The late Lynnette Velasco was truly an exceptional woman. A self-published author, Lynnette was a writer, journalist, poet and avid supporter of the arts. She was the former President of Black Americans in Publishing, served as special assistant and Chief of Staff to New York City Council member Inez Dickens, was a teaching artist at the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, and helped to build the Center’s Children’s Literature Program.


Lynnette Velasco, late Chief of Staff for Inez Dickens, was integral to making the 2013 Harlem Arts Festival possible. She provided advice, counsel and guidance to make the festival a success, all on her own time, taking a chance on a new organization. HAF honors her memory each year through its Annual Community Impact Award.


Each year 1-2 individuals are awarded this honor and receive a commissioned art piece created by a Harlem Arts Festival artist recognizing the honoree(s)’ achievements. In addition to this piece of art, the honoree receives exclusive access to the festival, and collaborates with Harlem Arts Festival to support the community through funding and community service initiatives.


Individuals receiving the Lynnette Velasco Community Impact Award are recognized for their inspiration and commitment to a community of any kind: artistic, physical, or otherwise. Like Lynnette, these are the individuals ultimately creating the landscape that can make organizations like the Harlem Arts Festival a reality, and work to create a better community.


Individuals that can be nominated must display excellence in at least one of the following fields:

  • Communication
  • Community Involvement
  • Publishing
  • Arts (any discipline)
  • Literacy and writing
Nominated individuals must be someone with a clear demonstrated passion for protecting, developing and cultivating new programs in one or more of these categories. Nominations come from the HAF Board, but can also be submitted outside the organization via email, to, with a maximum 1-page explanation detailing why this individual should receive this award.



Hisham Tawfiq discovered his passion for the arts while performing the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Poet Laureate Maya Angelou, in a high school English class. Hisham studied at the world renowned Negro Ensemble Theatre Company, which has brought forth such notable actors as Denzel Washington, Ossie Davis, and Phylicia Rashad. He also studied with acting coach Susan Batson, who is known for coaching actors such as Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, and more recently Mary T. Boyer. Hisham says, “As an actor, just like a human being, evolution and education is infinite.” Throughout his career, Hisham continues to call on his life experiences and training to inform his choices as an actor and an artist, be it as a Marine in Desert Storm, corrections officer in Sing Sing or as one of New York’s bravest firefighters. Hisham recently snagged a series regular role on BET’s groundbreaking 1 hour drama, “Gun Hill” starring Larenz Tate, Tawny Cypress, and Aisha Hinds. As Capt. Sanford, Hisham commands a counter-crime task force. Hisham has also starred in the FX drama “Lights Out,” NBC dramas “Law & Order SVU,” “Law & Order Criminal Intent,” “Kings” and “The Guiding Light.” Most recently, Hisham has won over audiences as James Spader’s Raymond Reddington’s right hand man, Dembe, on NBC’s hit “The Blacklist.” Hisham Tawfiq is going from Harlem to Hollywood.



Nikoa Evans-Hendricks is a founding board member and Executive Director of Harlem Park to Park (HP2P), a neighborhood development organization of 130+ entrepreneurs in Central Harlem.  Nikoa oversees the marketing strategy, brand/business development and economic development initiatives, as well as strategic partnerships for the organization. Nikoa’s professional expertise includes demonstrated strengths in entrepreneurial starts ups, strategic planning, marketing, fundraising, financial reporting and brand partnerships with national brands including Anheuser Busch, Hennessy USA, Hendrick’s Gin, Whole Foods Market, Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem EatUp! Food Festival, Gap, Inc. and Columbia University.  Prior to founding Harlem Park to Park, Nikoa served as Vice President of Investments for financial lending institution Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), managing a $3 million restaurant and retail initiative.  Her responsibilities included assessing investment opportunities to expand retail and restaurant brands within the Harlem market. Nikoa has also worked as a corporate retail executive and strategic business consultant, helping national brands such as Build a Bear Workshop, Nicole Miller and Steve Madden Shoes as well as retail developer The Rouse Company expand business opportunities in emerging U.S. markets. An accomplished entrepreneur, Nikoa was the founder and managing director of Harlem retail venture N Boutique and featured in the New York Times and WWD.  The child of an Air Force intelligence officer, Nikoa was raised in Germany, Italy and Japan. She received her B.A. in Economics from Stanford University and an MBA from J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.



Dr. Brenda Greene, who has committed her life to teaching, learning, and scholarship, is professor of English and Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. Professor Greene’s research and scholarly work includes composition, African-American literature, and multicultural literature. She is editor of The African Presence and Influence on the Cultures of the Americas (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), a book of essays that focuses on the impact of Africa in the Americas from the perspectives of literature, language, music, dance, and psychology. She is coeditor of Resistance and Transformation: Conversations with Black Writers (Morton Books, 2010), Meditations and Ascensions: Black Writers on Writing (Third World Press, 2008), Redefining OurselvesBlack Writers in the Nineties (Peter Lang Publishers, 1999), and Rethinking American Literature(National Council of Teachers of English, 1997). Greene contributes essays and book reviews to Neworld Review. She holds a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in education from New York University and has extensive essays, grants, book reviews and presentations in English Studies.

Greene has consistently received grants and funding to pursue her passion of expanding, broadening, and enriching the public’s knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the value of the literature produced by Black writers and to provide support for nurturing and cultivating the critical reading and writing habits of a cross-generation of readers and writers. These programs help to affirm students’ self-esteem, identity and cultural awareness, and help to improve students’ literacy. Her most recent grants were from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council for the Humanities for the National Black Writers Conference and from JPMorgan Chase, the New York City Council, and Target for her literary arts programs. Her belief in these programs is well exemplified in her role as a featured scholar on the award-winning Annenberg/PBS video production Teaching Multicultural Literature in the High Schools, where she discusses how literature can be used to engage students in the study of literature from critical perspectives.

In her role as Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature, Greene has continued the tradition of holding the National Black Writers Conferences (NBWCs) that have been given at Medgar Evers College since 1986. Since the Center’s inception in 2003, Greene has directed six NBWC conferences: “Literature as Access”; “The Life and Work of John Oliver Killens, Writer, Activist, and Mentor”; “Black Literature: Expanding Conversations on Race, History, Identity and Genre”; and “Black Writers: Reading and Writing to Transform Their Lives and the World.” Toni Morrison was the Honorary Chair and was given the John Oliver Killens Lifetime Achievement Award for the fifth Conference, “And Then We Heard the Thunder: Black Writers Creating Memories and Lighting the Way,” which was held from March 25 to March 28, 2010. “The Impact of Migration, Popular Culture and the Natural Environment in the Literature of Black Writers” was the theme of the Eleventh National Black Writers Conference. Honorees were Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ishmael Reed, Nikki Giovanni, and Howard Dodson. More than 90 writers and scholars have attended National Black Writers Conferences at Medgar Evers College.

Currently, Greene, as the passionate and committed leader of the Center, directs several literary programs that provide hundreds of high school students with access to the Black literary arts. She is an active member and contributor to the Brooklyn educational community. She has received city and state legislative funding for literary arts programs for high school students and professional development for teachers. In addition, she has collaborated with various organizations to produce literary and educational programs including the Brooklyn Literary Book Festival, the North Country Institute and Retreat for Writers of Color, the Adelaide Sanford Educational Conference, the State of the Black World Conferencethe Brother to Brother Literary Symposium, and symposia on Octavia Butler, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bob Marley, August Wilson, and Toni Cade Bambara.

Greene has received faculty scholar awards from the City University of New York and has been inducted into the Gwendolyn Brooks Conference International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. Her awards include the Harriet Jacobs Award for Excellence in Literature, Greater Queens LINKS-Arts Facet, the Arts and Culture Award from the City College Celebration of Women in Arts and Culture, the Betty Smith Arts Award from the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, the Spirit of Africa Award for Achievements in the Creative Arts and in Connecting the World to the Works of Emerging and Established Writers of Color, the Phenomenal Women in the Media Award sponsored by the Von King Cultural Park, the National Conference of Artists Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Black Literature among many.

Greene also hosts a weekly radio program, Writers on Writing, that features writers from the African Diaspora discussing their novels, poems, plays, nonfiction works, and their lives. Literary professionals are also interviewed for the show that is broadcast in the studios of Medgar Evers College over the airwaves of WNYE, 91.5 FM. An avid reader and writer, Greene leaves her audience at the end of each of her radio broadcasts with the words, The Writer Is Always Reading, the Reader Is Always Writing. Keep Reading and Writing, Empower Yourselves as Readers and Writers. These words embody the essence of Greene’s passion and drive as a woman who has dedicated her life to pursuing the work that supports the spirit and the life of the mind.

Greene is also the proud mother of two sons, Talib Kweli Greene, an internationally known hip-hop artist, and Jamal K. Greene, professor of Constitutional Law at Columbia University; and the grandmother of Amani, Diani, Riya, and Ayan. She attributes the success of her sons to the importance that she and their father stressed about the value that the realization of one’s goal in life is linked to identifying and pursuing one’s passion.



Ms. Walton has over 20 years’ experience in arts administration, events planning, conference coordination, production, and programming in both the corporate and non-profit arena.  Ms. Walton currently serves as the Executive Director of the Harlem Arts Alliance (HAA), a non-profit service organization. As Executive Director, Ms. Walton provides leadership in the areas of finance, administration, programming and fundraising.  She is responsible for creating initiatives that support the professional, creative, and organizational development of HAA member artist and arts organizations.

Prior to joining HAA, she served Vice President of Programming for Jazzmobile, Inc., a not-for-profit jazz presenting arts organization.  In this capacity, she was responsible for the presentation of over 70 concerts by established and emerging Jazz artists in NYC parks and neighborhoods. Special projects included the Harlem International Jazz Festival, Harlem Jazz Shrines, the multi-tiered NEA Jazz Master’s residency project: Masters behind the Music, Taylor Made, a year-long celebration leading up to the 90th Birthday of Dr. Billy Taylor, and extended residency with Yosvany Terry and the facilitation of a commissioning project with Wycliffe Gordon (Within Our Gates) Additional responsibilities included planning and overseeing jazz workshops with a professional staff of educators and legendary Jazz artists, lecture/demonstrations in NYC schools, and a city-wide jazz vocal competition.

Ms. Walton has worked as an Arts Consultant overseeing a variety of special projects including the development and implementation of an audience development/community outreach program for Harlem Stage’s inaugural WaterWorks Project (Participating artists: Bill T. Jones, Tania León, Roger Guenveur Smith, Sekou Sundiata). She coordinated the Leading National Theatres Program grantee’s meeting in Dublin, Ireland for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

While at Arts International (AI), she served as Grants Manager for The Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals and Exhibitions, the Artists at Giverny, the Cintas Fellowship, and for the Islamic World Arts Initiative. She also managed AI’s Projects and Partnerships division where she was responsible for developing and implementing strategies for cultural exchange activities in Africa, The Americas, and the Mediterranean Basin.  She developed the Women’s Voices Africa Project that brought together cultural workers from throughout Africa in an effort to establish a formal structure for culture exchange. (Dakar, Senegal 2002 & 2003)

At 651 Arts she held several positions including Special Events Coordinator and Program Manager for both the U.S. and African (Africa Exchange) artists residency programs.  Her interest in events planning led her to a position with Festival Productions, Inc., a producer of national and international festivals and developer of marketing and sponsorship program for a host of corporate clients.

A member of Community Board 9 in Harlem for nearly 8 years, she has been active on the Arts & Culture, Economic Development/Harlem Piers, and Land Use Committees.  She is a formal board member of MultiArts Projects& Productions International and a former member of Harlem Stage’s Community Advisory Committee. She has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

Fred Ho, the American multi-instrumentalist and composer, rejected the word “jazz” as a patronising European label for his style of music. Yet jazz traditions and energies clearly fuelled this single-minded maverick’s playing and composing life.

At his most accessibly productive in the 1980s under the name of Fred Houn, he formed the first of his Afro Asian Music Ensembles in 1982 and began productive relationships with Asian jazz musicians such as the pianist Jon Jang and the saxophonist Francis Wong – creating albums such as Tomorrow Is Now! (1985) and We Refuse to Be Used and Abused (1988) as vehicles for his sumptuous,Harry Carney-inspired baritone sax sound.

In the early 90s – by now known as Fred Ho – he showed how distinctively he could rework the jazz tradition by interpreting Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and the Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol classic Caravan alongside original material from his ballet-operas inspired by the Chinese novel known in English as Monkey. He also composed complex collages of Chinese folklore, black American politics, African anti-colonialism and feminism in large-scale works such as the 1991 operaWarrior Sisters.

If his work could be unflinchingly didactic at times, it was consistently leavened by the subtlety of Ho’s grasp of jazz orchestral writing and the pungent clarity of his sax playing. He played a sideman’s role rarely in his career, but did so in the early 90s for the innovative composer Julius Hemphill alongside such prominent sax stars as Tim Berne, James Carter and Marty Erlich on Hemphill’s 1993 swansong Five Chord Stud.

Ho’s activities crossed the radar of the international jazz community only sporadically after the turn of the millennium. But despite undergoing cancer treatment beginning in 2006, he remained indefatigably creative, and was fiercely devoted to resisting the spread of what he saw as neo-classical and conservative tendencies in contemporary music.

Although a Chinese American, Ho had identified closely with the civil rights struggles of African Americans since his teens, and wrote that their experiences “catalysed my own self-awareness”. He lived a life that was as resolutely askew from the mainstream as possible and regarded being a Luddite as a revolutionary rather than a reactionary stance, passionately opposing technology. He never owned a car and made all his clothes.

Born in Palo Alto, California, he moved at the age of six with his family to Massachusetts, where his father, an exile from Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, had taken up a political science teaching post at the state university. As a teenager, Ho had grown increasingly fascinated by the connections between the artistic expression of African-American struggles and those of America’s Asian population. He had begun teaching himself the baritone sax at 14 and became intrigued by the courses run at his father’s university by the charismatic saxophonist Archie Shepp and the bebop percussionist Max Roach.

He served in the marines in the early 70s, but after an early discharge due to what he claimed was a dispute with an officer over a racial issue, he joined the Nation of Islam and then the Black Panther-inspired I Wor Kuen organisation. Graduating from Harvard University with a sociology degree in 1979, he moved to New York to launch his music career.

After his cancer diagnosis, Ho’s mission changed, and he wrote vehemently about the nature and progress of his treatment in blogs, as well as in books such as Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior 2011. But he continued to compose, and his martial arts opera Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon! – inspired by Japanesemanga comics – was performed at New York’s La MaMa experimental theatre in 2013. Another work, Sweet Science Suite, for dancers and big band, was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the same year, and he also collaborated on works with the poets Magdalena Gómez, Kalamu Ya Salaam,Sonia Sanchez and Ruth Margraff.

*Fred Ho (Fred Wei-han Houn), musician and composer, born 10 August 1957; died 12 April 2014, shortly after receiving this award.