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.

Paint Day: John Coltrane Mural

Philadelphia is the City of Murals. The murals celebrate events, as well as residents who have made a difference. Few are more celebrated than John Coltrane who moved to Philadelphia in 1943. Coltrane resided in an apartment in Yorktown before buying a house in Strawberry Mansion in 1952. The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit and composed “Giant Steps” in that house.

In 2002, the Strawberry Mansion community, in collaboration with the Mural Arts Program, honored their former neighbor. The Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural in 2014.

Tribute to John Coltrane Collage

To be sure, murals come and go. However, there is too much love for Trane to let the demolition go unnoticed. It has taken a while but a new mural celebrating the life and legacy of the jazz innovator will soon be dedicated. The community is invited to add a brushstroke at a public paint day on Saturday, August 19 from 1-3 p.m., at Fairmount Park’s Hatfield House, located at 33rd Street and Girard Avenue.

So get up for the down brushstroke. Everybody get up and join the Mural Arts Philadelphia, Fairmount Park Conservancy, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and All That Philly Jazz.

For more info, visit Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Jazz and TV

In 1970, a band of musicians sounded a call to arms over the exclusion of black jazz musicians in the mass media, specifically commercial television. Broadcast TV was the dominant medium of the era. Multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk spearheaded the Jazz and People’s Movement. Kirk circulated a petition in New York City jazz clubs which was signed by, among others, Lee Morgan, Charles Mingus, Andy Cyrrile, Freddie Hubbard, Cecil Taylor, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Roy Haynes.

The petition read, in part:

Many approaches have been used through the ages in the attempted subjugation of masses of people. One of the very essential facets of the attempted subjugation of the black man in America has been an effort to stifle, obstruct and ultimately destroy black creative genius; and thus, rob the black man of a vital source of pride and liberating strength. In the musical world, for many years a pattern of suppression has been thoroughly inculcated into most Americans. Today many are seemingly unaware that their actions serve in this suppression – others are of course more intentionally guilty. In any event, most Americans for generations have had their eyes, ears and minds closed to what the black artist has to say.

Obviously only utilization of the mass media has enabled white society to establish the present state of bigotry and whitewash. The media have been so thoroughly effective in obstructing the exposure of true black genius that many black people are not even remotely familiar with or interested in the creative giants within black society.

[…]

Action to end this injustice should have begun long ago. For years only imitators and those would sell their souls have been able to attain and sustain prominence on the mass media. Partially through the utilization of an outlandish myth, that in artistic and entertainment fields bigotry largely no longer exists, and by showrooming those few blacks who have sold out, the media have so far escaped the types of response that such suppression and injustice should and now will evoke.

The Jazz and People’s Movement took action. Demonstrators disrupted tapings of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Dick Cavett Show and The Merv Griffin Show. On signal, group members played noisemakers and instruments that they had smuggled into the studios. They also passed out leaflets and displayed placards.

#TBT - Jazz and People's Movement Protest - August 1970

Also in the ‘70s, trumpeter, arranger and all-around musical genius Quincy Jones was on the board of the Institute of Black American Music whose mission was similar to Jazz and People’s Movement.

Billboard - IBAM - Nov. 6, 1971

Fast forward to today, the multi-Grammy winning Jones is taking a journey into jazz and beyond with Qwest TV, the world’s first subscription video-on-demand platform dedicated to jazz from bebop to hip-hop.

Qwest TV

In a statement, Jones said:

The dream of Qwest TV is to let jazz and music lovers everywhere experience these incredibly rich and diverse musical traditions in a whole new way.

At my core, I am a bebopper, and over the course of my seventy-year career in music I have witnessed firsthand the power of jazz – and all of its off-spring from the blues and R&B to pop, rock and hip-hop, to tear down walls and bring the world together. I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will view Bird, Miles and Dizzy, as our Mozart, Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, and it is my hope that Qwest TV will serve to carry forth and build on the great legacy that is jazz for many generations to come.

Qwest TV co-founder Reza Ackbaraly added:

By bringing Qwest TV to the general public and to universities everywhere, we seek to promote the values inherent to jazz: hard work, diversity, openness towards others, mutual respect and consideration, cooperation, and improvisation. Jazz touches people across all national, social and cultural boundaries. Qwest TV is of course about extending that reach, but it is also about bringing exciting music from around the world back to jazz and music lovers who have yet to discover it. Quincy and I plan to build a community where the love goes both ways.

The streaming service will launch in fall 2017. For more info, visit Qwest TV.

2nd Annual Jazz Legacy Awards

On Monday, July 24, 2017, the jazz community, spearheaded by state Sen. Vincent Hughes and Sheryl Lee Ralph-Hughes, will celebrate seven pioneers in the world of arts and culture:

  • Marshall Allen, Sun Ra Arkestra
  • Joan Myers Brown, PHILADANCO
  • Abiodun Oyewole, The Last Poets
  • Odean Pope, Saxophonist
  • Mickey Roker (posthumously), Drummer
  • Sumi Tonooka, Pianist
  • Tony Williams, Saxophonist

2nd Jazz Legacy Award

The event is free but you must RSVP by contacting Tamica Tanksley via email or by phone at (215) 879-7777.