“Fill up your jukebox with the right songs and just let it play,” Brian Foster said
Foster, a university Southern studies and sociology professor who graduated from the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College in 2011, served as keynote speaker for the Honors College spring convocation last night at the Gertrude C. Ford Center. He asked students to think deeply about their memories, and his Jukebox-themed speech followed his doctoral and current research on the Mississippi Delta.
Foster began his speech by reminiscing about his childhood, growing up in Mississippi, his adolescence and his college years.
He ended each refrain with, “I remember. I promise I do,” before challenging audience members to keep track of their own memories.
“Always remember how things are now,” he said. “Never forget how they used to be. I’m here to say one thing, just one thing: that y’all will remember the story.”
Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-González introduced Foster by speaking about his time as a student and emphasizing the Honors College’s commitment in preparing the next generation of leaders.
“We must continue to cultivate the mind and commit ourselves to the common good,” Sullivan-González said. “Rare is the occasion when I get to see the Barksdale dream come full circle and watch our leaders grow up and come back to the state.”
Foster, who transferred to Ole Miss in 2009, travelled across North Mississippi to meet young black men with hip-hop aspirations for his Honors College dissertation. He wanted to find what set these people apart and what motivated them.
Following his graduation from the University of Mississippi, Foster began pursuing his graduate degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the summer of 2014, his research gave him the opportunity to live in Clarksdale and study the ways in which the blues influences and is influenced by the culture of the Mississippi Delta.
“We have to be able to tell who people are to tell who we are,” he said.
Foster’s career brought him back to the University of Mississippi, where his research on the blues continues. After interviewing 316 people for more than 1,000 hours in a variety of settings — from bars to clubs to backyards — Foster said he is learning how to tell a story.
“Coming back to Mississippi, as a man of color, takes purpose,” he said. “I want to remember just so I can forget, so I can tell stories … that tell what you’ve done and what you want told.”
Foster then circled back around to his original point: remembering. He remarked that in remembering people find their purpose and told the audience never to cease remembering the past.
Mya Woods, a sophomore biology major, said she loved the authenticity of his speech.
“Convocation isn’t always like this,” Woods said. “It’s normally more formal, more polished. Tonight was raw. It was awesome.”