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Monday, April 22, 2024

In the beginning, Alpha

"Tasha Jones is a rare and wonderful artist that strikes a balance in a world so often lopsided. She has the soul of a Nikki Giovanni draped in the Haute Couture fashions of a runway model. Jones is a student of life and a teacher of lessons. On stage, she tells the story of her life and, in doing so, tells the story of all women, a story of love, loss, and life. She offers a perspective, poignancy, and insight in her writing that allows men to see themselves through her work and women to see themselves in her work. She proves herself to be simultaneously what women are and what they aspire to be. Once you've experienced her for yourself, you will feel better, wiser, and are enriched for it." — Jon Goode

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Today is Juneteenth, and I am interviewing Alpha Blackburn about her love, life’s work, and most importantly, ownership of her freed self. It is the latter that takes precedence. Not because of the day or the week but because of society’s continual fight with women, knowingly or unknowingly, and Alpha’s remarkable exuded ability to live as God’s Masterpiece missioned for our community.

For some, Alpha is the doting love of her late husband, Dr. Walter S. Blackburn. Together they shared the design landscape in the Indianapolis-based Blackburn Architects Firm opened in 1981. In our talk, she relishes his accomplishments as an architect from Indianapolis with national prominence, appeal, and a societal mindset. “Walter [Blackburn] was a man of style and substance,” she exclaimed. He designed The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati, Ohio), The Malcolm X Institute at Wabash College, Purdue’s Black Cultural Center, The Indianapolis Artsgarden, and Grace Apostolic Church. All created the luster for a vibrant community, embodied connectivity, and forward progression. In the recollected order, the work included a history of self, education, art & culture, and [the] church. All of which could describe her sustenance.

In conversation, she described Grace’s vested interest as remaining proximal to its core (their parishioners) when they had an opportunity to move from the cities near Eastside but did not. The thought opened the door to the church’s role in the Black community and the role of women within the motif. Without drifting, I asked how she stayed true to the core of her dreams and vision when married to a national figure. I asked the question knowing many women of her time set aside their dreams to help build their husbands (as biblical ‘helpmates’). She, in her response, showed me how love could make sense. She exclaimed, “Walter and I complimented one another; maybe it was out of need (not having enough money to hire an interior designer), or maybe not.” I took the latter as the manifested dreams of binary stars revolving the gravitational pull bound to and in orbit around each other, making each shine brighter. Walter’s and Alpha’s talents were so closely woven together they often shone brightly as one.

She did not hesitate to fan statistics; according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), 2% of licensed architects were Black in 2022, and although more women are entering the field, they, we, must fight a different collective fight—a fight of equitable terms and value. Alpha then boldly stated; her education ensured recognition as a designer. We paused there to take refuge in education, but knowingly understanding persons like Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, or Cristóbal Balenciaga never pursued education and had established profitable careers. Coco Chanel and Laura Ashley also lacked educational savvy to design, yet…

It was the freedom to acknowledge their loss, her gain, and the value she continues to place on and in education. The thought gave way to the Walter & Alpha Blackburn Scholarship Fund (WABSF) annual gala, which is now in its 18th year. The Walter & Alpha Blackburn Scholarship Fund presents an extravaganza aptly named “The Men of Substance and Style” as an homage to the late Dr. Blackburn and men & women who share the same ideology. This year like in previous, WABSF will provide a $10,000 scholarship disbursed over four years to an underserved, underprivileged scholar with the ambition to study and obtain a degree in architecture, construction management, design, fine art, or performing arts. Applicants must be residents of Marion County, already accepted in an accredited Indiana college or university, and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Although she did not unfurl this year’s recipient in our talk, Ms. Alpha did share this year’s protege honorees, Larnell Burks Bagley & Jarnell Burks Craig, for their distinguished careers and dedication to family, community, and professional excellence.

Throughout the interview, she dropped gems effortlessly. When asked about social media art and artists, she foretold a story culminating in “competency must match confidence.” A sentiment we both share.

Celebrate and support the WABSF Sunday, June 25, at 4 PM at the Indianapolis Artsgarden. You can donate or purchase tickets at https://www.blackburnscholarship.com

Binary Stars


North —love news travels.

Light linked wheels orbiting faith.

Shade —will not dim us.

Tasha Jones is an author, poet, educator, researcher, and Ph.D.(c). She is the Reginald L. Jones Fellow and is currently completing a manuscript entitled PYRAMIDS. PLANTATIONS. PROJECTS. PENITENTIARIES. All social media @iamtashajones.

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