Inside Flanigan’s Portrait Studio, located by the Triangle Plaza near Nellie B Avenue, patrons can appreciate local artwork representing black pride. One of those paintings was inspired by a moment in time.
A few years ago, now District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker was riding her bicycle when a car cut her off. A snapshot of her flipping off the driver went viral when she ran for county commission. Artist Broderick Flaningan painted that infamous image now proudly displayed in the studio. There inside Flanigan’s studio, University of Georgia graduate student Irami Osei-Frimpong films his weekly YouTube show “The Black Athenians.”
“I feel like [the location] is a pretty good snapshot of black Athens,” Osei-Frimpong said. He chose the location to record the show to empower black low-income communities.
“We need to accept that black Athens is broke and stop trying to pretend that we aren’t.”
— Irami Osei-Frimpong
“We need to accept that black Athens is broke and stop trying to pretend that we aren’t,” Osei-Frimpong said.
Osei-Frimpong uploads “The Black Athenians” to his YouTube channel “The Funky Academic” every Friday to inform his audience about issues black communities are facing such as the racial achievement gap in the education system, gentrification, property rights, and police brutality.
In one recent episode titled “Athens’ Urban Renewal (Negro Removal),” Osei-Frimpong led a discussion about gentrification caused by UGA. The discussion featured Geneva Johnson Blasingame, an elder in the Athens black community. Blasingame shared her story about growing up in Linnentown, a historically black neighborhood that was displaced by the Federal Urban Renewal Program. The neighborhood was located along what is currently Baxter Street near the freshman dormitories.
The Linentown community was displaced in order for UGA’s Brumby Hall, Creswell Hall, and Russell Hall dormitories to be built. Through eminent domain, the city sold the properties and removed the citizens. This action contributed to gaps within the social and economic growth of the black community in Athens. According to Blasingame, many of Linentown’s former residents moved to public housing after the displacement. Osei-Frimpong acknowledges the issue of affordable housing at work here, but he also sees a broader economic justice issue.
MAKING MUSIC: Osei-Frimpong attends a San Francisco Youth Orchestra retreat with five other friends. “I played with them when I was in college at Berkeley.” Photo courtesy of Irami Osel-Frimpong.
“So the problem with gentrification in Athens is that housing is actually pretty affordable. But we don’t have jobs that pay black people. $9 to $10 an hour will never get to a down payment, and we’ll always be in public housing,” Osei-Frimpong said.
Attempting to fill a void with his show’s production, Osei-Frimpong has been outspoken about how there is not enough black representation in the media to best inform black communities.
“There’s a structural barrier to doing real black politics because there is a media desert,” Osei-Frimpong said.
An academic background in philosophy influences Osei-Frimpong’s political discourse and the analysis that he provides through his social media presence and throughout the community. Active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, Osei-Frimpong is also a prominent member of the Clarke County School District Town Hall Facebook group, another forum where his views find an audience.
As a husband and father of three, Osei-Frimpong has strong family ties. His children currently attend a Clarke County public school, and he has spoken at school board meetings.
“This is my legacy to my kids. I want them to understand what the big name of freedom looks like in the United States,” Osei-Frimpong said. “As a philosophy professor, I talk through and try to get ideas about the kind of material and cultural conditions of freedom.”
Osei-Frimpong started his college career at the University Of California-Berkeley unsure of his major. His inspiration for his career path was a subtle one.
“The guy next to me in my dorm studied philosophy. I thought he was pretty cool so I kind of just studied what he did,” Osei-Frimpong said.
His forthright opinions have caused media outrage and even caused him to go viral.
Conservative news website Campus Reform profiled Osei-Frimpong as an extreme leftist, a label he does not necessarily shun.
“I’m what you call a free negro, and free negroes will get pushed back from time to time,” Osei-Frimpong said.
INTEGRITY: Osei-Frimpong protests the influence of banking lobbyists at an Occupy protest in Chicago. “Political rights don’t mean anything we don’t have economic power,” said Osei-Frimpong. Photo courtesy of Osei-Frimpong.
Last year, UGA investigated Osei-Frimpong for his comment on Facebook stating that “some white people may have to die for black communities to be made whole in this struggle to advance to freedom.” He was referring to individuals like Heather Heyer, a white woman who was run over by James Alex Fields after protesting a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Initially, the situation was brought to light when Andrew Lawrence, a UGA graduate, and former Campus Reform correspondent, asked the public to withhold donations from the university as a protest against Osei-Frimpong’s presence.
Osei-Frimpong was charged with two violations of UGA’s student code of conduct, failing to disclose being arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011 and not listing the University of Chicago in the list of colleges he attended. Osei-Frimpong was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
Osei-Frimpong’s 8,900 subscribers on YouTube and 4,600 followers on Twitter demonstrate his support and reach, and he finds ways to engage directly with CCSD students, too.
“I very much see Irami embracing the role of a gadfly,” said Mr. Jesse Evans, social studies department. This school year Osei-Frimpong was a guest speaker at Evans’ government class. Osei-Frimpong centered the lesson with questions like “What is freedom?” and “What are rights?”
“He’s seeking to participate in the elevation of this community’s political education and political awareness,” Evans said.
At the moment Osei-Frimpong is working on finishing his doctorate in philosophy where he anticipates graduating in the Spring of 2021. He’s also working on using his platform to get other black voices to speak out against injustice.
“A freedom of information which includes a distribution of ideas also means the production of ideas,” Osei-Frimpong said.