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Gaining Ground: JFK Jr. Forum & film screening on Black land ownership

November 29, 2023 @ 4:00 pm

Location: Hybrid

Black land ownership in the U.S. has dwindled to critically low numbers. In 1910, Black farmers owned more than 16 million acres of agricultural land (about 14%). Today, a staggering 90% of that land is no longer in Black hands. That amounts to an estimated loss of $326 billion denied to generations of Black Americans — a significant contributor to the U.S. racial wealth gap.

The new documentary ‘Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land’ explores how this happened, its lasting effect on Black communities, and the efforts to reclaim their legacy. It takes a close look at the issue of Heirs’ Property, the leading cause of Black land loss, alongside theft by state-sanctioned violence, government discrimination, and the misuse of eminent domain.

On November 29, the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project (IARA) and the Institute of Politics will hosted film screening and panel discussion at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.

The conversation explored the critical intersection of racial justice, food security, and public policy. As the USDA, legislators, and the Biden Administration promise to address Black land loss in recent years, they discussed effective actions to reclaim Black land and reduce the racial wealth gap.


Eternal Polk is a Midwest-raised, Brooklyn-cultured filmmaker who currently calls Charlotte home. As an award-winning director, Eternal has crafted content with purpose and intention. His work has appeared on various outlets including HBO, ESPN, BET/VH1/MTV, FOX, NFL Network, TBS & HGTV. He makes his feature film debut with the documentary Gaining Ground: The Fight For Black Land. View website.

Philip J. Haynie, III, more commonly known as P.J., is a fifth-generation farmer. He owns and operates Haynie Farms, LLC, a grain farming business, producing corn, wheat, soybeans and canola throughout all four counties of the Northern Neck of Virginia. Haynie and his family also own and operate a transportation company specializing in food grade liquid bulk and dry bulk transportation, a timber harvesting company as well as a landscaping & excavating company. Haynie currently serves as Chairman of the National Black Growers’ Council. View LinkedIn.

Johane Domersant is the Global HR Director – Chief Financial Officer, Chief People Officer Functions, People Transformation and Strategy, HR Compliance and Policies at Deere and Co. She previously served as Global Director, Talent Supply, Onboarding and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, where she led the development of best-in-class global strategies that reflected the company’s core values through strong partnership with stakeholders across the enterprise to maximize the impact of a globally diverse and inclusive workforce. View LinkedIn.

Andrew Kahrl is professor of history and African American Studies at the University of Virginia, where he specializes in the history of race, real estate, and African American property ownership and land loss in the 20th century US. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Black Tax: 150 Years of Theft, Exploitation, and Dispossession in America (University of Chicago Press, 2024), which tells the hidden history of racial discrimination and inequity in local tax systems and its impact on African Americans’ struggles for justice and equality from Reconstruction to the present. Kahrl is also the author of The Land Was Ours: How Black Beaches Became White Wealth in the Coastal South (UNC Press, 2012) and Free the Beaches: The Story of Ned Coll and the Battle for America’s Most Exclusive Shoreline (Yale U. Press, 2018), and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian, among other publications. View LinkedIn.



Stream the panel discussion for free via the Institute of Politics’ YouTube.

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Produced by John Deere and Al Roker Entertainment, ‘Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land’ is a documentary illustrating the struggle for Black agriculturalists to maintain their own land. The film is currently on the summer film circuit, winning Best Feature Documentary at the Essence Film Festival in New Orleans, LA and Best Documentary at FilmTeenth in Bethesda, MD.


Art, entertainment, and sports shape American life. As cultural pillars, they reflect who we are, what we discuss, and which stories we remember. For better or worse, they form how we see each other — and how we see ourselves.

During the 2023-2024 academic year, the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project (IARA) is partnering with the Institute of Politics (IOP) to host a series of three talks by nationally recognized speakers addressing the theme ‘Culture of Change: racial equity in art, entertainment, and sports’.

This Speaker Series will explore themes including art as a form of protst, the value of entertainment in shaping political discourse, and the historical reckoning of cultural institutions with their legacies of injustice. Anyone can tune in via livestream, and Harvard ID holders are invited to attend in-person at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum — Harvard’s premier arena for political speech, discussion, and debate.

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