As a child, Queen Zabriskie learned her value as a Black person through the art of West African dance at her community center in the Bronx. Eventually, this love of dance and the sense of identity it imparted led her to attend Duke University, where she was a member of the African Repertory Dance Ensemble. Her mother worked three jobs to support the family and pay for her education, and Zabriskie worked two jobs to get through college. Zabriskie felt welcomed by the dance community, but she felt marginalized on campus as a woman of color. So she created a Black History Month committee for students to gather for conversations about race, class and gender.
Since 2015, Zabriskie, who’s now 40, has initiated similar Black History Month events at New College of Florida, where she is an associate professor of sociology and performance studies. “[Performance studies] looks at how communities and individuals use the arts and performance to empower themselves to speak about their lives and construct possibilities about their future,” says Zabriskie.
The New College Black history program, which also brings local high school students to campus, has grown to include Black literature readings, discussion forums, film screenings and talks from Black artists, scientists, writers and entrepreneurs. “We talk about all issues Black people face, around the world, to help not create this monolithic image of blackness,” says Zabriskie.
Especially now, when American society has been shaken by events that have exposed the depth of racism, Zabriskie is focused on building relationships, allowing people to listen to one another and understand their common humanity. Her work extends beyond the college to Blacks in Sarasota at the Peace Education and Action Center, where she helped create an Anti-Racism Working Group, and the Multicultural Health Institute with founder Dr. Lisa Merritt. Residents join workshops focusing on racism in schools, internalized racism and health disparities minorities face, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“To be able to do this work is an honor, a joy and a responsibility,” says Zabriskie. “When I think about where my family has come from, and what so many have invested in me, I’m grateful to invest in others.”