George Mason University assistant professor of sociology Amaka Okechukwu has been named a 2020 Career Enhancement Fellow by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Okechukwu is one of 32 faculty members from across the nation to receive the award.
“It is an incredible honor that the reviewers found intellectual promise in my next book project,” said Okechukwu, who has worked at Mason since 2017. “I hope that my work can contribute to better understandings of both urban decline and gentrification.”
The fellowship was created to provide career development opportunities for underrepresented faculty with promising research projects in the arts and humanities, according to a press release by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
During her six-month fellowship, Okechukwu said she will write and analyze data for her book, “Saving Our City: Grassroots Resistance to the Urban Crisis in Brooklyn, New York,” which concerns black community organizing and transformation during the 1970s and 1980s.
“This book will tell an important story about the community vitality of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, two of the most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City, at a time when people dismissed them as crime-ridden and hopeless,” Okechukwu said, adding that she used to live and work in these neighborhoods.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her plans for data collection in New York, she said she plans to refocus her attention to chapters of her book that cover previously collected data or data from digital archives. She will also build an interactive map that spatializes community movement in response to gentrification, drawing on archival materials, interview data and photographic record.
“There is much that I find to be compelling about this project, including its creative integration of digital humanities,” said Amy Best, chair of Mason’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “[Okechukwu] is a productive and exceptionally promising young scholar.”
Mason scholars regularly combine their concern for public life with their scholarly endeavors, Best said, and Okechukwu “brings these sensibilities to the classroom, inspiring students to connection, social action and critical sociological thinking.”
In addition to the mentoring she will receive as a fellow, Okechukwu said she will have additional support to help tell the untold stories of the neighborhoods that influenced her own development.
“An often-unacknowledged impact of gentrification is historical erasure,” Okechukwu said. “We cannot fully understand gentrification without understanding what came before it.”