Black history events spotlight area students

Mekayla Petion,left, and Danielle Rogers with the Sankofa String Orchestra play their violins during the African American History program at the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center last year in Dover. This year’s citywide black history celebration starts Friday. (Delaware State News file photo/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Reaching young people is a goal for organizers of upcoming events to celebrate black history.

One way to achieve that mission is to include more young people in the festivities.

The second annual Citywide Black History Celebration will do that, with teenagers from Kent County and college students from Delaware State University playing roles in the productions slated over several days at several venues.

Donna Blakey, of Dover, one of the organizers, said she hopes students will encourage their friends and peers to attend, and they’ll bring their families. Attendees will learn about African-American history and the resources available now, such as the programs at the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center.

“It’s really important for them to know these things exist — knowing the history of the black church, knowing the history of African Americans in politics in the greater Dover area,” Ms. Blakey said.

“It’s just important to see all those things from the people who experienced it or lived it and, hopefully, encourage them to set their sights to something bigger and broader than what their experience may be at this moment.”

“We want parents to come in and see what’s going on at the Sankofa Center and see the potential for their child. I hate to be cliche, but it takes a village to raise a child.”

Presented by the Delaware State News, with expanded events after a successful first year in 2017, the citywide celebration will kick off with the Delaware State University chorale concert Feb. 1 and continue with an art exhibit at the Biggs Museum that opens Feb. 2 and then “African American History Live performances on Feb. 9 and 10 at the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center. All events are free, but tickets to guarantee seating are required for the Sankofa shows.

Delaware State University choirs will perform at black history events throughout the month of February. (Submitted photo)

Darrien Johnson, president of Delaware State University’s Spoken Word Artists United (SWAU) is excited at the opportunity to showcase group members’ talents at the kickoff event, which features the university’s Concert Choir and Gospel Choir and Calvary Baptist Church of Dover Mass Choir.

“We are a creative arts program on campus that allows students who are artists, rappers, writers, spoken words, musicians, poets, to come together every Thursday,” said Ms. Johnson, a sophomore pre-nursing major from Philadelphia.

“It’s kind of like a sacred space to share what’s on our minds,” she said, of the weekly meetings on campus where members do icebreaker events, share their works and plan performances. The group was founded at DSU in 2008 and now has nearly 60 members, about half of which are active at meetings.

Lester Fair

The four members performing Feb. 1 include Ms. Johnson, who is a poet; Akilah Mccrorey, a writer, singer, rapper and poet; Ayodelemi Ekundayo, a singer and Robert Eugene Black, a singer. Ms. Mccrorey is the group’s adviser.

“They’ll be interspersing some of their creativity and spoken word with the music,” said Carlos Holmes, director of News Services in the university’s Office of Public Relations, and one of the organizers of the citywide celebration. “Music and church are a very big part of African-American history. I thought a good kickoff would be to have a gospel music event.”

Ms. Johnson, who has been writing poetry since she was in elementary school, said the group hopes to share their personal experiences so they have a universal impact.

“Just let our performances be a reflection of the struggles we’ve been though. Everyone has been through adversity. Our performances are just an expression of that. We’re from all over the country. Once we come to Del State, we’re all here as one,” she said. “We just want to unite everyone through art.”

Because of Black History Month and new leadership promoting the group’s presence on campus, Spoken Word members have nearly two performances a week through February, beginning with the citywide celebration .

“We’re really excited about this. We’ve told everyone to come out as well,” she said. “We’re a change agent in the community.”

Collaborative event

The Citywide Black History Celebration is presented by the Delaware State News in partnership with the Biggs Museum of American Art, Delaware State University, Sankofa Cultural Arts Center and DonDel Productions.

“Certainly our community extends beyond Delaware State University,” Mr. Holmes said. “Black History Month, while it is celebrating black history, is an observance for all. We want to extend it to all,” he said, complimenting the partnership behind the event

“It’s great they’ve joined forces to expand this to the whole community. We can all celebrate black American history and gain an appreciation for that history.”

In addition to the Sankofa Center’s student performers, the “African American History Live” events on Feb. 9 and 10 will feature two Lake Forest High School seniors: poet Lester Fair and singer KaSandra Miller.

Ms. Blakey met Lester when she was judging a Martin Luther King Jr. communications contest at its semifinal level. Lester ultimately won second place and Ms. Blakey invited him to share his talents in Dover.

“His poetry is just awesome,” she said.

The Sankofa Steel Drum Ensemble will perform and presentations will spotlight African-American sorority and fraternity life in Kent County, the influence of the black church, Kent’s separate public-school system and the Kent County politics. Those programs will be presented by Dr. Reba Hollingsworth, the Rev. John Moore, Dr. Bobbie Jones and Dr. Don Blakey, respectively.

Artist Donna Blakey’s “All for Sale” will be part of an exhibit at the Biggs Museum in downtown Dover in conjunction with the second annual Citywide Black History Celebration. (Submitted photo)

Ms. Blakey, who is Dr. Blakey’s daughter, is an adjunct professor at Delaware State University and an artist, whose acrylic on canvas creations will be part of the Biggs Museum exhibit that rounds out the citywide celebration.

The exhibit runs Feb. 2 through March 4 with a special “Meet the Artists” reception sponsored by Chesapeake Utilities on Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. with music from the Sankofa String Orchestra.

More than 20 African-American artists from greater Dover and Kent County will showcase their work.

While Ms. Blakey has participated in local art exhibitions and is a member of the Mispillion Art League, this is her first time to be featured at the Biggs Museum.

“I’ve never been in a museum before. It’s exciting.”

Ashley Dawson is managing editor of the Delaware State News. Email adawson@newszap.com.

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