On Sunday, December 2, over 250 people converged on the Jamaica Performing Arts Center in Queens, NY for the 4th Annual Pre-Kwanzaa Community Empowerment Event which opened with the pulsating African Diasporan sounds of Atiba Kwabena Wilson and the Be’fo Quintet. In addition to the great music, the audience also experienced an intergenerational spoken word presentation presented by multitalented Atiba and his sound Nkosi.
In addition, there was a tribute to the legendary African Jazz Arts Society Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models. The group AJASS was founded in 1956 by the late Pan-Africanist, artist and activist Elombe Brath (President), along with Kwame Brathwaite, Robert Gumbs, Chris Acemandese Hall, Frank Adu Robinson and David Ward. Both Robert Gumbs, one of the surviving members of AJASS, along with Queen Black Rose, one of the first Grandassa Models, were in attendance to receive Cultural Caravan Productions’ African Legacy Award for their contributions to our culture. Cinque Brath, President of the Elombe Brath Foundation, was also on hand to pick up a plaque that was given to his parents Nomsa Brath and Elombe Brath as well. AJASS began the first series of “Naturally” shows in 1962 that featured models with dark skin, wearing their natural kinky hair, which was contrary to the Eurocentric standard of beauty. Queen Black Rose discussed how the models were at first criticized by family, friends and employers for not straightening their hair. However, as people realized how beautiful the models looked adorning their natural hair and African clothing, they were finally won over. AJASS and the Grandassa Models are considered the “Pioneers of the Black is Beautiful Movement.” Most of the photos of the Grandassa Models were taken by the renowned photographer Kwame Brathwaite. The audience was also spellbound by the cultural presentation by Queen Black Rose that followed which emphasized the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of natural African beauty.
The evening also included a captivating fashion show which featured an array of Afrocentric garments produced by Futa by Chama Chic African fashions and coordinated by Ayanna Inniss. The show was reminiscent of the “Naturally” fashion shows that featured the Grandassa Models, said Bob Gumbs of AJASS. The fashion show was followed by a brief presentation by the President General of the UNIA Michael Duncan. He emphasized the need for Black people to study the teachings of the Hon. Marcus Garvey and join the movement.
The keynote address was made by Dr. Umar Johnson, who received a rousing cheer from the audience as he came to the stage. His topic was “400 Years Later: Breaking the Chains of Mental Slavery-Survival Strategies for the 21st Century.” During his speech, he remarked that in his opinion Blacks were more enslaved mentally, emotionally and psychologically after slavery than before slavery ended. He then discussed the impact of Post-traumatic Slave Disorder and white supremacy on Black people today. Strategies for social and economic empowerment were also discussed as well. Dr. Umar had also mentioned that an important announcement about the status of the school that he plans to open, The Frederick Douglass/Marcus Garvey Academy (FDMG), will be made by the end of the year.
The event was also filled with a wide array of cultural vendors and lots of enthusiasm and satisfaction from the audience who felt that the event was well-done and very memorable. Kudos to the Cultural Caravan TV founder Louise Dente and her dedicated group of staff and supporters who had made this year’s event one of the best. You can watch ”Cultural Caravan TV” on Sundays on NYC Media on Channels 25 or 22 from 5:30pm to 6pm. For more information, call 347-804-5810.
The photos were by EJ Haughton.