Actor and activist Danny Glover, legendary theatrical producer and director of the Mama Foundation, Vy Higginsen and pioneering arts producer and Executive Producer of the Apollo Theatre, Mikki Shepard were awarded last night by the HARLEM Arts Alliance (HAA), the central connection to arts and culture in Harlem. The event kicked off the HAA’s Harlem Arts Summit during Harlem Arts Advocacy Week, a week-long series of free performances, screenings, panels and presentations designed to build support for the arts in Harlem and in communities of color throughout the city. Harlem Arts Festival was in the house!
A veritable “Who’s Who” of Harlem artistic and cultural leaders clamored into Aaron Davis Hall Monday morning, October 1. Old friends called out to each other with words of love and admiration, new acquaintances reminded each other of where they had met before, the question of “what do you do?” was met more than once within my earshot with “I am an artist/poet/singer/photographer.” It is undeniable that in Harlem, almost every other person you meet is an artist of some kind. The organization that has been representing the interests of artists and arts supporters for years. As Lloyd Williams, chairman of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce said, taking the podium “family’s in the house, good to see ya.”
Voza Rivers asked all the members of the HAA to stand and be recognized. He emphasized the need for more collaboration stating, “we will not be comfortable to say what we did in the past will be suitable for the future… “If we don’t collaborate with each other, we will find that we are going to be in a desperate scenario a few years from now.”
Lloyd Williams commended the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce on their 116 years of service in the community and boldly announced that Harlem is more than a neighborhood, “Harlem is a state of mind.” And quoting the lasting words of Langston Hughes “Harlem is a magnet.” He called on the crowd to introduce ourselves to at least two new people, echoing Voza River’s urge for collaboration.
Other speakers included Dr. Khalil Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research of Black Culture who spoke eloquently about the Schomburg’s role in defining Harlem’s history stating, “Harlem is a community “with an embarrassment of cultural riches.” We also heard from the Chair of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, Kenneth Knuckels who is a patron and supporter of the arts also the Vice Chair of the NYC planning committee. In his role with UMEZ he has specifically pushed to support the Cultural Industry Investment Fund, citing “A new renaissance is emerging and many of the people in this room are responsible for it.” One of those key people was the late Lynette Velasco, the former right hand to Councilwoman Inez Dickens. Lynette was a supprter of the Arts and new initiatives like the Harlem Arts Festival and will be dearly missed.
Harlem icons Mikki Shepard and Vy Higginson were both honored for their remarkable achievement in the arts, as well as Danny Glover for his lifetime of achievement as an actor and activist. Fred Powell, of Powell’s Flowers was recognized for his business’ collaboration with local arts groups over the years. One of the most moving moments came from Michael Green who performed a moving sermon from the play “After Midnight,” as the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His clear and resonant voice filled the Aaron Davis Hall with a call to action for all the artists, “We must speak, for the truth must be told.”