By Reza C. Clifton
(This article appeared in the Providence American Newspaper)
PROVIDENCE, RI- I am sure that I join the ranks of many who extend gratitude and praise to documentary filmmakers. The ability to visually showcase history, leadership, truth, tragedy, and joy is remarkable. Yet one of the cornerstones of a good documentary is something that most of us can do without an education or background in filmmaking—interviewing. That’s right, one on one dialogues where accuracy can be heightened, and misconceptions obliterated. And I had an opportunity to experience this firsthand this past Sunday, April 24.
With the help and arrangement of AKA members Betty Williams and LaToya O’neal, I had a brief opportunity to chat with Providence native Ms. Beatrice Coleman, who turned 101 years old last Thursday, April 21. Williams and O’neal were among a group that gathered to honor Coleman, one of the two oldest living AKA members in the Northeast. She was initiated into the Epsilon Chapter, Boston, Massachusetts of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. in 1924, prior to graduating from Brown University’s Pembroke’s Women’s College in 1925.
A top honor—most would agree—graduating from Brown’s Pembroke, but what a telling glimpse into the past to hear Coleman when she reflects, “I really wanted to go to Howard [University in Washington, DC]. My family was too poor to send me there, but they vowed to help send me to Brown. It was closer to home; therefore easier to assist with.”
Coleman’s main reason to go to college was not very unlike why other African-Americans attended school at the turn of the century—“…because I didn’t want to cook, clean, and wait on white folks.” But this was not the only motivator for Coleman.
“Dr. Gross and Dr. Gilbert [two of RI’s first Black physicians] had attended Howard. As did [the prominent Providence Black family’s] Madeline Flemming.” That’s right: far from living sequestered from other educated Blacks, Coleman lived near and had access to mentors that looked like her, an advantage still not enjoyed by everyone today.
But this detail about mentors is recited as regularly by Coleman, as are details about her church involvement. As a matter of fact, our opportunity to talk last Sunday was abridged due to services she was to attend later that morning. That dedication to her faith continues to be a strong element in her life, having influenced her to study Latin at Pembroke and teaching Latin later—at St. Mary’s School for Girls in Pennsylvania, Elizabeth City in North Carolina, and Bradley School in East Providence.
Her steadfast commitment to the church also resulted in travel to Jerusalem, “the Holy Land,” an experience she describes with a twinkle in her eye. The only other topic for which Coleman exudes the same joy is that of the AKA’s.
In her most recent appointment within the chapter, she was responsible for sending out birthday greetings, a duty for which members praised her as performing with great attention and in a timely manner. Furthermore, O’neal and Williams inform me, she’s known for periodically reflecting, “First comes God, then my sorority.”
I know that that the entire state of RI joins the AKA’s, and me, in wishing Ms. Beatrice Coleman a very Happy Birthday.
By Reza C. Clifton
(This article appeared in The Providence American Newspaper)
PROVIDENCE, RI- “Now is the time in [Providence] Black Rep[ertory Company] history where resources are there to support the vision. Don has always had the vision, but the resources are here. They are at a critical juncture where Black Rep is about to blow up.”
While easy to mix these words with other praise for one of the city’s artistic and cultural bastions, expressed by the new Managing Director at the Black Rep, Jaime Brunson, it is also a professional assessment.
Prior to beginning the position at the Black Rep earlier this year, Brunson worked at New Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While her final position there was as Managing Director/Co-CEO, she amassed diverse experience from 1993-2004 in areas including marketing, fundraising, and strategic planning. Looking back on it, Brunson smiles and talks excitedly.
“I had had a few brief attempts at Freedom Theatre trying to take an acting course, but I was never able to finish it. Well, one day I went in to seek out more opportunities for acting, and I was introduced to the founder of Freedom Theatre.
“We talked about my interests and about my professional skills [working in hospitality, special events, sales and promotions at a Holiday Inn, with previous experience at another hotel]. After talking on a Friday, that Sunday I was offered a position at Freedom Theatre in fundraising. I took a pay-cut to be there, but I believed, and was convinced, that there was room for me there.”
And she was right, moving eventually from Founders Fund Coordinator of Freedom Theatre, and through its transitioning to Managing Director/Co-Ceo of New Freedom Theatre.
Interesting, if not just plain inspirational, was and is Brunson’s ability to mold and accelerate these competitive professional skills, while also continuing to promote growth in her writing. Did I mention that she is an award-winning playwright? At the Edward Albee Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska, Brunson was awarded the Edward Albee Panelists Choice Award for her play, All Over.
This other side to Brunson began as a youth. “I have been writing since I was twelve years old. I guess I began writing as a young person who badly needed to express herself.” Nonetheless, “it was not till my mid-20’s that I shared my writing with others,” she admits. But it is not within just published plays that Brunson extends her writing. She has joined and started numerous writer’s groups—for those working on plays, prose and poetry—and on a sunny afternoon in Tazza Café, encourages me and other [perhaps African-American] writers to try one.
And even this, for me, adds to the list of reasons that the Black Rep and Providence have the potential of gaining extensive benefits from Brunson. She is committed to encouraging writers to release themselves, into the work, upon colleagues, or alongside audiences—through her writers’ groups and through membership of arts and culture boards.
She is also dedicated to the Black Rep, whose reputation, she asserts—along with Providence’s—is well known throughout national Black theatre circles. “Though I knew him and had seen some of the Rep’s work, when I came to Providence and met with Don, I fell in love with his vision. Then, I met the board, and I fell in love with the spirit of the board.” “[Following time off to focus on health] I had one…well three criteria for my next position. A place with lots of water, an organization with lots of heart and vision, and a place with vibrant arts and culture in which to continue my growing artistic passion.”
For more info on upcoming events at the Providence Black Repertory Company, visit www.blackrep.org. For info on New Freedom Theatre, visit www.freedomtheatre.org
By Reza C. Clifton
(This article appeared in the Providence American Newspaper)
PROVIDENCE, RI—Napolean X and Ken Bento are two guys with a video and music production company out of Providence. They have worked on music videos for local artists, covered music festivals, and provided music or soundtracks for different projects. They laugh, joke, and generally enjoy fun, light-hearted projects. But if you have spoken to them recently, you can tell by a rapid change in their mood, attention, and voice that they are working on something new and different.
This fresh project to which I refer is a documentary film entitled Black Men Can Fly. It is about RI community leader, George S. Lima, and while not entirely finished, Napolean and Ken have completed a thirty-minute preview of it.
The title is a play on words, containing two references: one, to Lima’s career as a Tuskegee Airman, and the other to the idea that Black Americans can and should aim high with our goals. And as the trailer demonstrates, Lima is a shining example of someone who stood by this affirmation.
Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, Lima moved during his childhood to New York City, then for college, moved to North Carolina. While attending North Carolina A&T, he experienced his first encounter with Jim Crow—legal segregation of public facilities for Blacks and Whites. It was there that he also signed up to learn more about flying, which led him to join the Tuskegee Air Squad.
At the end of his service, Lima returned to New England—to RI specifically—and studied at Brown University. His personal experiences with racism, previously and upon returning to New England, inspired him to become active in the Civil Rights Movement—a choice that led him to become president of the Providence National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Lima is a former state legislator, was a union organizer—advocating on behalf of police officers, prison employees, and other state employees—and has worked extensively on Fair Housing initiatives. Even at 86, he works on and speaks in support of Reparations and RI’s shameful ties to slavery, and he continues to do other forms of community work.
And this ongoing community work illustrates one of the reasons Protown Productions is so excited about the project. Ken explains: “Anyone and everyone who knows him, respects him. …he is still active in the community and the community still calls him and calls on him.”
It is for those people who don’t know about him, or that don’t know he is accessible that Protown is particularly interested in reaching. “We’re trying to expose the [gap] between his generation and younger generations. He was right in the Front Lines. Talking to young people, sometimes they forget that he and others lived through a lot, and that their stories need to be told.”
The work has just begun, though. Originally, Marlene Britto and Ernest Faison took up the task of creating the film about Lima. Nonprofessional filmmakers, they looked to Napolean and Ken as consultants. However, as the project developed, Napolean and Ken felt that as products of his work, they owed it back to Lima to commit themselves more heavily to the film—ensuring the delivery of the highest, most professional quality product.
And Protown has a good start. The thirty-minute trailer they prescreened for me was intriguing, informative, and well-produced; they plan to give an official screening on Thursday morning, April 21 as part of the upcoming conference at the RI Convention Center, The Paradigm Shifting Conference April 17-21. Lima is also scheduled to present and participate in a question and answer segment at the event. The conference is a combination job fair and college fair with particular emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and exposure to science and technology jobs.
The screening at the conference is just one plan that Protown Productions has in place to gain exposure for the project. And if the film is not complete, for what do they need exposure? “Sometimes he [Lima] is so humble, that he’ll gloss over significant details like the appearance of Malcolm X at an event or the fact that he’s boxed Joe Louis,” explains Ken. So for one, they’re looking for people who knew or worked with Lima to step forward and contribute anecdotes.
Their interests also lie in obtaining access to vaults, photographs, and other official testimonials. Also mentioned is the idea of setting up speaking tours for him at different schools with the hope of filming and incorporating some of the talks into the final product. Finally, they hope that exposure might lead to financial assistance, a major factor that is sure to contribute to the film’s projected completion, February, Black History Month, 2006.
For more information on the Paradigm Shifting Conference, contact Thomas Gaines, Associate Professor/ Director Office of Campus Diversity, Johnson & Wales University
(401) 598-1294. For more information on the film, or if interested in contributing, contact Protown Productions at (401) 749-8452 or 523-7008.
By Reza C. Clifton
(This article appeared in The Providence American Newspaper)
PROVIDENCE, RI—Eight hundred sixty pounds of food. No, this is no sort of projection related to the average person’s consumption. This figure represents the estimated amount of food contributed by students, professionals, and bar patrons last Thursday, April 7 at the Providence Black Repertory Company’s Xxodus Café.
Thursday’s Rise Up Charity Event—created and organized by Tacuma Vanterpool—was at its simplest, a food drive and charity, and at its fullest, a cultural, multigenerational, social, networking, humanitarian eye on homelessness.
A New York City native and Rhode Island College alumnus, twenty-six year old Vanterpool currently works as a high school advisor for RI Children’s Crusade. He works with Hope High School students facilitating SAT waivers, conducting career and college searches, and assisting with college visits. He also provides social and personal advising and helps with leadership and community service.
Education is not the only societal issue that Vanterpool has confronted, evidenced by Thursday’s event. Even he was shocked at the success of the event, but last week was not the first time that he has been proactive about learning and helping the homeless.
Armed with a psychology degree, Vanterpool’s first job upon graduating from RIC was with the Providence Center. Working with the homeless population, the position involved interviews, medication guidance, assistance with daily living, and personalized assessments and care provided alongside nurses.
But Vanterpool will tell you, his instincts toward helping the homeless in particular come from his upbringing. His family, and his grandmother specifically, was very active with the church. Vanterpool recalls how, at ten years old, he was often at church working on soup kitchen and clothing drive activities with her. Vanterpool’s father is a Black political activist, that he describes as a “principled, strong community person,” and his mother is “warm hearted” and motivating. The entire family, he insists, has been inspirational.
But family and prior work at the Providence Center aren’t the only things that inspired Vanterpool. Once a month, he is in the habit of taking a homeless person out for lunch or on an outing. On one occasion, he accompanied someone to a highway off ramp to stand with a sign requesting donations. “Not one person stopped,” he remembers. Later, as he was telling the story to a friend, he was asked, “What are you going to do about it.” That same night, Vanterpool asserts, he began planning the event.
It was originally to be a “networking opportunity and a humanitarian one,” explains Vanterpool. Important elements to him included music, diverse ages/career levels, and location. Knowing the Black Rep’s emphasis on music, its tendency to have different ages there, and knowing that the environment is relaxing, Vanterpool knew that he had a perfect setting there if allowed to have the event there.
Besides the Black Rep, Vanterpool sought and received the assistance of students/volunteers representing different historically Black fraternities and sororities including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Kappa Alpha Kappa Fraternity Incorporated, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity incorporated.
His goals? This was Vanterpool’s first event, and while it was a charity event, he had straightforward, modest goals. One was to complete the task; two was to collect any amount of food; three was to heighten awareness of homelessness; and four was to create and demonstrate the necessity of networking. Besides from the Black Rep and the aforementioned student groups, he also looked to the American Red Cross—for taking monetary donations, and assisting in collecting and distributing the food—and to Brazilian Capoeira dance artists Grupo Ondas for additional cultural entertainment.
The night was a success. The number of people who attended is a hard number to ascertain. Vanterpool reports that at any given time, there were approximately two hundred people present. He also has a vague idea of just how many attended because he says that he brought approximately three hundred fifty thank you cards to distribute to people upon entering and forty-five minutes before Xxodus Café closed, the cards were gone.
But there are other markers of success that were realized by or brought to the attention of Vanterpool. One is the figure for the amount of food collected—almost one thousand pounds of nonperishable goods. Another marker? The student groups that did participate along with groups that did not are asking for opportunities to assist with such an event again. A third marker? According to staff at the bar, and other people with whom Vanterpool spoke later, people that night were actually conversing about and reflecting on homelessness; later, his theater coach called it a revolution that could not be stopped.
And for this reason, Tacuma Vanterpool is on the move, planning again. He would not give us insight into the next event, preferring, as is his style, to remain private about the details until everything is in place. But, part two is in the works, and it behooves us to be among the first to know the next time that this young black man takes it upon himself to organize an event again.