Helena Hicks Speaker Series

The Helena Hicks Speaker Series at Baltimore’s Historic African American Churches is a public program partnership of the Billie Holiday Project and several faith communities in West Baltimore. The speaker series has been suspended until the university’s policy on in-person gatherings due to COVID-19 has changed.

The monthly speaker series endeavors to bridge the intellectual life of Johns Hopkins University with historic Baltimore neighborhoods and cultural institutions. Named in honor of civil rights activist Helena Hicks, a veteran of Baltimore’s earliest anti-segregation sit-ins of the 1950s, the series highlights African American scholars at Johns Hopkins whose recently published books explore questions of race, culture, history, inequality, and social change in the U.S., from the era of enslavement to the present.

Why an ecumenical speaker series in West Baltimore?

People on horses and in carriages in front of an old image of a classical building with multiple columns
The Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church was Baltimore’s first black church; MD Historical Society

Churches have been the centers of African American intellectual life for over two centuries. In the present political moment, historic African American churches with longstanding commitments to social justice – Bethel  A.M.E., St. James Episcopal, Sharp Street, among others – remain particularly vital to the defense of personal liberties and collective freedoms in our city.

Guided by an ethical imperative to usher Hopkins’ abundant resources out of the “ivory tower” and into the sanctuaries of liberation, the Helena Hicks Speaker Series of the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts seeks to support Baltimore’s oldest African American churches in fulfilling their time-honored roles as keepers of memory, sites of civil dialogue, and agents of ethical and intellectual advancement. By hosting scholarly events at multiple churches throughout the year, the Billie Holiday Project aspires to share Hopkins’ human resources more equitably while also stimulating fellowship and the cross-fertilization of ideas across congregations.