Side by side illustrated images of Kamasi Washington (left) and Octavia E. Butler.
From left: Kamasi Washington and Octavia E. Butler. Credit: Art by Jabari Jacobs

Houston resident Seyoum Dorsey grew up in his native Detroit to love jazz and any individuals or movements fighting for a better future for Black people. So, it stands to reason that the iconic and eclectic jazz legend Sun Ra would appeal to him.

“Not only is Sun Ra’s music light years ahead of others, everything he did pointed to a powerful Black future far beyond what most people back in the 1970s or even today dare to envision,” said Dorsey, creator and curator/DJ of the online MusizmanRadio channel.

Le Sony’r Ra, better known as Sun Ra, was a jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, and poet known for his experimental music, “cosmic” philosophy, prolific output, theatrical performances and the movie he wrote, “Space is the Place.”

headshot of Sun Ra dressed in ancient Egyptian garb with a glass dome affixed at the top of his head, against a blue background
Sun Ra

Written in 1972 and released two years later, “Space is the Place” has been described by critics as “an 85-minute Afrofuturist science fiction film.” But to Ra, his work had nothing to do with fiction, but rather with pointing a direction towards a better future for Black people.

What is Afrofuturism?

Ra, writer Octavia Butler (“Parable of the Sower,” “Kindred,” etc.), Parliament/Funkadelic, Janelle Monae, Wangechi Mutu (visual artists), Kamasi Washington (jazz artist), scholar Ytasha L. Womack and many others have been classified as members of the Afrofuturism movement. Many in the general public first heard the term “Afrofuturism” in 2018 with the release of the movie “Black Panther. But what exactly is Afrofuturism?

“Afrofuturism is an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation, wrote Womack in what many consider the best book on the topic, “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture.”

Ytasha L. Womack, dressed in a brown leather jacket and snakeskin print pants, holds the microphone to speak
Ytasha L. Womack Credit: Courtesy of

Ingrid LaFleur, an art curator and Afrofuturist says, “I generally define Afrofuturism as a way of imagining possible futures through a Black cultural lens.”

Ironically, the term “Afrofuturism” was originally coined in 1993 by Mark Dery, a white scholar attempting to define existing trends that focused on Black literature and 1980s technoculture. And though some in the Black community have no qualms with using the term, others, like Houston artivist Schetauna Powell prefer to call the genre the Black Speculative Arts Movement.

Schetauna Powell, dressed in a gold sweater top and red, blue and gold pattern skirt, dances at event
Schetauna Powell (right) Credit: Courtesy of Artivism Community Art

Powell, founder, creative director and lead designer, of Artivist Community Art, uses art not merely as self-expression but as a vehicle for Black Studies. Which makes sense, since Afrofuturism/BSAM taps into African history as much as it paints an audio/visual picture of a Pan-African future.

“Black Speculative Art is any art that uses imagination to talk about the past, present or future of an African diaspora,” said Powell, who is busy making tangible manifestations of Afrofuturism.

“Our main focus is teaching Afrocentric knowledge through design, as opposed through written knowledge and oral language. We’ve been working for about eight years on turning the theory of Afrofuturism into a K-12 curriculum that can be used,” she said.

How is it connected to a better Black Future?

In 2016, two years before “Black Panther” debuted on silver screens globally, Houston’s Jaison Oliver was all about that Afrofuturism life, founding the Houston Afrofuturism Book Club.

headshot of Jaison Oliver dressed in a dark jacket and light gray top against a multi-color background
Jaison Oliver

“The goal of sharing thoughts examining how Afrofuturism and other speculative fiction works from Black creators reflect society has only grown in importance,” Oliver told the Houston Press, reflecting on his book club’s growth since its founding. “In a time like this, it’s helpful to build up the muscles of our imagination. Otherwise we fall into the same typical traps of diversity and inclusion or just investing money into certain communities, and all of these piecemeal solutions. We need to reimagine a lot of how our society works.”

Oliver’s call for Blacks to expand our minds is a constant theme when discussing Afrofuturism.

“One of George Clinton’s (Parliament/Funkadelic) most iconic lyrics says ‘Free your mind and your ass will follow; the kingdom of heaven is within,’” Afrofuturism fan Byron Fables said. “Brother George also said, ‘You have overcome for I am here.’ It doesn’t get much more Afrofuture than that.”

Just prior to a 2019 meeting of Oliver’s group, Powell said, “I’m really looking forward to the conversation (on “The Future of Future Planning” series by Nicky Drayden) especially in light of the next wave of the technological revolution in automation, which has predicted the elimination of a lot of manual labor jobs such as retail, fast food, and truck driving. These short stories, written in 2014, give readers practical considerations for what it means to live in a robot/computer-dominated society. The short stories range from conversations on reproductive rights, job and educational prospects in a society not centered on humanity, to the role of money in our own apocalypse.

In a word, Afrofuturism isn’t scared to tackle any issue when looking for ways to create a better “Afro-Future.”

And in true Afrofuturism fashion, finding our way into a better future means taking time to revisit our true past, beyond the white-washed version, as expressed by Esi Edugyan, author of “Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling.”

“The condition of being alienated and ‘othered’ reflects the ways in which navigating Western societies as a Black person is an endlessly unsettling experience, something that might be ripped whole from the pages of a speculative novel. Because of this, the search for lost cultural touchstones is a gesture towards survival: it is an Afrofuturistic act. At its heart, it is the creation of a possible future based on a reconstructed or reimagined past. In this way, a war is waged against erasure.”

How does it reflect Black resistance?

Womack fully believes Afrofuturism to be a form of Black resistance similar to the work of historians whose research refuted the idea that African/Black people had no history.

“When, even in the imaginary future—a space where the mind can stretch beyond the Milky Way to envision routine space travel, cuddly space animals, talking apes and time machines—people can’t fathom a person of non-Euro descent a hundred years into the future, a cosmic foot has to be put down,” said Womack.

French journalist Nicholas C seems to agree with Womack.

In his article “Afrofuturism: Decolonizing the Imagination,” Nicholas C argued “Afrofuturism doesn’t wage wars in space: its fight is in the realm of the imagination. It all starts from the realization that enthusiastic discourses on the technologically increased future are not neutral.”

headshot of Seyoum Dorsey in a gray sweatshirt against an off-white background
Seyoum Dorsey

Dorsey, too, sees Afrofuturism as Black resistance. But of all the movement’s artists, he is partial to one.

“Sun Ra was/is the soundtrack for Afrofuturism. He is the light that shines the way for Black artists to expand their minds beyond their own limits, and be unapologetically about it too. Because as Sun Ra says, as Black people, ‘We travel the spaceways.’”

Where you can experience it in Houston

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Aswad WalkerAssociate Editor

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...