Najaa Young is working on a documentary "American Africans."
Kimmarie Johnson, model, actress, entrepreneur.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February is when we celebrate Black History Month, which began as a weeklong celebration to commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 and Frederick Douglass on Feb. 14. The expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month was officially recognized in 1976, when President Gerald Ford used a Bicentennial address to urge Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Pittsburgh events in 2016 that honor that tradition include an exhibition on “A History on Film: A Tribute to African American Contribution to Film,” a particularly prescient recognition in a year when #OscarsSoWhite is a trending hashtag because of the lack of diversity among Academy Award nominees. The exhibition will be displayed in the City-County Building, Downtown.
A reception Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. is open to the public and will include Mayor Bill Peduto honoring more than a dozen artists with Certificates of Recognition for their contributions to the entertainment industry. Speakers will include filmmaker Najaa Young, whose 2014 movie “Blood First” was filmed in Homewood and who is at work on the documentary “American Africans,” and Kimmarie Johnson, a model, actress, producer and founder/owner of the makeup line SkinGlow.
Other honorees are the late Billy Eckstine, along with Bill Nunn, Billy Jenkins, Billy Porter, Carmel Macklin, Cherie Johnson, Darcel Wynne, David Pendleton, Jamie Hall, Jarvia Udosen, Jonathan Adams, Lamman Rucker, Mercury Morris, Nathan James, Njaimeh Njie, Rusty Cundieff, Tiaunte Kelly and Vivian Reed.
The idea to honor Pittsburghers’ ties to the film industry came well before the latest Oscars controversy, said Jim Griffin, the director of Citiparks.
“We see the Oscars as America’s way of honoring the best and brightest associated with film, and Hollywood has so many ties to Pittsburghers of African-American descent, in so many roles — unsung or stars, people who are doers in the industry,” Mr. Griffin said. “We wanted to take a step to honor them, even those who may never be on the red carpet. They play a strong role in ways that are really vital to the industry.”
The genesis of the exhibition began with the mayor encouraging Citiparks to reach “a broader spectrum” with its summer movie offerings, Mr. Griffin said.
“Pittsburgh supports its artists and has such a proud history of so many artists in general, so this is consistent with what we’ve always done. But what’s happening now with the Oscars makes it kind of pressing,” Mr. Griffin said.
Also as part of Black History Month, New Horizon Theater presents “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” a reminder of a horrific moment from our past that resonates in the era of Black Lives Matter. The theater was founded 24 years ago with the mission “to bring to the greater Pittsburgh area consistent, high-quality cultural events, reflecting the African-American points of view.”
Here are some early highlights among Black History Month events coming next month:
Monday through Feb. 29, weekdays 8 a.m.-5 p.m.: “A History on Film: A Tribute to African American Contribution to Film” will be displayed in the City-County Building grand lobby, 414 Grant St., Downtown, throughout Black History Month. Presented by Citiparks and WAMO 100, the free exhibit depicts the evolution of the roles that black actors have played from the 1910s through present day and salutes the first African-Americans to win Oscar and Emmy awards. 412-255-8983 or www.Citiparks.net.
Tuesday, 10-10:30 a.m.: Branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will hold events throughout February, many for toddlers through teens (www.carnegielibrary.org/events/programs/bhm). At CLP Hazelwood, 5006 Second Ave., children and their caregivers will sing songs, share action rhymes and meet new friends during this special Black History Month storytime. 412-421-2517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feb. 4-5, 7 p.m.: Pittsburgh CAPA’s Black History Month performance, “Let My People Go,” is a collage of poetry, music and dance exploring the “journey to rediscover lost African-American pearls of history, wisdom and spirit.” At Pittsburgh CAPA, 111 Ninth St., Downtown. Tickets are $5 at www.eventbrite.com.
Feb. 5-14, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday: New Horizon Theater presents “The Ballad of Emmett Till” by award-winning playwright Ifa Bayeza and directed by Lundeana M. Thomas. The production, in partnership with the Falk School, University of Pittsburgh, has its opening reception Feb. 5, at the Falk School Auditorium, University of Pittsburgh, 4060 Allequippa St., Oakland. The real-life story of the 14-year-old Chicagoan who was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman while visiting in Mississippi is a pivotal catalyst in the civil rights movement. The play, part history and part ghost story, is “a jazz integration of past and present, the living and dead, factual accounts and creative interpolation.” Tickets are $15-$20; newhorizontheater.org, email@example.com or 412-431-0773.
Feb. 5-6: “Perspectives on African Americans in Pittsburgh: 20 Years Later” is a free event presented by the Center for African American Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE) at Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland. Nearly 20 years ago, CAUSE hosted a series of lectures with a similar title, “Perspectives on Pittsburgh: African American History and Contemporary Social Inequality,” with historian Dennis Dickerson, author of the groundbreaking study of black steelworkers in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, delivering the keynote address. Mr. Dickerson will return to CMU as the keynote speaker Feb. 5 at 5 p.m., after a reception at Baker Hall. Richard Blackett, professor of history at Vanderbilt University who formerly taught at Pitt, will deliver the opening talk for the all-day conference on Feb. 6. www.cmu.edu or 412-268-2880.
Feb. 6, 1 p.m.: United Black Book Clubs of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will present the International African-American Read-In, with award-winning poets Terrance Hayes and Yona Harvey as hosts for the kickoff at CLP-Homewood’s Children’s Room. Participants can prepare a two- to five-minute excerpt to read and register at CLP-Homewood, 7101 Hamilton Ave., to share it or just listen to other voices read from favorite authors.
Feb. 8, 6-8 p.m.: WQED Pittsburgh and the Homewood Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, 7101 Hamilton Ave., present the Indie Lens screening “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” by Stanley Nelson. The 75-minute documentary will be followed by a panel discussion, including voices of community members who were activists in the late ’60s.
Feb. 13, 1 p.m.: Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum Trust presents the sixth annual African American Heritage Celebration: “Black Veterans With Success: Their History and Commitment to Excellence.” Admission to Soldiers and Sailors, 4141 Fifth Ave., Oakland, is free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the free event for military personnel and veterans is in the Gettysburg Room at 1 p.m. soldiersandsailors.org or 412-621-4253.
Feb. 13, 1-3 p.m.: The African American Program at the Heinz History Center will hold a reading, discussion and book signing with anthropologist Yolanda Covington-Ward, author of “Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in Congo.” Covington-Ward will review common themes from her work and the History Center’s "From Slavery to Freedom" exhibition. This event is included with regular museum admission and free for History Center members. More information: www.heinzhistorycenter.org/events/gesture-power-yolanda-covington-ward.
Feb. 13, 10 a.m.-noon: The Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will present “What’s in Your Genes? DNA Testing Made Simple for Heritage Seekers” in the Lecture Hall of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Main, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. Michael Williams, author of the Black Essence Award-nominated memoir “Native Womb: Going Back to the Beginning,” will guide participants through using technology to explore their ancestry. Library staffers will hold workshops to demonstrate how to use the libraries’ free resources for African-American genealogical research at the following branches: Allegheny (1230 Federal St.; Feb. 6, 2-4 p.m.); Beechview (1910 Broadway Ave.; Feb. 10, 6-8 p.m., and Feb. 27, 2-4 p.m.); Woods Run (1201 Woods Run Ave.; Feb. 16, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and Feb. 17, 6-8 p.m.); Hill District (2177 Centre Ave.; Feb. 27, 2-4 p.m.).
Feb. 13, 20, 27 at 6:30 and 9:30 a.m.: SLB Radio Productions will showcase eight features from its "Crossing Fences: Connecting African American Men & Boys through the Oral Tradition" series on Saturdays in February. The men’s stories will be broadcast on SLB’s "The Saturday Light Brigade" radio program and highlighted each Tuesday and Thursday at facebook.com/slbradio. In partnership with SLB, Urban Media Today will include information regarding these oral histories in its e-blasts every Tuesday and Thursday this month. To receive these e-blasts, visit urbanmediatoday.com.
Feb. 14, 2-6 p.m.: The sixth annual African American Celebration of the Arts will take place at the Father Ryan Arts Center of Focus on Renewal, 420 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. The theme is Love Black Families, and the showcase will feature the second installment of “Family Feud With Black History.” Admission is $5; fatherryanartscenter.org or 412-771-3052.
Feb. 20, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.: Showcase Noir is an artist and designer exhibit and market at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown. Featured paintings, sculpture, jewelry and crafts are by artists representing the African diaspora. More at www.hilldistrict.org/ShowcaseNoir.
Feb. 21, 2:30 p.m.: Heart disease is a leading cause of death for African-Americans in the United States. Learn about risk factors and get tips on improving health and wellness from Darah Richardson, Omni Health and Wellness. Presented by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Downtown and Business, 612 Smithfield St., www.carnegielibrary.org/locations/downtown/ or 412-281-7141.
Feb. 28, 2:30 p.m.: Jacqueline Woodson, writer of 30 books for children and young adults, is the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures speaker at Carnegie Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. She is best known for her 2014 National Book Award-winning book “Brown Girl Dreaming” and “Miracle’s Boys,” which won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2001. Tickets are $11 at pittsburghlectures.culturaldistrict.org or 412-622-8866.
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