Dr. Tara Green
Dr. Tara Green

Effective Aug. 1, 2022, Dr. Tara T. Green began her tenure as the founding chair and CLASS distinguished professor of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Houston.

“Dr. Green stood out as the best scholar-administrator for this position,” said Linda Reed, who served as interim chair of the department after the passing of the department’s leader Dr. James Conyers.

At the conclusion of a yearlong undertaking to find a department chair overseen by multiple University of Houston African American studies-affiliated faculty, Green was the candidate that stood out above all others candidates who came from all over the country. The search committee was impressed by Green’s scholarly and community accomplishments, alike.

Green comes to UH from her decade-plus stint at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and brings with her a three-pronged research focus: Black feminist studies, Black parent-child relationships and Black activism.

She has authored and edited six books and several articles and book chapters. Green won the 2011 Outstanding Publication Award from the National Council for Black Studies for her book, “A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives of African American Men.”

“I am proud that the hiring committee’s rigorous search has paid off. Dr. Green is an accomplished scholar, and I am confident she will be a good leader, colleague and advocate for our university, college and local communities,” said Daniel O’Connor, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

The Defender recently spoke with Green about her areas of focus as the AAS department chair, upcoming 2023 initiatives and more.

DEFENDER: How have your first few months been as chair of the African American Studies Department?

DR. TARA GREEN: Well, they’ve been enjoyable. I say that because I enjoy challenges. So, getting used to a new city and a new university is always part of that challenge. And of course, I’ve enjoyed meeting people in the community as well as students. I was so happy when the semester got closer to the first day and students started coming into our office and meeting them and hearing their stories. And learning from them, and what they wanted from us has been a joy.

DEFENDER: What are your two to three main areas of focus for the department?

GREEN: So, we are in growing stages. We have this major that started in 2019. And we have departmental status. So, our focus is on faculty and students and with community engagement. Those are our three areas of growth. When we start with the students, we are in recruitment mode of making sure that people know that they have the option of becoming an AAS major. That’s one thing. So, we’re trying to get out into the schools and say hello to folks and let them know that for one, we have a summer program that we will be initiating this summer in the first two weeks of June. That’s the Emerge program. We’re really excited about that, and we encourage people who are rising high school juniors and seniors who are perhaps interested in the University of Houston, whether you know that for sure or not, but who are interested in African-American culture and history and the arts and in health. We will have a health class, as well as math SAT prep and writing workshops. So, we encourage the community to look at our website and the application will go live in January. That’s the beginning stages of recruitment.

We have this exciting programming that’s been taking place that started off with a great conversation with Bun B whom people in Houston know and love. He sat down with us and he also met with students after. We always want programming that’s engaging. And then we have our student advisory board that has begun. Those students have the opportunity to work with us in the planning of events. That’s our retention piece, to make sure that students have a voice. Because I remember, and we know that AAS would not exist had it not been for students who demanded that it have a place on UH’s campus.

So, what’s the faculty piece? We have a new faculty member, Dr. Neema Langa, who does maternal health amongst Black women populations in Africa. And she’s from Tanzania, as well as African American experiences. Now, your newspaper and other outlets have been talking about Black women and maternal health. So, her work becomes really important and timely right now. So, we are excited about the courses that she is developing and offering for our students. That means that they will be on the ground getting information and learning about what the questions are and how to answer some of those questions once they leave UH. And we will be hiring more faculty. We’ll be doing interviews in January, and we hope to be able to announce who those new faculty will be. So, we are growing in that area as well.

And then the community engagement piece, we are wanting to do as much as we can. We have these wonderful alumni, for example, who are out in the community. One of them, Lindsay Gary, will be doing a book signing for our first AAS Week, which will be at the end of February. I believe those dates are Feb. 27 through the first week of March, March 2. And she will be doing a book signing that will be free and open to the public. The first 20 people will be able to get a free book signed by her. That book focuses on the Houston area, her home, and Black folks in Houston. So, we are excited to be able to engage with the community through our alumni and other activities that we are planning as well.

DEFENDER: Speaking of that community engagement, have you had an opportunity to meet some of the folk who were critically important to the founding of UH’s AAS program?

GREEN: Well, I’ve had lunch with Gene Locke, who is very well known as being a leader, and was able to hear part of his story. There’s so much more that we hope to hear. But, he certainly continues to be very important in the Houston area. And I also got an opportunity to meet with Reverend Lawson. And that was certainly an honor because we know that he was actually one of the first teachers who offered a religious studies course that is still being taught by the department. It’s a slow process of meeting people. But I am here and making as much time as possible to engage, to hear the stories, and to continue to tell the stories. We remember Lynn Eusan. That park, that area is on our campus. In fact, I passed it on my way to meet with Mr. Locke. So, that remembrance is there and will be integrated into our curriculum. In fact, I’ll be talking about her in our Black Women’s course that I’ll be teaching in the spring.

DEFENDER: I read that while you were at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, you formed powerful partnerships with the University of Ghana. Are you bringing those same connections to UH, and if so, how is that going to play out?

GREEN: Well, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to reignite and reconnect. The leadership has changed there. I am not leading this effort, but thank God for brilliant colleagues. So, there is an opportunity for travel to the area, to Ghana, to Lagos and Accra. And again, I’m not leading that effort, but there should be UH student visits there this summer.

The great thing about being at the University of Houston is that there is such diversity, not only in Houston, that I think is reflected in many ways on our campus. We will hopefully grow in reflecting the diaspora in our curriculum. Also, there are just these brilliant faculty members with connections, wonderful connections, that are helpful to us. These connections are in Latin America and Africa and in Europe. There’s so much potential for growth there that excites me. So, I’m in the right place.

DEFENDER: Out of the Emerge pre-college program, the student advisory board and the department’s first AAS Week, which are you most excited about?

GREEN: Oh, wow. I would probably say the Emerge program because this will be an opportunity to introduce and to expand knowledge at such a young age. And we have to start early. If I could start a pipeline, and hopefully, that will be part of our engagement, because I want to go into schools and read books and to do some donations. I’ve done that in the past and I want us to continue to do that. We start with the high schools because we know that there are high schools that are teaching African American studies courses. And so, students may be exposed in a variety of ways at a very young age like I was. We didn’t use these words, “culture” and that kind of thing as we engaged in cultural practices through Black church, for example, the singing and the dancing that takes place there. But that was also my introduction to historic leaders because there were teachers there who taught us things that I did not learn in the predominantly white schools that I attended. And so how do we provide space for students to really explore what they know and to expand in knowledge based on what they don’t know? And that’s the space, the academic cultural space, that we are thriving or striving to provide at the University of Houston for that summer program. So, that’s what I’m excited about.

DEFENDER: What attracted you to African American studies in general, and more specifically your research: Black feminist studies, Black activism and Black parent-child relations?

GREEN: Students ask me that question a lot, and I tell them the truth. It sounds like a joke in some ways when I say, “When I learned that I could get paid to talk about Black people, I signed up for it.” And that’s basically where it started. I went to an HBCU, Dillard University, because I wanted an experience that was very different from the experience that I had had K-12 of going to predominantly white, Catholic schools. And here I was, this Black Baptist girl in these schools. And so <laughs> I always knew that I was different because there was no one there to make me feel like I belong because I wasn’t Catholic. Because I may have been the only Black girl in an honors class or something to that effect. Or because my hair didn’t look like the other white girl’s hair. My mother would say, “You can’t wear your hair like that” <laughs>. “Why do I have to braid my hair? Their hair isn’t braided.”

Adinkra symbol for knowledge and lifelong learning.

So, because of this awareness, it led me on a journey of having questions that I needed answers to. And so that’s the lifelong learning process. There’s a symbol, an Adinkra symbol, that stands for lifelong learning. That’s what that is. When I walk into the classroom, yes, I have some answers to questions, but sometimes a student will ask a question that just blows me away, or they’ll make an observation that’s like, “Wow.  For 10 years I’ve taught this and I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Or that a book comes out, it may have been out for 30 years, but I read it and I learn something that I did not already know. And so, being in African American Studies, that’s the experience every day. I don’t know much about Black women’s maternal health, or an African perspective, but my colleague does. So, I learn from her. I’ve done some studies on Black folks in Christianity and Islam and Buddhism, but I could have a conversation with you and learn what I didn’t know; think about what I would never have thought about. That’s the community; the Black Studies community.

DEFENDER: Where are you from originally?

GREEN: I’m from the New Orleans area. I wasn’t born there. But my parents are from the south and I was pretty much raised there. So, I consider myself, for the people who know the area, a West Bank girl of New Orleans. So, you know, the gumbo is <laughs> what we eat and what I have in my freezer throughout the year and in the pot at certain times of year. That’s the girl I am.

DEFENDER: So, the eight-year-old Tara Green, did you envision working at a university when you were running around as a child?

GREEN: No, because I didn’t know that people worked at universities. I’m a first-generation college student, and my mother told me when I was very young that I was going to go to college. So, I knew that that was going to happen. When I was a little girl I was obsessed with libraries. I had all of these books and I thought maybe I’d be a librarian. But I always wanted to be a teacher. I have absolutely no idea where that came from. So, that lets me know that this is a calling for me; an answered calling. God bless people who are called to do K-12. I knew that that wasn’t my calling. When I was in high school and saw the way people act, I knew that I couldn’t do that <laughs>.

And when I went to college, that was when I realized, “Oh, this is what I want to do.” For a while there, though, I thought I was going to be an attorney because in the nineties all of these law shows were on. And I was fascinated with answering questions: the “who done it” question, “but why did they do it”? And I wanted to help people. So that’s always there. So for me it’s the teaching, the answering questions. That’s the scholarship professor part. And it’s also the helping people. If I cannot uplift, then I have not fulfilled my purpose in life. And, that is what I’m able to do not just as chair, but certainly as a professor.

DEFENDER: You mentioned books. What are you reading these days?

GREEN: Oh gosh. I just finished reading one of Selena Montgomery’s books. And of course she’s well-known as Stacey Abrams. I am starting to read Attica Locke, one of her novels. I haven’t started reading yet. I’ve only read the first sentence. I’m saving it for <laughs> the next couple of days when I’m able to get stable and not be interrupted. It’s set in East Texas and so I’m just sort of excited about that because Mr. Locke has told me something about his growing up in East Texas, which I know nothing about.

But I have also been reading the autobiography of Nat Love. I’m always reading several books at the same time. The autobiography of Nat Love is one of them. And I go back and forth with “Bad Mexicans,” which is a nice historical book because I want to understand the area where I am. So those three books, the experience of Black folks and Mexicans, and those interactions, and some indigenous people, to help me to understand the history of this area that I’m not as familiar with, but need to be.

DEFENDER: And speaking of the Lockes, have you seen “From Scratch”?

GREEN: Yes, I have. That was an emotional experience. So very, very well done.

DEFENDER: Favorite music.

GREEN: I listen to contemporary gospel music, of course. So, I’m always probably going to be a fan of Bishop Morton because I sort of grew up hearing his music in New Orleans. Black Violin, I absolutely love what they do. I’m more of a R&B person than I would be considered rap. So, between R&B and hip-hop, I’m still old school with that. And when Anita Baker comes on, my ears delightfully light up <laughs>. There are so many. I do listen across genres. Neo Soul also.

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...