Reniqua Allen, a writer, producer and academic talked issues faced by black millenials and American racial identity on Thursday night in O’Donnell Hall in the Whitlock building. Allen was presented as the most recent lecturer in the Chautauqua Lecture Series and the keynote speaker for Black History Month.
The address focused primarily on Allen’s new book and the first she’s written, “It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America,” which came out early last month, according to hatchettebookgroup.com.
The lecture delved into details from Allen’s book, including stories of black millennials from around the country. These accounts told the experiences of millennials on the margins of society that she argues are not widely represented.
Allen said she recognizes that there are many types of black millennials and she does not have a complete depiction of everyone, but she wanted her book to be as representative as possible to the black millennial experience.
Eyouel Mekonnen, a sophomore English major from Addis Abeba, Ethiopia said the stories in the book helped illustrate the differences in perspective among people from different areas.
“Something that this book made me realize is that we usually categorize people in one definitive group and even though most of the people in this book are from one category, they had multiple different stories and perspectives,”Mekonnen said. “There is usually a lot to learn from people that don’t think, speak or look like you, or even if they do, no matter what everybody has a different perspective.”
Another student, freshman English major Ella Johnson agrees.
“I think her whole note about stories and why stories are important to this generation—especially me being an English major—it stands out the value of stories and how we think about our world,” Johnson said.
Allen is originally from New Jersey and now lives in New York City. She said this lecture was not only her first time speaking at EKU, but her first time being in Kentucky.
Allen said the speech was specifically designed for her audience here at EKU and has not been performed anywhere else.
“This lecture is all new for you guys tonight,” Allen said. “It draws on other things that I have worked on related to the book and, as I said, I pulled some sections and stories from the book, from a TED talk and from other articles I have written around the topic. This is the first, real long, comprehensive lecture on this topic for me.”
Allen said she hopes this topic will relate more specifically to the current generation of college students.
“I think this group of college students is on the fringe in the millennial generation,” Allen said. “I guess they’re somewhere between the next generation, Gen Z and the millennials. But I think that when we talk about young people in America in general …it relates to everyone. While I do think there are some differences between the groups, a lot of issues like student debt, a housing market that many people are priced out of, not having a job with good wages—they really do apply to everyone.”
If her audience could take one thing away from this experience, she said, “We all really need to understand that [as a culture] …we’re not all the same.”
Allen pointed out that while everyone faces the struggles of this generation, people generally do not talk enough about how these issues affect millennials of color or to what extent.
“I think that we still have a really hard time talking about race in this country,” Allen said. “Particularly when it comes to young people. So many people think that this generation is ‘woke’ and that we kind of get it, but things are still different …I spoke with over 75 black millennials and everyone said there’s a difference. So I hope that people understand that there is a difference [between groups] and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
Allen has a reputation as a speaker who focuses on issues surrounding race, popular culture, class, and social mobility. She has used her degrees in journalism and political science to spread awareness of issues facing the youth of America today, specifically black youth.
“I want people to buy my book,” Allen said. “But more than that I want people to really engage with the issues and try to think and understand about difference and what some of these identities mean in America today.”
The event was sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Interdisciplinary Studies, the Department of Communication, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work and the EKU Honors Program.