Arts & Culture

UK Prof Builds Community Through Literacy


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 5, 2010) – "They’ve taken the real Martin Luther King and gone—and we have to reclaim him," said University of Kentucky professor Adam Banks, evoking a Langston Hughes poem to describe the ways media commentators have sampled soundbites from King and ignored the movement he led and the causes he stood for.

Banks, an Associate Professor of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Media in UK’s College of Arts and Sciences, is using King and the Civil Rights movement to kick off "The Digital Griots Project," an idea designed to bring African American communities in Lexington and Syracuse, N.Y., together in dialogue by linking oral traditions, literacy and technologies.

The Digital Griots Project will kick off in Lexington on Tuesday, Nov. 9 with a free reading group, titled "The Queen of Real and the Real MLK: Nina Simone, Martin King, and The Movement—In Their Own Words" at Jazzy G's at 209 Old Georgetown Street.

There are two goals for the course, according to Banks: "the first goal is just to create a space where black people can come together and build, dialogue—in a space that is comfortable and fun," he said. "The second goal is to help us remember our history, remember the struggles we endured and use that history, use that struggle, to make things better right here and now."

The Martin Luther King and Nina Simone reading group will run on Tuesday nights, from 6-8 p.m. and will provide participants with free books and refreshments. Jazzy G’s staff member and Lexington resident Willie Lewis is a key collaborator and organizer on the project.

"I wouldn’t be able to even begin this without Ms. Lewis’s support," Banks said. "From the moment I pitched the idea, Ms. Lewis supported it wholeheartedly and offered her time and help. She talked about how much she enjoys reading and discussion and encouraged me to go for it, even offering to help build it and inform other community members about it."

Banks will offer the same reading and discussion group in Syracuse, New York, where he taught free community courses for 6 years.

Lexington-based rapper/MC Devine Carama will also work with Banks to offer a "Liberation Mixtape contest" to get DJs, poets, MCs and visual artists using technologies and remixing King and Nina Simone to keep their legacies alive for young people.  The contest will be held in conjunction with the Poetry In Motion open mic series, held every other Tuesday from 8:30- 10:30 p.m. at Mia’s Lounge on North Limestone.

Banks, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and educated in Cleveland’s public schools, comes to Lexington from Syracuse, where he was a member of the faculty of Syracuse University’s Writing Program. He is the author of "Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground" (2006), which won the 2007 Computers and Writing Distinguished Book Award and "Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age," to be released this winter.

Banks teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in composition and rhetoric, with a specific focus on African American Rhetoric and Digital Rhetoric at UK. During the spring semester, he will teach a graduate seminar titled "Beyond the Building Fund: The Rhetoric and Politics of the Black Sermon."

Interested community members can get more information about the community course and mixtape contest by emailing or by visiting his website,