My dissertation research

Freedom Dreams: A Black Feminist Exploration of Cultural Work in the Hill District of Pittsburgh

Black women cultural workers such as artists, makers, community organizers, and educators help hold together the social and cultural fabric of Black communities in cities and towns throughout the United States (Reagon, 1986; Moskowitz, 2015). Unfortunately, many of these cultural workers are finding it challenging to live and work in these communities as the threat of gentrification looms and causes disruption to the social and cultural landscape (Blights Out, 2017). This threat is growing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There have been attempts to address this situation through academic, non-profit, governmental, and corporate interventions (Pittsburgh Foundation, n.d.). However, few have engaged the intersectional Black feminist lens that would capture the crux of these issues and lay the groundwork for substantive, structural change. This Black feminist research study was conducted to lift up Black women cultural workers in the Hill District of Pittsburgh who dare to dream of a community that can sustain itself and remain a Black social space despite its marginalization and the threat of displacement. This paper demonstrates how Black women cultural workers in the Hill District embody, act, and articulate the “freedom dreams” of their community through their cultural work and everyday existence in the community. In doing so, they reclaim and reshape the Hill District narrative, unsettle the unavoidability of neoliberal development and racism, and reveal that the value and resiliency of the Hill District lie in its people.


Feminist art collaboration

A recent collaboration with multimedia artist Lori Hepner has manifested into a live performance art project known as Hepner & Ross in Intersection*ology. A feminist exploration into the power of women, technology, and individual voices, Ross created and performed the soundscape to complement the real‑time light painting system developed by Hepner used to draw with light using their bodies. Intersection*ology has been awarded grants by the Heinz Endowments, the 2018 Carnegie International, and The Opportunity Fund. It has been performed at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Alloy Studios, the International Symposium on Electronic Art in Durban, South Africa, the InLight Richmond Festival in Richmond, Virginia, and the Luminaria Festival in San Antonio, Texas.

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