “He had a lot on his shoulders, and his influence was felt on campus and in the community. He was known to mentor students of all backgrounds and helped them through their college lives. It is our hope that the John T. Washington Speaker Series continues his work in providing a platform for conversations that deal with a wide range of topics related to race, society and community.”

This year, Harrel will present Uprooting Racism: An Evolution of Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop Nation Story. Employing his expertise in ethnomusicology, Harrell will explore rap and hip-hop culture’s usefulness in combating racism. This dynamic presentation highlights the perspectives of students currently enrolled in Harrell’s Evolution of Hip-Hop course, which traces the role hip hop has played in the African American struggle for survival, liberation and civil rights.

Harrell, a long-time community leader, is an Africana Studies scholar, ethnomusicologist, folklorist and musician. After earning his Master of Arts degree in African Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, Harrell came to Central Florida where he co-founded Orisirisi African Folklore with his wife.

Orisirisi, a Yoruba word pronounced o-re-she-re-she, translates to “different things.”

The internationally recognized performing arts company uses folktales, legends, myths, music, dance, play and other African-rooted folklore to teach, entertain and illuminate African life and culture. Notably, it presented 12,000 shows at Epcot between 2000 and 2009.

Harrell’s work aims to use education as a primary tool in the effort to eradicate racism and other types of oppression. “My cause became to uplift African Americans by reacquainting them with our African culture, while enhancing their sense of pride in their cultural roots and using my skills as a storyteller and drummer to effect positive social change,” he says.

Harrell has spent most of his life teaching through expanded venues at festivals, museums, conferences, and radio and TV programs. He began teaching in the classroom 20 years ago and has been teaching at UCF for 11 years. He also currently serves as the director of arts education and integration at Bronze Kingdom Museum, where he is developing an arts education and inclusion program in connection with a collection of African art.

As a testament to his work, Harrell has been awarded the Union College UNITAS Diversity and Community Award, Walt Disney Company Diversity Award and UCLA African-American Student Association Distinguished Graduate Fellow Award.

To register for the John T. Washington Lecture Series, click here.