Category Archives: Advocacy

Harlem on My Mind

Gentrification is displacing longtime residents in historically African American neighborhoods from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles.

Gentrification - Historically Black Neighborhoods

I grew up in Bed-Stuy and went to college in Harlem where an iconic mural, the “Spirit of Harlem,” was covered up by Footaction, a sneaker and apparel company.

Spirit of Harlem Mural2

Langston Hughes famously asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”


We know what happens if we don’t fight the collateral damage of gentrification. African American cultural heritage and presence will be erased from public memory. So Harlem activists are organizing to give the boot to Footaction.

Give the Boot to Fooaction

For me, it’s déjà vu all over again. In 2015, Pennrose Properties demolished the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

Tribute to John Coltrane Mural2

But rather than simply lament its destruction, I made some noise in my capacity as director of All That Philly Jazz. Fast forward two years, Pennrose Chairman and CEO Richard K. Barnhart thanked me for my activism. Barnhart told me that in raising awareness of the importance of cultural heritage preservation I “made him a better person.”

On September 24, 2017, the “Why We Love Coltrane” mural was dedicated.

Why We Love Coltrane-3

The mural was funded by Pennrose Properties and the City of Philadelphia, in partnership with All That Philly Jazz, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Why We Love Coltrane Acknowledgements

Footaction is owned by retail giant Foot Locker. Together, we can make Footaction a better corporate citizen. Let’s make some noise.

UPDATE: After making some noise on Twitter, I received a DM from Footaction.

Footaction - Direct Message - 12.12.17

True to its word, restoration of the “Spirit of Harlem” mural is in progress.

Footaction - Restoration in Progress

Advocacy works!

Going to Chicago for PastForward

I’m going to Chicago for PastForward 2017. I am a two-time recipient of a diversity scholarship to attend the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference. But as I wrote for the Preservation Leadership Forum blog, I am an accidental preservationist:

I love old buildings. I love even more the stories that old buildings hold—they are places where history happened. To borrow a phrase from blues singer Little Milton, “if walls could talk” they would tell stories of faith, determination and triumph. For me, historic preservation is about staking African Americans’ claim to the American story.

One of my first stops will be State and Washington streets to check out the 10-story mural of Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters Mural

I’ll also check out the former home of the blues icon. Sadly, the 125-year-old building is under threat of demolition.

Muddy Waters Home

Discussions on reUrbanism, preservation and health, and technology will be live streamed. You can sign up as a virtual attendee for free. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #PastForward17.

I’m going to Chicago, y’all.

While in the Windy City, I will use the CTA to get around. NEA Jazz Master and Philly naive Jimmy Heath composed “CTA.” Miles Davis said it was named after Heath’s then-girlfriend Connie Theresa Ann.

Vote for Nina Simone for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The High Priestess of Soul has been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Nina Simone’s unapologetic rage and accusatory voice named names and took no prisoners in the African-American struggle for equality in the early 1960s.

Her triumphant voice sang what it meant to be young, gifted and black in a sometimes unjust and troubled world.

Nina Simone is one of 19 nominees in the Class of 2018.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Information on the induction process is available here. Fans can vote for up to five nominees once a day. Voting is open through 11:59 p.m. on December 5.

As of this writing, Ms. Simone is trailing behind in fan votes.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Current Standing

An unvarnished truth-teller, Nina Simone worked her magic “for the whole round world to hear.” Let’s show her the love that’s in our hearts. Vote early and often.

Thelonious Monk@100

This year is the centennial of the birth of Thelonious Monk. Monk’s 100th birthday is being celebrated across the country.

Thelonious Monk

For Philadelphia, one day is not enough. Starting at midnight on October 10, WRTI will play his most recognized composition to start off every new broadcast day for a whole year. The station will not have to hit repeat since there are more than 1000 versions of “’Round Midnight.” Fittingly, Monk was a classically trained pianist.

One of my most memorable experiences was attending Monk’s funeral in 1982. The homegoing service was held at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City. Musicians played version-after-version of “’Round Midnight.” It was a loving tribute to the man who composed the most recorded jazz standard in history.

National Museum of African American History and Culture Turns One

September 24 marked the first anniversary of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, more affectionately known as my home away from home.

NMAAHC First Anniversary

From Day One, NMAAHC has had the people’s stamp of approval. In its first year, the museum has welcomed more than two million visitors. Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the museum, said:

We are so grateful to America for making this first year unprecedentedly successful. This first anniversary gives us at the Smithsonian the opportunity to thank everyone for this incredible gift and for making it possible to continue our mission to help America grapple with history by seeing their past through an African American lens – and ultimately help Americans find healing and reconciliation.

NMAAHC has received the stamp of approval of the U.S. Postal Service which issued the “Celebrating African American History and Culture” Forever stamp.

NMAAHC Forever Stamp

The numbers show that the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a gift to the American people:

  • Almost 2.5 million visitors walked through the 400,000-square-foot building.
  • Of those visitors, 922 were ambassadors.
  • About 10,000 of all 2.5 million people who passed through were between the ages of 4 and 7 years old.
  • About 3,000 objects were on display while NMAAHC’s permanent collection is more than 13 times that size, at almost 40,000 objects.

For more info, check out “NMAAHC’s First Year by the Numbers.”

John Coltrane Mural Dedication

Advocacy works! In 2014, Pennrose Company demolished the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural that was located at 33rd and Diamond Streets, a short walk from Coltrane’s former residence in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

Tribute to John Coltrane Mural

It took a little prodding, but Pennrose stepped up and made a significant contribution to Mural Arts Philadelphia for a new Coltrane mural.

John Coltrane Mural

The “Why We Love Coltrane” mural , located at 29th and Diamond Streets, will be dedicated at a public event on Sunday, September 24, 2017, from 1pm to 3pm. All That Philly Jazz is a co-host of the free event.

29th and Diamond

For background information, listen to WRTI’s interview with Mural Arts Executive Director Jane Golden and visual artist Ernel Martinez, “A New Mural Rising to Honor John Coltrane.”

International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

Today is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. UNESCO designated August 23 because it marks the beginning of the 1791 slave rebellion in Santo Domingo (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic) led by Toussaint L’Ouverture.

The 2017 theme, “Remember Slavery: Recognizing the Legacy and Contributions of People of African Descent,” focuses on the ways in which enslaved Africans and their descendants “influenced and continue to shape societies around the world.”

The under-told story of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is also the focus of a TED-Ed video that has garnered 2.5 million views.

For more info, go here.