Back to America & Still Moving

My name is Markova Casseus and I am a senior in the college of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. I am majoring in Communication and Rhetorical Studies and double minoring in Music Industry and Public Communications. I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY and fell in love with Syracuse the very first time I visited. Ideally, I want to work in the Corporate Social Responsibility sector of a major Entertainment company. I believe my studies at Syracuse are preparing me for that in every way.


Markova Casseus pictured in front of the Bassin d’Apollon at the Jardins du château de Versailles.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young [woman], then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” 

-Ernest Hemingway 

It is 7:45am, and my alarm goes off. I get up, stretch, and start my day. By 8:30am, I make my way to class on the metro. This was how my mornings started every day while I was in Paris. Three weeks later, I still find myself randomly waking up at 7:45, only this time I have nowhere to go.

I don’t think there are any words that can fully capture what participating in Paris Noir did for me. Having studied abroad for a semester prior to this, I did not think it was possible for me to consider Paris my home in just five weeks. However in this small amount of time that’s exactly what happened. In just three days, I learned how to use the metro. In just one week, I completed two walking tours that canvased the Left and Right Bank of Paris. After week two, I heard many stories of Black individuals that came to Paris and thrived there. By week four, I learned more about African American history than I had ever learned in my entire life. Week five, I had fully immersed myself in Paris because Paris had fully accepted me.


Nadaizja and I in our new jackets. The fashion designer, Sadio Bee is one of the many people we met and heard from in Paris.

There were moments when I missed America, but I came to appreciate what “home” really meant. I would not trade this experience for the world. Professor Mayes often asked us what the Noir in Paris Noir represented. At first I was unsure how to answer that. But now I say the Noir is like a quilt. Each piece, like each of the fifteen students is a little different from the other, but collectively we represent the uniqueness and importance of the African Diaspora. Stitched to that quilt you can find the passions of my cohort—each of us using these passions to fuel our independent research projects in Paris. You can also find growth, as none of us, including myself, returned to America the same way we left. You can find the stories we heard that inspired us to be greater. You can find love; because we want to eventually come back to Paris.

Paris Noir 2015 Cohort at the Louvre Museum

Paris Noir 2015 Cohort at the Louvre Museum.

If you were in Paris with us, you would likely hear Professor Mayes say “Paris Noir is on the Move.”

Well we are still moving and the Noir in Paris moving within me. Paris Noir is a part of me, and I love it.


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Les Sapeurs

My name is Kwame Phipps and I am currently a senior with a dual major in Political Science and Citizenship/Civic Engagement. For my independent research project, I will be analyzing La Sape. La Sape is a fashion culture that derives from the Congo. I examine how this African fashion culture arrived in Paris.

La Sape clothing.

La Sape clothing.

My research questions interrogate the lack of exposure and promotion of the Sapeur style of dress. In addition, I hope to look closely at standard definitions of European fashion and the marginalization of African fashion using Les Sapeurs as a case study. Lastly I show the international impact of Sapeur fashion on African American culture. Using social and cultural disciplinary frameworks, I hope my project will shed light upon this particular fashion culture.

Paris most famous La Sapeur,

Paris most famous La Sapeur, “The Bachelor”

Paris Noir has been defined through many voices and lenses, but at the core of every definition is the creation of African Diasporic heritage. The Noir in Paris continues to create new forms of cultural expression that speak to the past as well to the present. In Paris, Les Sapeurs belong to a society called “La Sape.” This is an abbreviation for Société des Ambianceurs et Personnes Élégantes which means The Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People. The French slang word for their attire is “sape”. This social and cultural movement was born in the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville.

Kwame pictured with

Kwame pictured with “The Bachelor” outside of his shop “Sape & Co.” located in Chateau Rogue.

La Sape society traces its roots back to colonialism, particularly in Brazzaville and Kinshasa. During colonization, the French mission to civilize the “uncouth” and cloth the “naked” African led colonizers to bring second hand clothing from Europe as a bargaining tool to gain the loyalty of the chiefs. As a result, many Congolese people became fascinated with French conceptions of elegance in an effort to imitate French fashion. This initial sense of style evolved after the Congo’s transition to independence during the 1970’s as Les Sapeurs adapted their fashion sense to acknowledge both African and European culture.

Les Sapeurs from London.

Les Sapeurs from London.

Although small in number compared to Europe, the fashion consciousness of Les Sapeurs has reached America. Director Melina Matsoukas and Solange Knowles worked together to show the beauty and style of Congolese Sapeurs in the song “Losing You”. Solange’s clear attempt to return to her roots cannot be understated.

We can see Sape-like cultural influence in African American fashion icons such as Fonzworth Bentley and André Benjamin. These two “Dandies of Hip Hop” don’t overdo it when it comes to wearing clothing. Often times they are credited for the extravagant colors that they wear. Much like Les Sapeurs of the Congo, Bentley and Benjamin have a vast combination of colors that they harmonize and blend together.

André 3000

André 3000

Fonzworth Bentley

Fonzworth Bentley

Upon return to America, I will be fusing the fashion and culture of Les Sapeurs into my own daily dressing. Understanding Les Sapeurs appreciation for fashion has instilled a better appreciation for style and clothing selection within me. Knowing that these individuals go out their way to look their best while sacrificing certain daily essentials such as food demonstrates the power of fashion. I intend to dress like a sapeur for the Syracuse University African Student Union’s Annual Pan African Night.

At Syracuse University, I started a movement called Well Dressed that began as an effort to dress business causal for personal gain. This personal endeavor transformed into a mission to empower students of color on campus. The movement does not end with men of color,but extends to individuals of all genders and races to make a difference.
As said by the men of Well Dressed, “when you look good, you feel good”.

You can follow the movement on Twitter & Instagram @iamwelldressed.

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Ensemble Nous Sommes; Together we are

Ashley Thomas at the Jardins du château de Versailles.

My name is Ashley Thomas, and I am a Senior in The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University. I am a double major in Forensic Science and Psychology. In the future, I hope to eventually work my way into the field, and to help others as much as I can. Born and raised in New York City, I am the definition of a “city girl”. I despise the outside, I am easily bothered by too much quiet, and if a bug is too close, it might as well be the end of the world. Although I love the space I am in, I thoroughly enjoy traveling. Paris Noir gave me the opportunity to not only experience a new location, but to continue my studies as well.

As I’m sure we would all agree, the opportunity to see a new place and to experience new things is always a dream for those of us who love to travel. Travel enthusiasts like myself use Google, YouTube, Tumblr, Pintrest, and any other Internet site we can, to fuel our pre travel jitters. We research fun things to do when arriving, famous attractions to see, and we look through hours of photos just to get a preview of what we are about to encounter. I did all of this and more before venturing out to Paris, which resulted in a lengthy list of tasks I declared to finish by the end of our stay. I wanted to climb to the top of the Eiffel tower. I couldn’t wait to try crème brûlée, macarons, crepes, and even escargot. I imagined cruising along the Seine and taking a Beyoncé-like picture in front of the Louvre. I wanted to do all the quintessential touristy activities one thinks about when envisioning Paris; however the Paris Noir Program allowed me to see and learn much more than a Tourist To-Do list.

Throughout my five weeks, I began to realize that black history and culture are rooted in Paris. After meeting people such as Kim Powell, Richard Allen, and Kevi Donat I understood that for a lot of African Americans, Paris is more than just a lavish lifestyle. It is a home, and a place of exploration and growth. I experienced that Paris takes you out of the norm and allows you to create your own conception of the world. Reading the work of writers such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright, we got to explore and discuss the African American history. However, walking in their footsteps gave us a chance to experience it for ourselves.

Deeply impacted by these experiences, I began to redefine my idea of what Paris means to me in an effort to share this conceptualization with people back home. Returning to my passion for photography, I started seeing the hidden beauty in Paris that tourists often ignore. I started taking pictures of the graffiti, people at work, and the layered textures of the city. I used my eye to develop a series of photos in which I hope will show what truly defines Paris.

The view from the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur captured by Ashley Thomas.

Yes, the city of lights is full of beauty and love, but it also filled with trials and defeat. It is full of decadent sweets and fresh food, but also of flavor and soul. Paris is home to the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but these monuments do not define the city. Instead, the people of Paris, and what they accomplish here is does.

For me, Paris was a space of escape and of realization. A place where I found myself. This self-exploratory journey allowed me to discover all the potential and talent, I didn’t know existed within me. The city became a second home, and as the weeks went by I saw that the Noir in Paris Noir was and has always been us. The Noir in Paris was the 14 students and the interactions we had with French people that introduced me to new ideas and perspectives everyday. It was also the conversations I had with Professor Mayes and the TA, Kishauna Soljour –who continuously pushed us to push ourselves, and rediscover the places we had gone and the people we had met. These combined experiences made up Black Paris/Paris Noir. This immersion altered my perspective. Not only did I see Paris differently, but I developed a new view of America.

As I write this, I am sitting in a café. Soon to return to my hotel to pack. In a few days I be heading back to the states. Before I go though, I will create a new list. A list much more powerful and meaningful than the last, a list of new things I would like to accomplish when I return to Paris.


Ashley Thomas looks out at the city of Paris from the top of the Eiffel tower.

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Palais de l’Élysée

NaDaizja inside of the Palais de l'Élysée.

NaDaizja inside of the Palais de l’Élysée.

My name is NaDaizja Bolling and I am a senior at Syracuse University. I am enrolled in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics as well as the College of Arts and Sciences. I am a double major, studying Public Health and African American Studies, and I have a minor in Medical Anthropology. I believe firmly that my development in each subject field is enhancing me as the type of human being that is well-suited to deal with people in a clinical health setting, and my Paris Noir experience has expanded upon this idea even further. Paris Noir is a five week long study abroad program in it’s 15th year that was created by and is lead by the Syracuse University Professor Dr. Janis Mayes. The two-course program centralizes black life, art and culture, and has additionally taught me lessons on life, identity, the value of rigorous academics, and moreover, the intersection of all of these things within an individual, an idea, a community, a country, and humankind. To shed light on some of these ideas, I want to share a few words about the eye-opening experience that I had visiting the Palais de l’Élysée with my cohort, my professor, teaching assistant, and special friends of Paris Noir.

On Tuesday, June 30th, we were granted entry to the Palais de l’Élysée—the French equivalent to our White House—with a private tour and the opportunity for a lengthy conversation with two of the President’s advisors. We arrived at the Palace confident that we belonged there. But, for a while, we stood beyond the guarded road, roasting in the intense heat of that 95-degree day, unable to convince the guards that we were scheduled to be there. It wasn’t until our professor arrived that security let us walk up to the gates of the President’s home and office. I will try to express how satisfying of a feeling that was by saying this: I felt important, and even quite privileged for a moment. I found myself enamored with the confidence that I was somehow worthy of entry to a location of so much prestige.

When our guided visit was over, we were met at a large oval table by the French Overseas Departments and Territories advisors. Though they had long job descriptions, an important aspect I found was that they worked with people in France from the country’s overseas territories in order to solve crises manifested by the pursuit of acclimating to the French mainland’s customs, rules and regulations. The tone of this conversation made it known that our visit was not superficial. Rather, it helped to enhance our understanding of the Noir in Paris Noir.

As for our actual tour…

art in palace

Art in the waiting room of the “French White House”.

Our tour guide walked us to the first point of interest, the waiting room, that is, the waiting room for the president’s guests. The immaculate chandeliers twinkled with every glimpse of sunlight they received, accenting the old artwork displayed on most of the waiting room’s walls. The piece that I became most fascinated by is one depicting two men; one older looking white man, a king I think, beside a younger looking black man. I don’t have an art background whatsoever, but I still was able to make a few observations. Both men were painted on the most upfront layer, both well dressed, and neither washing away the other’s presence. After having recently visited the Louvre where we learned of roles of black people in paintings from centuries ago (mostly minor roles), this one was astonishing to me, and fitting for the occasion. No, none of us are national presidents—yet—but at the moment we were in the same space as France’s president, the same layer. That was a huge accomplishment, and a huge testament to the quality and success of Paris Noir and the students who experience it.

Marble mantel inside of a meeting room.

Marble mantel inside of a meeting room.

Perhaps I am speaking for myself, but there is no question that I have been in situations where my value and my presence are questioned, presumably because of my age, my gender, and the pigmentation of my skin. In some stores, for instance, my ego has outweighed my sense, leading me to buy things that I ought not to, just to prove that I could, all so that particular store associates would understand that their profiling of me is wrong. But, here I was, in the Palais de l’Élysée, now standing in front of a twenty million dollar marble and gold mantel, that no place I’ve ever been in could offer, and my fixation with its beauty was not met with a “can I help you?” or “that’s a bit on the pricey side,” which have in the past left me embarrassed to have seen it in the first place.

Another example of the beautiful decor throughout the Palais de l'Élysée.

Another example of the beautiful decor throughout the Palais de l’Élysée.

We walked through a meeting room, where the president and his staff all had designated seats at the table. We learned, for example, that the closer the seat was to the president, the more important your role was in his governance. We even got a kick out of the guys in our group being assigned seats and mock governmental roles. The rest of our tour was met with more glamorous, vintage-y décor, and the histories behind some of the palace’s architecture, artwork and space utility. Our visit was fun, indeed, but that’s not to say that there wasn’t an expectation for us to learn and interact as much as possible while there. That said, the inclusion of French politics into the understanding of Paris Noir has healthily complicated some thoughts, but has clarified others. It is my hope that this year’s cohort left an upstanding impression on the staff and administrators that we engaged with so that future students can continue what is hopefully a new tradition and long-lasting legacy of Paris Noir.

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July 9, 2015 · 7:55 pm

Alina’s Midterm Experience

My name is Alina B. Freeman and I am a rising junior studying Sociology at Syracuse University. I am a midwestern girl, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I transferred to Syracuse in the fall of 2014 and one of the many reasons I fell in love with Syracuse was because of the variety of study abroad programs. I have always had a desire to explore the world and learn about unique cultures, so studying abroad was a must. The summer before I arrived Paris Noir was on the list of programs Syracuse offered and I knew it was a program I would love to do before I graduated based on the description.

Alina Freeman near Toni Morrison Bench

Alina Freeman pictured near the area surrounding the Toni Morrison bench

I honestly did not think I would be studying abroad this summer, but I am extremely grateful for this experience and still in shock about actually being in Paris. The main reason I applied to Paris Noir is because I wanted to explore my Black identity transnationally and get a better understanding of the experiences of people from the African Diaspora worldwide. Being able to study Black art and literature in Paris would give me a chance to fall in love with my academics again and truly focus on learning and this is exactly what Paris Noir has done for me.

For the 2015 Paris Noir midterm we were required to take several walking tours in groups to four different places. We were given a tour guidebook and asked to navigate our way around Champs-Élysées and Montparnasse as well as finding the Toni Morrison bench and the Rue Mumbia Abu-Jamal sign. We were allowed to do the tours in groups, but we had to submit individual projects. The guidelines we were given for our projects were minimal, but we were required demonstrate how we experienced each tour. This allowed everyone to be as creative as they wanted and do something unique for a midterm. I decided to create a blog using Tumblr because I enjoy Tumblr and I have never been able to create one for any of my academic classes. I decided to use pictures as a way of proving I did each tours. For each tour I edited the images differently and explained why I edited each set of pictures a specific way and what I used to edit them.

Although our midterm required a lot of walking, overall it was a great experience because we were able to see Paris on our own and become our own guides. Personally my favorite place was the Toni Morrison bench because it was not what I expected and it ended up having the most character. The bench is apart of an outreach initiative started by the Toni Morrison Society called Bench by the Road Project. The Toni Morrison Society describes the bench by stating,

“The Project was launched on February 18, 2006, on the occasion of Toni Morrison’s 75th Birthday. The name “Bench by the Road” is taken from Morrison’s remarks in a 1989 interview with World Magazine where she spoke of the absences of historical markers that help remember the lives of Africans who were enslaved and of how her fifth novel, Beloved served this symbolic role.”

The Bench

The Toni Morrison Bench

After looking up the directions I assumed that the bench would be in a place heavily populated with more people and wouldn’t stand out. Once I arrived I quickly realized how wrong those assumptions were. The bench and its surrounding area was tagged with graffiti from top to bottom. An assortment of colors and graffiti styles filled the entire section near the bench. I was finally able to see the art of everyday people and get a visual representation of their lives and struggles. Graffiti can tell stories and I felt as if so many people in this neighborhood had something to say. Here is the link to my blog post about the bench, but you can also see my experience with other tour destinations if you go back to the main page.

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Paris Noir is on the Move!

James Baldwin pictured in Paris.

James Baldwin pictured in Paris.

“One writes out of one thing-one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop,sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”
 -James Baldwin, 1952
This quotation was written on the back of my slightly faded journal that I kept during my Paris Noir experience four years ago. In 2011, as a rising sophomore I became enthralled with the idea of visiting Paris for the first time. However, Paris Noir did much more than allow me to sightsee.
Kishauna Soljour pictured in front of the Cafe de Flore speaking with  Jocelyne Béroard from the famous Zouk band Kassav.

Kishauna Soljour (Paris Noir 2015 Teaching Assistant) pictured in front of the Cafe de Flore speaking with Jocelyne Béroard from the famous Zouk band Kassav in 2011.

This five week study abroad experience introduced me to the “Noir” in Paris, a diasporic framework that acknowledges Paris as a crossroads. An entry and an exit, a point of access. I understood Paris as a port of entry. The City of Lights welcomed black expatriates seeking artistic asylum and freedom. It also became the home to millions of colonized Africans  in the wake of World War II. Paris was the breeding ground for the Negritude movement enlisting college students from the Caribbean and Africa to redefine the terms of their identity. Using the ” jazz framework,” I learned collaboratively and comparatively. Upon returning from Paris, I continued the independent research I began during the program which examined the socio-cultural impact of African migration to Paris. Now as a third year PhD student, I realize Paris Noir cultivated a set of skills that allowed me to grow personally, intellectually and culturally. On the brink of beginning my dissertation, it is a pleasure to return to Paris, France as the teaching assistant to the program.
The 2015 Paris Noir Cohort pictured in front of the Élysée Palace.

The 2015 Paris Noir Cohort pictured in front of the Élysée Palace.

Working alongside Professor Mayes, it is exciting to watch the 15 students from Paris Noir 2015 evolve and transform their lived experiences into art. This blog captures the countless moments, voices and written words that compose the Noir in Paris. In the words of Professor Mayes, Paris Noir is truly on the move.

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What is Paris Noir?

Paris Noir is a five-week Syracuse University Study Abroad program in its fourteenth year. The internationally-recognized program is led by African American Studies Professor Janis Mayes. Paris Noir immerses students in black life, art and culture in Paris. This year, 15 students from disciplines ranging from neuroscience to secondary education, are participating in this rigorous and intensive program while simultaneously developing independent research projects based on their interdisciplinary interests and experiences in Paris.
photo 5 (1)

Professor Mayes and Paris Noir student Roshad Meeks seated at the Élysée Palace.

 “I want students to have a clearer sense of the beauty and struggle of living somewhere else and then use it to better understand themselves. I want ‘Paris Noir’ to touch them on a personal level,” Professor Mayes says. “Research can provide that catalyst.”
Paris Noir student Ashley Thomas pictured in front of the Louvre Musuem.

Paris Noir student Ashley Thomas pictured in front of the Louvre Museum.

Although research is a vital component of the program, students also examine the key question “What does Paris Noir Mean today?” Students visit significant landmarks like Chez Bricktop (a world renown jazz club that reached its peak of fame during interwar Paris- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington were frequent patrons), Notre Dame, and Sacré-Cœur and explore the Louvre and Dapper museums. They tour neighborhoods where such artists as Josephine Baker were launched into the international spotlight and participate in seminars with African American writers living in Paris including award-winning  author Jake Lamar and celebrated journalist Joel Dreyfuss.

“Paris Noir has been an amazing experience!” says Tiffany Mateo, a senior from Syracuse, NY majoring in Biology. “The seminars taught me the importance of not being afraid to express my opinion.”
Tiffany Mateo standing in front of the French Senate building.

Tiffany Mateo standing in front of the French Senate building.

 She continues, “This class has opened my eyes to the importance of an international education. It immersed me in the culture of Paris. I visited places I never would have visited had I come to Paris alone. “
When reflecting on her experience in Paris thus far, Tiffany explains “The Paris Noir seminar is the first class that I have taken outside of my major, biology. It caused me to think in a conceptual manner, which has helped me analyze things differently. It’s changed the way I think, now I see the big picture.”

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