Aimee Cox

This post was previously published in Connect : Fall 2010

The BlackLight Project is the brainchild of Aimee Cox, an urban anthropologist and an assistant professor in the African American and African Studies Department. Cox, holder of a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology, is a former dancer and a choreographer who toured extensively with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble/Ailey II.

Cox’s BlackLight Project transforms young dancers aged 14-21 into instruments of change and community activists who combine spoken word and dance moves into performances that educate, inform and connect to the audience.

The BlackLight Project evolved from Cox’s work with women living in a Detroit homeless shelter. “Many of them used music and dance to tell their stories, but only amongst themselves,” she explains. Armed with a Kellogg Foundation grant, Cox helped them write down their personal experiences and develop public performances, combining words and dance to “tell their stories to larger audiences and to connect their personal stories to larger issues beyond the shelter,” such as violence. “They used performance as a way to understand their encounters with systems and processes that made them feel invisible, such as dealing with social service agencies, and how to change that.”

When Cox came to Rutgers in fall 2008, she began working in the local community with young people, and quickly realized the need for a Newark version of BlackLight. It became a reality in spring 2009, with 15 young female leaders facilitating weekly dialogue sessions on topics ranging from street violence to the need for safe places for Newark’s young women.

This fall Blacklight became part of the curriculum reform underway at Central High School, as a “key educational component” in a $5 million federal grant to Central High, says Cox. She developed a social justice dance curriculum which is part of an extended Central school day three days a week. This program connects social justice philosophy with exposure to and skill development in the performing arts, with a specific focus on dance and writing.

Cox envisions the BlackLight Project as “an integral part of my activism, research and cultural commitment” to Newark, the city where she plans to “live, work, conduct research, teach and stay engaged for the long haul.”