Africana Interactive Studies Center – Merritt College

    In 2014, Jim LeBrecht, Alex Black and Jed Riffe announced the completion of the first interactive ethnic studies center in the country. Sundance award-winning filmmakers Vicente Franco (Daughter from Danang) and Emiko Omori (Rabbit in the Moon) collaborated as cinematographer and editor respectively.

    The Africana Studies Center was conceived by Dr. Siri Brown, Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at Merritt College in Oakland, CA. The production team collaborated with Dr. Brown for 24 months to design, produce and present a first of its kind interactive learning experience. The principal platform is the iPad Air. The Center also features three Mac Mini’s in a room designed with a custom African theme. Over 800 students a year will spend a minimum of 8 hours each in the Center over the course of two semesters.

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    The interactive project consists of 160 pages of content on four modules: Classical African Civilizations; Maafa: Slavery and Colonialism; Pan Africanism and Oakland: Our Story. The Oakland module includes the history of Oakland, Merritt College and the Black Panther Party. Merritt College offered the first African Studies course in the country in 1964. Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton were students at Merritt and took the courses. They organized the Black Panther Party at Merritt in l966 in response to the murder of Malcolm X and police brutality in Oakland.

    Interactive elements include four opening animations, 105 5-7 minute edited videos, interactive maps, enhanced still photos and graphics, dramatic voice-overs, animations and a timeline slider allowing users to move instantly between all four modules. The project is designed to serve the needs of all students including the visually and hearing impaired and Spanish language speakers.

    For accessibility, there are 420 videos: 105 in English, 105 Closed Captioned in English, 105 Spanish Captioned and 105 Audio Described. The Africana Studies program is delivered on a closed server system that allows all of the videos and other content to be delivered to the user instantly without
having to wait for the content to load.

    The Center was designed to enable all students to engage with the content that includes non-standard and accessible furniture and graphics including colorful bean-bag chairs with backs, a special table for the Mac Mini’s and custom tables with tethers for the students to use with the iPads. The team designed four interchangeable 48” x 96” wall panels based on the theme of each module.

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Watch some of the opening animations:


Top 100 Content Creators Award
2015 New Media Film Festival, Los Angeles

One Comment on “Africana Interactive Studies Center – Merritt College

  1.  by  Dera Williams

    Siri, this is wonderful. I googled the center and this came up.
    Jim LeBrecht, Alex Black and Jed Riffe, thank you for all your hard work. I am back at Merritt College working in this wonderful place two days a week.

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