BY FRANK X WALKER
It is African American History Month. And I’m torn between recanting the numerous opportunities available for those desiring to participate in Carter G. Woodson’s original idea (acknowledging the important historical contributions of African American people) and boycotting the whole month all together because it gives others an excuse to discount the Zora Neale Hurstons of the world outside the month of February.
Maybe torn is a little strong, because I know that over the course of the month, my personal belief that the arts are the most efficient way to build bridges of understanding and respect between disparate communities will be proven over and over again. More intercultural communication will occur between blacks and whites over the next few weeks than anytime during the rest of the year.
The month will also allow us a clear look at who is committed to presenting arts programming further illustrating the need to distinguish the all important artist activist from well-publicized entertainers. I choose to define artist activists as those utilizing their artistic gifts and talents as vehicles of social change or to positively impact and educate others, while entertainers are more self absorbed and interested in their own personal benefit, primarily financial. Fortunately for us and thanks to the number of local top tier artist activists, there are numerous opportunities to experience the arts at its highest form while simultaneously broadening our own education. The outcome is maximized when institutional cooperation is part of the formula. When it happens well, it’s easy to forget that the Education, Arts, and Humanities cabinet is actually part of state government. The cabinet houses the Kentucky Arts Council, Department of Education, Governor’s School for the Arts, KET, and many other agencies whose combined focus is directed at the overall quality of life of all Kentuckians.
There is a virtual plethora of events: world class dance in the guise of Ailey II, celebrity speakers, and a host of television specials, among which is Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, which was produced and directed locally by filmmakers Arthur Rouse and Joan Brannon and edited downtown at Video Editing Services. Distilled from more than 175 interviews collected for the Kentucky Historical Society’s Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project, it is the first full-length television program to explore the state’s civil rights history. The vivid recollections of the 15 voices featured in the final cut provide a powerful context through which to consider what was accomplished and what remains to be done in the continuing struggle for civil rights.
In case you or any of your kids miss these educational moments because something life changing or enriching is happening on Joe Millionaire or Fear Factor, there is a companion website that includes KERA based age appropriate study guides to supplement school curricula allowing students to fulfill Academic Expectation 2.14, understanding the democratic principles of justice, equality, responsibility, and freedom and apply them to real-life situations. How cool is that? And if you really want to know more about what was happening in Lexington during the turbulent 50s and 60s, KET will air 10 one-hour, uncut interviews from the series on digital channel KET3 and Star Channel 703. Scheduled times are available at www.ket.org/africanamerican.
If your appetite leans more in the literary direction, there are volumes of great new books out to satisfy your hunger: Nikky Finney’s new collection of poetry, The World is Round, Gerald Smith’s Lexington, KY, and Wrapped In Rainbows, a brand new biography about the newest African American face on a US postage stamp, Zora Neale Hurston of Harlem Renaissance fame – that artistically rich period in American history that was documented by Kentucky’s own Marvin and Morgan Smith, but you’ve got that book of photographs already, right? And if you like your local authors live and in person both Finney and Smith will be speaking and reading on UK’s campus as part of a special series of programs offered by the M.L. King, Jr. Cultural Center and the African American Studies and Research Program. To round out the UK events, The New York Times Best Sellers husband and wife team of Jenoyne Adams, author of Resurrecting Mingus and Michael Datcher, Raising Fences: A Black Man’s Love Story will fly all the way from Cali to discuss and read their works.
Perhaps the premier moment in edutainment this month is The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration, featuring papa Ellis Marsalis and his sons-trumpeter Wynton, saxophonist Branford, trombonist Delfeayo, and drummer Jason, with special guest Harry Connick Jr. If I told you what time and date, we’d have to charge KET for the ad space, but I know the true jazz aficionados will hunt down the information, right?
I know I’m always ranting and complaining but would it be too much to ask to have the at least 104 events and programs that are jammed into the shortest month of the year rescheduled for say twice a week for the whole year. Imagine the entire UK basketball season, SEC tournament, and Final Four tournament all crammed into one month. Yeah, my point exactly.