Profoundly transformative

Associate Professor Ruth Nicole Brown answers the Proust Questionnaire.

Interviewed by Kim Schmidt

Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown
Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies & Gender and Women’s Studies
Born in Chicago Heights, Illinois 
BA Political Science, Illinois;
MA Political Science & Women’s Studies Certificate and
PhD Political Science, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Profoundly transformative.

That is how Associate Professor Ruth Nicole Brown describes the impact of working with middle-school girls for the past ten years. They have transformed her life.

Of course, over those years Ruth Nicole has changed many lives herself. After years of volunteering with young people, she founded Saving Our Lives, Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT), an organization that celebrates black girlhood through gathering, art, music, and more. In Ruth’s words, “We create the conditions where we can follow a black girl into the unknown.”

“It is very social and deeply spiritual,” she said. “My research is all about creating the conditions to celebrate black girlhood and then analyzing what happens when that is possible—from the girls’ perspective as well as the adults involved. When we are working in that space with everybody present, it is fundamentally transformative and energetic. It’s in the really small things. It’s in the laughter, it’s in the joke we didn’t expect. It’s in the interruption that happens and the collective response to that.”

Ruth Nicole recently received a prestigious Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship from the Whiting Foundation to help expand the reach of Black Girl Genius Week, a weeklong series of events that grew out of the practice of SOLHOT. During this annual event community members, scholars, and previous participants from across the country join Ruth Nicole and her current SOLHOT girls in a series of lectures, scholarship, teach-ins, music, dancing, and celebration.

Instead of beginning with the assumption that the adults are there to offer guidance and wisdom, Ruth Nicole explains that SOLHOT “is really about relating to black girls as experts of their own lives. Part of the work we do as homegirls in SOLHOT is to unlearn everything we’ve been taught about what it means to be in relationship with someone younger than ourselves.”

We wanted to get to know Ruth Nicole a little better, so we’ve asked her to answer an abbreviated version of the Proust Questionnaire for STORIED. Once a popular Victorian parlor game made famous by Marcel Proust, the Proust Questionnaire has been used by reporters over the century and across the globe to reveal a side of leaders, artists, actors, and public figures we may not usually see. You might recognize the format from the back page of Vanity Fair, which has had celebrities answer the questions since 1993.

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What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My idea of happiness is a good time with family, like Sunday dinner at my mother’s house, road trips to Denver, and going for a drive in the old skool Cadillac listening to music with Getu, my husband.

What is your idea of misery?
Private ownership.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I love the talents I have and would most like to have more opportunities to fully express them.

What is the quality you admire most in a person?
For certain it’s generosity!

Who are your heroes in real life?
I have so many heroes in real life. For sure, Getu. My parents, my family who grew me up, my first grade teacher Ms. Irene Vopi. They are all very clear and disciplined in their everyday sacrifices for the sake of a better tomorrow.

Who are your heroes throughout history?
My ancestors. Those names I do not know.

What is your most treasured possession?
I’m not really into treasuring possessions…but I do love costume jewelry, especially those pieces that have been passed down from generation to generation.

What is your motto?
House music all night long!

What motivates you?
Every time a girl asks me, “Is Solhot today?” I am motivated. Interior motivations keep me going so I have to be sure that I regularly check in with spirit. A pep talk from a trusted friend. Long walks and early morning bike rides also motivate me—as does coffee!

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I’m excited!”

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
It hasn’t happened yet.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
A tree.

Who is your favorite musician?
Amel Larrieux is my favorite musician!

Who is your favorite writer?
I have so many favorite writers—June Jordan, Toni Cade Bambara, Joy Harjo, Gloria Anzaldua, Kiese Laymon, Rebe De La Paz, and Kimberly Alido to name a few.

Who is your favorite artist?
A few of my favorite artists are Noname, Erykah Badu, Rashaad Newsome, and Khalil Joseph.

Where is your favorite spot in the world?
The roller rink!

Ruth and members of SOLHOT at the skating rink.
This story was published .