Words and songs honor late ‘trailblazer’ Scott


On the occasion of his birthdate and in celebration of Black History Month in Abilene, the late Rev. Leo F. Scott was remembered Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, as a “great, great trailblazer.” Greg Jaklewicz

On the occasion of his birthdate and in celebration of Black History Month in Abilene, the late Rev. Leo F. Scott was remembered Monday as a “great, great trailblazer.”

Scott’s life and contributions to the city were remembered at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, where striking illustrations by African-American artists grace the walls in an exhibition titled “Our Voice,” an appropriate theme for the evening of spoken words, sung words and holy words.

The Rev. Iziar Lankford, emcee of the event, said Moses and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. heard the call when leadership was needed.

“Abilene needed a leader,” Lankford said, and the city received a young pharmacist who would become a respected minister and the first African-American on the City Council.

Scott, a Rockdale native, died Dec. 28, 2009, at 76.

Despite “enduring hardships,” Lankford said, Scott persevered to become a man of many accomplishments. “He was a workhorse and not a showhorse.”

In his invocation, the Rev. Phil Christopher said Scott did not just make a living but lived to make a difference. A city, he said, is not defined by city limits but by compassion that knows no limits. For Scott, it was the same.

The Rev. Larry Kimbrough, who came from Mineral Wells where he pastors Bethel Baptist Church, turned to Psalms for his scripture reading.

“For in the day of trouble

he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

and set me high upon a rock.”

Choirs from several churches offered selections and speakers included former chief of the Abilene Police Department, Melvin Martin, and the man who succeeded Scott at the pulpit of New Light Baptist Church, the Rev. Eddie Jordan.

Mayor Anthony Williams, who spoke near the end of the program, said it has been long since Scott was honored. Two more programs are planned at the NCCIL this month — the annual Claudie C. Royals Banquet on Thursday and honoring African-Americans who work for the city of Abilene on Monday.


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Mississippi bluesmen rediscovered in ‘Two Trains Runnin”: BIFF review

Skip James, left, and Son House in "Two Trains Runnin’," which screens at noon today during the 2018 Boulder International Film Festival.

Skip James, left, and Son House in “Two Trains Runnin’,” which screens at noon today during the 2018 Boulder International Film Festival. (Not Provided / Courtesy Dick Waterman)

On June 21, 1964 two separate groups of music fans seeking out blues musicians located Skip James and Son House in Mississippi, where they had been living in obscurity since recording scratchy 78 records more than 30 years previously.

It was a triumph for the fanboys, all white men from New York and California. One group came upon old blues music as a logical extension of their interest in folk music. Such attention led to a second act for some of the blues players and prompted the second wave of rock ‘n’ roll.

On the same day as the black artists Skip James and Son House were re-discovered, however, civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan and local police.

Sam Pollard’s documentary “Two Trains Runnin'” — which screens at noon today at Longmont Museum in Longmont and at 10 a.m. on Sunday at eTown in Boulder — toggles between the two narratives in a fascinating, terrible and occasionally funny look at a place and time where hauntingly beautiful blues music coincides with what amounted to 100 years of terrorism being waged against the community that created it.


Rapper and actor Common provides narration to the feature length documentary that folds in animation to lend extra life to the stories told by the two crews that set out for Mississippi from Cambridge, Mass., and California. In a rare moment of levity, an elderly black man goes along with one of the groups to guide them to a possible location of one of the musicians only to get in an argument over directions with a group of ominous white men loitering in a corn field. It’s a nail-biting moment, for sure, but an oddly funny insight into an elderly black man who’s lived his entire life under Jim Crow and just isn’t taking any more. (The incredulous white men relent and give him the directions.)

The folk nerds who unwittingly put themselves into a great deal of danger trekking into 1960s Mississippi make for compelling storytelling on their own. One of the men, John Fahey, a notable musician in his own right, studied old records trying to decipher the odd tunings, and the two crews of men searched for their idols with scant information. One bluesman was only known to be fat and a fan of white cowboy hats, for example.

But it’s the on-camera interviews with Civil Rights workers from the period, mostly black, that remind the viewer that while the stakes might have been high for the white music fans, they pale in comparison to what the black folk went through every day as they struggled for equal rights. The film spends more time on the blues, but one of its more poignant moments arrives when a civil rights worker tears up recalling the awful deaths of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney.

As for the music, Pollard filmed contemporary artists like Lucinda Williams and The North Mississippi performing their take on some old blues tunes. The vintage country blues recordings, as scratchy and lo-fidelity as they may be, will likely bring tears to the eyes of anyone who is actually listening.

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Newsbook: What to Read After Watching ‘Black Panther’

The long-anticipated “Black Panther” film debuted in theaters on Feb. 17, and the response from critics and fans has been overwhelmingly positive. The movie earned $387 million in its opening weekend, which makes it the highest-grossing film of all time by a black director. If you want to dive deeper into the world of black comics, here are three books to start you off.


Politics of Race and Representation
Edited by Sheena C. Howard
288 pp. Bloomsbury Academic. (2013)

Howard, who wrote “Encyclopedia of Black Comics,” presents a collection of analytical essays that explore the historical and vast contributions of black artists to the graphic book genre, including comic strips, political cartoons, manga and graphic novels. One essay, “Brief History of the Black Comic Strip: Past and Present,” chronicles the work of black creators starting in the 1920s, while other contributors contextualize the work of black creators, explaining how they tackled themes such as the intersection of gender and race and incorporated political and social commentary in their comics.


A Nation Under Our Feet (Book 1)

By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
144 pp. Marvel. (2016)

If watching “Black Panther” left you wanting to know more about the Wakanda universe, consider Coates’s first book in his reprisal of the classic comic. Wakanda is threatened by a superhuman terrorist group called The People, which is deploying suicide bombers and poisoning the population against the king and current Black Panther, T’Challa. He must quell a violent uprising and lead the country through necessary change. Other heroes, like Storm and Luke Cage, join him to help save Wakanda.


Dictator of Discipline, Revelation (Book 1)
By Guy Sims, Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile and Brian McGee
110 pp. Big City Entertainment. (2016)

Originally conceived in the early 1990s by three brothers, the “Brotherman” comic series is considered a cornerstone of contemporary black comic culture. It follows Antonio Valor, a public attorney in Big City who doubles as Brotherman, a realistic hero who combats delinquency in his crime-ridden city. This graphic novel — the first in what will be a series of three — tells Brotherman’s origin story, and reintroduces the character to a modern audience.

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Coal mining has a deep history in Southern Illinois

By Casey Bischel | Of the Belleville News-Democrat

Special thanks to the Belleville News-Democrat. 

Louis Joliet and Pere Marquette, returning from an expedition on the Mississippi River in 1673, were the first explorers to notice the combustible material that would shape the Illinois economy. The coal just sat there on the surface like low-hanging fruit near Utica along the Illinois River.

The first mine appeared near Peoria not long after, but it wasn’t until 1830, when coal from Belleville found a market in nearby St. Louis, that the industry took off, according to Keith Weil and Alvin K. Grandys, who wrote the 1976 Illinois Coal Digest, a publication from the Illinois Department of Business and Economic Development.

Coal grew by leaps and bounds over the decades. In the 1850s and 1860s, railroads opened lines to new customers and the Civil War. Later, Weil and Grandys write, the formalization of geology and the appearance of the steam engine made coal easier to find and dig.

The mines attracted tens of thousands of workers, many of whom were exposed to the dangers of an unchecked industry. As mine collapses and explosions claimed hundreds of lives, new vitality sprang into labor unions that went on to fight for better safety and health care.

Early mine collapses, the result of apathetic owners, encouraged miners to organize but still produced few gains, according to Rosemary Feurer, a history professor at Northern Illinois University. Reforms went unenforced, and even a nascent form of workers’ compensation, the victory of a particularly deadly episode in Cherry, in the northern part of the state in 1909, barely compensated widows from a legal judgment.

Every law “was written in blood,” said Bernie Harsey, president of the United Mine Workers of America Local 1825 in DuQuoin.

Harsey also fought for a better way of life for miners. In 1993, management wanted to reduce health care benefits, so the union went on strike, and Harsey was out of work for six months. If the strike didn’t happen, he said, he didn’t think he would have health insurance coverage.

Harsey, who started in the coal industry in 1973, said he’s used between $2 million and $3 million in health insurance to cover his family for everything from cancer to a kidney transplant.

“We wouldn’t have that without our labor disputes,” he said.

Health care was one of the items that miners fought hardest for, and in 1946, John Lewis, the leader of the United Mine Workers of America, negotiated legislation that secured cradle-to-grave health care coverage for its members that was guaranteed by the federal government.

Recently, that compromise came under threat when Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy in 2016, the latest in a series of coal companies to fail. After a temporary stopgap that saved health insurance for 22,600 retired miners, their widows and children, Congress finally saved the deal in April 2017.

Today, the “Promise of 1946,” a term the Krug-Lewis Act acquired relatively recently, seems sacrosanct, but miners at the time wouldn’t have seen it that way, Feurer said. Throughout Lewis’s tenure, the UMWA grew closer to management, and the organization became more bureaucratic. Inspired by these trends, a more rebellious wave of labor action in the 1960s won the Federal Mining Safety Legislation of 1974, an improvement to narrower and weaker bills passed in 1951 and 1969.

For as much as miners sacrificed for their benefits, others who weren’t covered sometimes sacrificed just as much, as companies pit workers against themselves by bringing in different ethnic groups to undercut wages of more established groups. The 1922 Herrin Massacre stands out as the one of the most violent episodes of labor violence in which union members shot and killed 19 strikebreakers.

The first people to mine in Illinois were slaves, Feurer said. Other early groups to settle the area were English, Scots-Irish and Irish, people who’d struck out with the poor soils of Appalachia, according to David Conrad, a history professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. From 1890 to the early 1920s, eastern and southern Europeans settled the area next. After the Civil War, African-Americans came north only to find that “southern Illinois was not greatly different,” Conrad wrote in “Tell Me A Story: Memories of Early Life Around the Coal Fields of Illinois.”

As evidence of coal’s importance to the economy and culture of Southern Illinois in particular, the first mining union, the American Miners’ Association, began in West Belleville in 1861.

Since then, Illinois has produced many generations of miners, and today, as a lack of opportunities clamps down on the region, it ensures that only an eager, if smaller, generation will continue the dangerous work.

Only, they won’t belong to the UMWA anymore, Harsey said. Not a single member works in any mine in Southern Illinois.

About 98 percent of workers who belong to the Local 1825 are retired now. The other 2 percent, about 10 people, are waiting for work on the inactive list. It’s been this way since 1997, when the mine reached the end of its property and there was nothing more to dig.

“We knew the day was coming,” Harsey said. “You just get on with life.”

The future of coal mining in Illinois is bleak for workers, and although many believe the industry’s freefall began only recently, it peaked in the 1920s, and has been declining since, Conrad said.

In 1930, a whopping 185 coal mines employed 51,200 people who produced 52 million tons of coal. By 2015, just 19 mines employing 3,600 people produced 55 million tons of coal, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

While coal production varies from year to year, the number of workers has declined steadily. Technology and natural gas, the two biggest culprits for the industry’s current decline, were blamed 100 years ago, too, as trains became more efficient and other fuels found new markets.

After Harsey’s mine shut down, many workers were let go, but some stayed on for the next five years to work on land reclamation. Harsey worked with the operating engineers’ Local 5 for 10 more years.

“For me, only working (seven or eight) months out of the year, I was more fortunate than the others,” he said.

Local 1825 may be out of work, but it still celebrates the history of Illinois coal mining. Every year on April 1, it gets together to celebrate the victory of an 8-hour workday. In 2017, about 175 people showed up.

“We had a good turnout,” he said.

Casey Bischel of the Belleville News-Democrat can be reached at cbischel@bnd.com

Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at 200illinois.com.

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The Separation Between Church And The State Of Your Health May Be Narrowing

Glenn Ellis

By Glenn Ellis

(Trice Edney Wire) – “Much of the work of … prevention must occur at the community level, where human relationships breathe life into public policy. American communities are also home to scores of faith-based and secular initiatives that help reduce risk factors and promote protective factors associated with many of our most pressing social problems”

The separation between church and the state of your health may be narrowing, according to a new study released in the journal Health Promotion Practice.

In a survey of more than 1,200 members of 11 African-American churches in North Carolina, an overwhelming majority of congregants said they believe that the church has a responsibility to promote healthy living within the community they serve.

Many of us who’ve grown up in the church understand its historical context, and know that churches have traditionally functioned beyond spiritual guidance and social support.

Surprisingly to some, many African-Americans still believe their church is responsible for promoting health in their members and the community. But what may be more surprising is how those congregants say they’d like to receive those messages about their health — by way of interactive workshops and health fairs instead of from the pulpit.

I have often been critical of health promotion efforts which seek to reach the black community through churches, because while churches are important part of black culture, public health researchers often overestimate the role of the pastor, alone, as the sole mechanism for crafting and presenting health information

Presumably health ministry members are more knowledgeable than most pastors when it comes to health messages. After all, they are the group within the church that focuses on the promotion of health and healing as part of the mission and ministry of the larger faith group and the wider community. Even though this can vary from one church to the next, if appropriate technical support can be developed for church health ministries, this could be a valuable new resource for reaching African Americans with accurate and authoritative health information

While the Pastor does act as gatekeeper and advocate for a health program, most churches conduct health missions on their own via health ministry, without the ongoing presence of medical institutions as partners.

However, a stronger partnership between church leadership and health providers could potentially reduce the impact of health disparities for African-Americans.

Last weekend, I had a double privilege of going to Birmingham, Alabama (my hometown) and to be the featured speaker at Trinity Baptist Church, ministered by my cherished childhood friend Rev. John E. King, Jr.

The additional bonus was being able to fellowship at the church I grew up in, St. Paul A.M.E., on Founder’s Day, recognizing the life of Richard Allen. All of this took place in the very neighborhood where I was born and raised during the height of the Civil Rights Movement!

Witnessing the power, influence, and impact of an awesome community engagement reminded me how the historic role that the African American Church in our communities is as relevant and needed today as ever.

At its best, the contemporary African-American church continues in a rich tradition, providing material benefits, community organizing and spiritual renewal for a community that remains scarred by a secular world that remains stubbornly resistant to the idea of black citizenship, let alone black humanity.

Symbolically, the Black church has always represented more than a house of worship. Metaphorically, it has represented the protector of black bodies.

Their work provides an inspiring example of a community that is working toward achieving the Triple Aim of “ Body, Mind, and Spirit”.

Spiritual leaders and faith communities and now the research community know that practical applications of faith and spirituality can promote healthy living and provide pathways through which human suffering, be it mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical can be overcome.

Conducting a community health fair at African American churches across this country can help to fill the gap that currently exists in our health care system. Many people in our community are in need of health care services and resources.

Research studies have shown that 80 percent of health status is determined by the social determinants of health”. In other words, what happens and what we do where we live is more important in determining our health, than what happens in the doctor’s office or the hospital.

Why not start a real “Movement” of local, church/faith-sponsored events that can help our communities to thrive, and enjoy the best health possible?

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. 

Hundreds of black women gather at Power Rising Summit

Power Rising, a national summit that’s been planned by, and for black women, has kicked off in Atlanta with a roster of celebs, elected officials and influencers slated to attend.

The four-day event, scheduled to run until the 25th, is sold out, organizers said. It is expected to draw upwards of 1,000 attendees from all 50 states and beyond representing various ages, faiths, sexual orientations, educational and professional backgrounds.

The goal of the event, organizers said, is helping African-American women leverage their political, economic and social power in order to move themselves, their communities and the nation forward.

“Black women own more than 1.5 million businesses. We are the largest users of social media and we know that we are cultural influencers,” said co-convener the Rev. Leah Daughtry. “The summit will bring together black women from across the country and all different walks of life. It will focus on our political prowess, our economic power and our cultural influence.”

  Power Rising Summit

The idea for the conference arose from conversations that Daughtry, who served as CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, had during a retreat hosted by female members of the Congressional Black Caucus following the presidential election. Officials asked her what steps could be taken to galvanize women for positive change.

In response, Daughtry and others reached out to dozens of high-profile political operatives, businesswomen, and community leaders to join forces and plan the summit. The committee includes lawyer and TV personality Star Jones, LaToia Jones of Black Lives Matter in New York City, former Democratic National Committee COO Minyon Moore and Nakisha Lewis, founder of the social justice organization, SheWoke.org.


For co-convener Karen Finney, a political strategist and former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, planning the event has been “a labor of love.”

“It’s a real testament to how black women can come together,” she said. “There are a whole range of issues — health care, access to capital — that impact black women that either aren’t being discussed, or are sublimated to a larger conversation. We want to strategize and create an actionable agenda that people can take back to their communities.”

The summit is organized around five pillars of activism and engagement: business and economic empowerment; culture and community; education, technology and innovation; health and wellness; and political empowerment. Planned panel topics include the issue of missing children and the benefits of physical activity for black women.

  Power Rising Summit

Black celebrities and thought leaders in America will participate, including Cicely Tyson, Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York, author Luvvie Ajayi, Beverly Bond of Black Girls Rock, and political strategist Symone Sanders, among others.

While the summit is a non-partisan event, many of the African-American women serving in Congress have been supportive of the summit objectives and will speak and/or participate in panels. Other elected officials and politicos slated to speak include Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader turned Democratic candidate for governor, and Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s newest mayor. Black women from Women’s March national leadership will have a delegation participating in Power Rising, including Co-President Tamika Mallory. The DNC is also sending several representatives.

 Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

Muthoni Wambu Kraal — vice president for national outreach and training with Emily’s List, which backs progressive women candidates — will also moderate a panel on running for office.

“The power of black women as candidates and as voters is evident at this moment when our nation is going through an unprecedented transformation when it comes to women and politics,” she said. “We are excited that the summit is bringing black women together to build political power at a time when there is a dire need for leadership and action.”


Many attendees cited the political strength of African American women, who voted in higher numbers than any other demographic in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and played a pivotal role in the 2017 races that sealed wins for Democrats in Virginia and Alabama.

Aimee Allison, president of Democracy in Color, has been tapped for a session on political organizing in the digital age.

“As Alabama showed, we are a force and we come with receipts. …Back our leaders, elevate our issues, and put our voting strength in the center of a multiracial coalition that can take back our country. Ignore us and risk alienating the very voters needed to win,” she said.

Allison added that she’s excited about the prospects of Black women strategizing “how to come fully” into leadership roles. “History will be made this weekend.”

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Illuminate Theater a platform for minority voices

The room was dusky, the stage was small and the air was thick with emotion. But Illuminate Theater was made to shed light in the darkness, and once it started, it spilled everywhere. The disco ball on the ceiling did its part.

“Shackles must be worn at all times,” announced Illuminate founder Morgan Elizabeth, portraying a Middle Passage “flight attendant” in a piece from George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum.” Later, actor Marquis Heath took the stage with a monologue on slavery and amnesia from Anna Deavere Smith’s “Fires in the Mirror.”

And then, one by one, the original works unfolded: pieces on parents and prejudice, on being black in a white school, on leaving the South with hope and sadness on the great migration to the North. “The South is no longer a place for black people,” intoned performer Aaron Moore, channeling the grandfather who moved his family from Georgia to Rensselaer in the 1940s. “This land belongs to the ghosts.”

The ghosts and shackles were all evoked on a Tuesday in late January at Troy Kitchen, as Illuminate marked its six-month anniversary with an evening of monologues featuring performers of color. The topic: “Historical Trauma,” covering slavery, genocide, inhumanity, the impact of hate and their lingering manifestations today. The space: full. People lounged on sofas, sat at the bar, crammed into corners and leaned against the wall.

The Illuminate series will return to the Kitchen on Tuesday evening, Feb. 27 — as ever, the fourth of each month — with a night of monologues on the topic of “Black Love.” The event will close — as ever — with a “talkback” session inviting questions and commentary from audience members, an occasion to break open yet more dialogue.

“When I first started, my main goal was just to shine a light on people who I felt were not getting opportunities in the theatrical world in Albany,” said Elizabeth, the actor-producer behind Illuminate. A graduate of Albany High School and Russell Sage College, she founded the series in response to frustrations faced by performers of color in a predominantly white theater scene.

“I felt like a lot of the directors and some of the professional theaters in the area — and some of the bigger theaters that have funding — aren’t necessarily looking for people of color,” she said. “And if they are, it’s very minimally. They’re just kind of picking the same people that get used in everything.”

More Information

If you go

Illuminate Theater: “Black Love”

Where: Troy Kitchen, 77 Congress St., Troy

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; pre-show R&B music by The Age at 7 p.m.

Admission: Free

Info: facebook.com/IlluminateTheater

She decided to give that unsung talent a platform. “I wanted to put people of color on stage so that they could start getting cast in other things. But since then, it’s become much more than that. It’s become a platform for people to connect with each other — and not just directors and actors. People have created bonds that I could never have predicted.”

Last month, the post-show talkback quickly took a turn toward the personal and impassioned, delving into pain and oppression. Social worker Lisa Good spoke of violence and the nature of “urban grief.” One man wondered whether the only recourse is two separate nations: “It’s America for them. It’s America for me.”

Another, a man in a snap brim — Nick Usher, husband of poet-performer Mz.Tu — remarked on the importance of positivity and deliberateness. “The mind is just like soil, right? If you plant it right and you cultivate it, and you protect it, it will grow,” he said. “So if you put prosperity and energy in it, it will grow into positivity — and if you put poison in it, that will somehow manifest in the outputs that you give to the world.”

Elizabeth didn’t foresee the therapeutic aspect to some of the talkbacks, but she embraces it. Neither did she anticipate the series’ growing emphasis on original, personal monologues. “I didn’t know that it was going to be so successful in this way. I thought it was going to be more of people performing produced or published pieces — and then that would inspire a conversation. … But I didn’t think that it would be so personal,” she said. “And the personal aspect kind of manifested itself naturally.”

Topics, so far, have covered social change, sexual assault and prevailing media narratives characterizing people of color. Each month, new performers audition; a handful of regulars have emerged. Tilting toward the series’ one-year anniversary this August, Elizabeth is thinking about a permanent home. She’s looking for funding, perhaps grants or donations from small businesses, as she’d like to keep performances free. And she’s hoping, once money is secured, to move forward with plans to mount a fully staged production.

Her mission remains unchanged: “To start conversations. And I wanted to have a platform for people to have discussions on subjects that are off limits in social groups. There’s this big unspoken rule that you don’t talk about religion with your friends, and you don’t talk about politics, and you don’t talk about money — and I wanted to put everything on the table and have no off-topic conversations.”

And race. Race almost goes without saying. Race underscores everything. But race isn’t all of it. “It’s become a lot bigger than race,” Elizabeth said.

That night at the Kitchen, the crowd was mixed in age and ethnicity. “I’ve gone to events that people call ‘black’ events, and you look in the audience, and everyone is black. And I’ve gone to other events that people categorize as ‘white’ events, and the same thing” — everyone is white. “And when I look into my audience, it’s very diverse, in my opinion,” she said. “And we’ve touched people’s lives.”

Aaron Moore performing in Illuminate Theater at the Troy Kitchen in January (photo by Amy Biancolli)

Aaron Moore performing in Illuminate Theater at the Troy Kitchen in January (photo by Amy Biancolli)

After the show, as attendees tarried and chatted and wound their way out the door, Moore spoke of the role Illuminate plays for people of color in the arts scene and the broader region. “It’s important to the community,” he said, “because it gives a voice to the unheard. People who try to put racism and white supremacy and white privilege and all those isms under the rug — it shouts to their face, loud, proud, that we’re here, we’re proud of who we are, we’re proud of our history and we’re proud of where we come from — and no matter what you do or how hard you try to cover us up, we’re going to speak on it. … Illuminate shows through art that you can’t silence us — and we will no longer be silenced, or would even try to be silenced.

“You will see me. You will see my color. You will hear my voice. You will feel my anger. You will feel my sadness. You will watch me walk. You will listen to me talk. And you will know my spirit — and you will know I am proud to be black. I am proud to be an artist of color. I am proud to be a black artist.”


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Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Patron of Black Artists, Dies at 70

She was born Pearl Alice Cooper in Mobile, Ala., on April 7, 1947, to Algernon Johnson Cooper Sr. and the former Gladys Mouton. At the time, the Coopers were the most prosperous black family in the city. Her grandmother had opened the first black school there, and her father owned a string of funeral and insurance companies all over the state.

But their stature could not insulate them from the realities of the Jim Crow South. When her father tried to integrate the city’s Roman Catholic schools by sending his eldest son to a Jesuit school in Mobile, the bishop expelled the young man, and the rest of the Cooper children were barred from attending high schools in the diocese. Ms. Cooper and three of her five siblings were sent to boarding schools.

Ms. Cooper Cafritz was a junior at George Washington University when she and the choreographer Mike Malone founded a summer program that is now the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, an incubator for generations of minority artists, among them the comedian Dave Chappelle. She was a founder of the Black Student Union at George Washington and pushed successfully for the Greek organizations there to prohibit racial discrimination.


After a fire destroyed her previous home, and with it more than 300 pieces of art, Ms. Cooper Cafritz moved to this duplex condominium on Dupont Circle in Washington and began rebuilding her collection. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

She was in her first year of law school at George Washington when her father committed suicide — bedeviled, she said, by money troubles. Using her law books as collateral, she took out a loan so that her youngest brother could stay in boarding school.

Coming from the segregated South, said Rashida Bumbray, a New York-based curator and choreographer who was formerly artistic director at Duke Ellington, “Peggy understood the real political significance of training young black artists, and that political significance also extended to when those artists are beginning their careers.

“Her idea of what it meant to be a collector also meant investing in the artist as a human being,” Ms. Bumbray said. “She had a relationship with each individual. She didn’t take it lightly. She practiced a radical kind of love, and we see that love truly manifest in the success of the artists she collected and nurtured so deeply.”

Simone Leigh, a multimedia artist whose work exploring African-American tropes and female identity was also championed by Ms. Cooper Cafritz, said of her: “She had a lot of faith that we could do well. She made you feel like the most important artist in the world. She saw that’s what was needed.”


Ms. Cooper Cafritz turned her Washington home into a veritable gallery of African and African-American art. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

In 2009, more than 300 pieces of art that she had spent years collecting were destroyed in a fire that ravaged the gabled and columned eight-bedroom estate Ms. Cooper Cafritz had built in 1986 with her husband at the time, Conrad Cafritz, a wealthy developer, in the Kent neighborhood of northwest Washington. Firefighters said there had not been adequate water pressure in the neighborhood’s hydrants. In 2014, Ms. Cooper Cafritz settled a lawsuit with Washington’s water authority for an undisclosed amount.

After months of investigation, fire officials classified the cause of the fire as “undetermined.”

The house had long been a vibrant social hub for Washington’s elites. There were political fund-raisers, including one for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1988. When John F. Kennedy Jr. was looking for a place for a party in the capital to introduce his new magazine, George, Ms. Cooper Cafritz opened her doors to him.

Resilient and gruffly beguiling, Ms. Cooper seemed to juggle fame and catastrophe, much of it health-related. She once had emergency gallbladder surgery in Croatia during a doctor’s strike, which put her in a coma; more recently there were two failed back surgeries and bouts of pneumonia, the last one putting her in Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, where she died.


Kristine Mays’s sculpture “The Entanglement of Black Men in America” was on display at the home of Ms. Cooper Cafritz in 2015. She amassed one of the country’s largest private collections of African-American art. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Ms. Cooper Cafritz had been a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and president of the District of Columbia Board of Education.

Her marriage to Mr. Cafritz ended in divorce in 1998. Besides her daughter, Ms. Reyes, she is survived by two sons, Zach and Cooper Cafritz.

After the fire, Ms. Cooper Cafritz moved into and renovated a glass, concrete and steel duplex condominium on Dupont Circle and began rebuilding her art collection. “Collecting has now reached diseased levels in my being,” she said at the time.

Next week, Rizzoli is scheduled to publish her first book, “Fired Up! Ready to Go! Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: African American Life in Art.” The book includes essays by Mr. Marshall, Ms. Golden and others.

“She had two great goals for this year,” Zach Cafritz, her elder son, said. “One was to see the new campus of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts open, and the other was to see her book completed. I know it means the world to her that she made it to the finish line.”

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