by Jerleen Justus
(Plain Press, March 2011) West 25th Street Riverview Tower residents observed Black History Month by attending a Black History Celebration on Sunday, February 20, 2011. The commemorative festivities were sponsored and presented by the Riverview Tower Local Advisory Council (LAC).
The Ward 3 Ohio City CMHA complex is home to approximately 500 citizens made up by a diverse and ethnic group of people from all walks of life. Ohio City Near West (OCNW) staff member Robert Shores assisted in making introductions and stating how he would like to see these kind programs and support brought to others such as Ward 14 Scranton Castle and Ohio City’s Lakeview Terrace residents.
More than one hundred (100) Ohio City Riverview Tower African-American residents braved the cold, snow and wind to join others in honoring and celebrating their heritage. Many arrived at the party center in wheelchairs while some of the walking impaired relied on canes or the assistance of their fellowman. Some came casually dressed and others paid homage to their culture by donning traditional bold colors, kaftans, dashikis and kufi hats.
Along with fun, entertainment, guest speakers and music from the motherland, the African-American jubilee was topped off with a hot soul-seasoned home-cooked menu. The smell of greens, pinto beans, cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, fried and roasted chicken hovered like a savory blanket while those in attendance were engrossed in remembering and learning more about their Black American History.
Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell and his band kicked the ceremonies in gear and got the party started by drumming up a little jazz. Drummer Conwell and the two guitarists entertained the congregation throughout the evening with a number of African-American rhythms.
Dressed in traditional African clothing, LAC President Eugene Ward made introductions and immediately followed by giving an eloquent reading of excerpts from Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”
Under the direction of Binnie Tufts, His Handiwork Puppet Ministry recapitulation of the past gave a rendition of the life and times of some of our country’s famous black cowboys. The puppeteers brought to life the story of a Tennessee slave named Nate Love, also known as “Deadwood Dick” After being freed from slavery Nate gathered up his belongings and headed out to become a cowpuncher. The young black man learned to read, speak Spanish, heard cattle, tie bridles, shoot his 45, saddle and ride some of the wildest horses in the West. His accomplishments earned him the title of the most famous black cowboy in history.
In addition to “Rawhide” songs the puppets shared other stories and tales about notorious black cowboys such as black rodeo “bulldoggin'” performer Bill Pickett, Sgt. Henry Parker and the Buffalo Soldiers. At the age of 18 Parker escaped from his slave master in Kentucky and joined the 101st Regiment United States Colored Infantry.
Following the puppet play East Side Praise Dancer Sierra West gave an emotional toe twirling performance to “In the Mist of it all.” The young woman spoke an art performing language that spoke to the heart of her captive audience. Every eye in the room gazed at the storyteller as she flit, leaped, fluttered and bounced in a ring and circled through the crowd.
Ward 9 Councilman Conwell took the floor as keynote speaker and in his colloquy he touched on the history of how African Americans overcame slavery. Observers listened attentively as speaker Conwell shared historical spellbinding events of Great Migration, the Underground Railroad, Southern USA and what is known as the Black Belt. He shared documented facts on how Cleveland’s Lake Erie bordering residents assisted in getting the slaves across the water to Canada and freedom.
The Black History Day Celebration presentation came to a close as African Drummer Olugbala Olu Manns stepped into the spotlight. The “HeartRhythms” facilitator reeled in a participating audience with his “being on the one” collaboration. It is evidence based that drum empowerment activity promotes team building and stress relief. This activity is great for all ages, students and professionals. Showing off his drum proficiency, the arts educator demonstrated the base, tone and slap conceptions of playing a African percussion instruments.