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Frederick Douglass Day 2023: Honored Guests

Dr. Nneka Dennie, Plenary Speaker

Dr. Nneka D. Dennie is Assistant Professor of History, core faculty in Africana Studies, and affiliate faculty in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington and Lee University. Currently, she holds a Mellon Just Transformations Fellowship in the Center for Black Digital Research at Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Dennie is also co-founder and president of the Black Women’s Studies Association. Her research interests include Black feminism and Black intellectual history, with a particular emphasis on nineteenth-century Black women thinkers. Dr. Dennie is currently developing two book manuscripts. Her monograph, (Re)defining Radicalism: The Rise of Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability in the Nineteenth Century, is a study of Black women’s radical thought. She is also editing a primary source collection titled Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Essential Writings of a Nineteenth-Century Black Radical Feminist.

Tearsa Smith, Anchor, WATE 6 On Your Side

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Tearsa Smith rises and shines before most people wake up in East Tennessee. Since 2005, she has served as anchor of Good Morning Tennessee. She joined WATE in 2002 as a general assignment reporter. Outside of her morning anchor role, she’s also the Health Watch reporter, lending a spotlight on health and wellness topics. Tearsa is also a special projects host. Annually she co-produces and anchors WATE's Black History and Hispanic Heritage programming. Followers of national true-crime drama shows can also see Tearsa break down cases on HLN's Vengeance: Killer Coworkers and Fatal Attraction on TV One. 

Tearsa is an active community member and loves to volunteer with many worthwhile causes. She just wrapped up a 5-year executive board membership with the Wesley House Community Center. During her work with Wesley House, she raised thousands of dollars for underserved youth and seniors in Knoxville’s inner city. She is also a past board member of the Society of Professional Journalists/East Tennessee Chapter. Tearsa is an active member of the Knoxville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, an international public service sorority. She volunteers her time with organizations like the Knoxville Area Urban League, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, many schools in the area, and more. 

Tearsa has an Emmy nomination for her work on the magazine show, 6 Around Town. She was named 2015’s Best News Anchor by the Society of Professional Journalists/East Tennessee Chapter and the 2016 Tennessee Associated Press Award of Excellence for Best TV News Anchor. 

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Tearsa has made Knoxville home. She met and fell in love with her husband, Lucious, in East Tennessee and there has been no looking back since. They have two children, a daughter, and a son.

Prof. Destiny O. Birdsong, Artist-In-Residence

Destiny O. Birdsong is the author of the poetry collection, Negotiations, which was published by Tin House Books in 2020 and longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Voelcker Award. She is also the author of the triptych novel Nobody’s Magic, which was published by Grand Central in 2022, was longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and was a finalist for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. She was the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s inaugural Writer-in-Residence at Rutgers University-Newark and now serves as a 2022-23 Artist-in-Residence at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.