Consuming Blackness in ‘progressive’ West Virginia Scalawag

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In recent weeks, I watched as my native West Virginia has made national headlines for its seemingly efficient rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. As I always do, I scoured these articles for references to Black West Virginians. Nary a mention. 

Yes, Black West Virginians are a small population—less than 4 percent of the state’s residents, according to 2019 Census Bureau statistics. But I’ve learned that where there’s a health disparity or social problem in West Virginia, we are likely to be caught prominently in its crosshairs.

The absence of Black people in the discussion of West Virginia’s response to the pandemic—or pretty much any discussion in the state and Appalachia—creates a paradox of visibility, especially in the world of white-run progressive organizations. 

I wandered inside a zebra-patterned tent to find dozens of chuckling white women searching a Black man’s prone shirtless body for California rolls.

We alternate between being unseen and hypervisible. Take the February 26 comments by state Delegate John Kelly (R-Wood County) about a COVID-19 cluster that ravaged a Black church in Everettville; he said those reports were “fairy tales” and about “imaginary communities.”  

When I was for a time the only Black lobbyist working the West Virginia statehouse, I saw Black people trotted out when nonprofits needed a Black body or a Black woman’s story. Then, we were vulnerable, downtrodden, in dire need of help only white people could give, or in trouble. Or, in my case, trouble personified. 

This recent crop of national news stories from West Virginia brought back a memory I haven’t been able to shake. That recollection shows the vast distance between a Black woman’s subjective experience of white, middle-class “anti-racist” events and the smooth façade nonprofits show the world. 

See also: Recovery while Black in Appalachia

Consuming the Black body

In 2009, I went to Charleston, West Virginia’s premier women’s empowerment fundraiser on a donated ticket. My free admission reminded a less-fortunate me that I could not afford my place among hundreds of middle- to-upper-caste white women attending the “Girls’ Night Out” YWCA event. 

The event borrowed Breakfast at Tiffany‘s classic Audrey Hepburn style: black-and-white dress code, elegant decorations, and pearls (of course). But something was off as soon as I walked in. (Later, I would remember how in that movie, actor Mickey Rooney—a white man from the United States—portrays a Japanese man, Mr. Yunioshi, by taping his eyelids, speaking in a sibilant accent, and wearing fake “buck” teeth. He is the only non-white character in the film.)

I wandered inside a zebra-patterned tent to find dozens of chuckling white women searching a Black man’s prone shirtless body for California rolls. 

White women were laughing and grabbing for bites of sushi off a human body.

That imagery doesn’t fade. Instead, it continues to enrage me. It stands as both a metaphor and real evidence of oppression and silence. 

Serving sushi from a body is a Japanese practice called nyotaimori.  I heard event organizers say it was an ancient art form. Google told me nyotaimori is rarely practiced in Japan outside random seedy clubs. And, when it does happen, a woman’s body is usually the “platter.” 

I watched, horrified, as tipsy and cackling women left the zebra tent with their sushi and crossed the front lawn to the live auction in the back of Sunrise Mansion, the 30-room estate that hosted the event. It was built in 1905 by West Virginia’s ninth governor, William A. MacCorkle, son of a Confederate officer.  MacCorkle brought home stones as travel souvenirs and had many cut to fit into the home’s facade. Among them, there was a slave market stone—collected in St. Louis—positioned at the entrance to the house. 

See also: Blocked at Five Points

This is how racism operates in my charming hometown: in plain sight, without question, part of the environment.  Many West Virginians think “West Virginia didn’t believe in slavery” because it seceded from Virginia during the Civil War. This narrative is even taught in most West Virginia classrooms and erases slavery’s presence in West Virginia, though many of Charleston’s own streets bear the names of slave-owning families. Charleston, nestled between mountains and the Kanawha River, developed a salt industry powered by enslaved labor. In 1850, thousands of slaves were employed in the salt works. 

Did the Charleston YWCA sell a stereotypical image of Black men and women to a wealthy, wasted white-girl crowd?

But I didn’t expect these women to stop and ponder the origins of those street names, or why, in the shadow of slavery, an auction felt wrong. I didn’t expect them to consider why no one blinked at grabbing bites off a Black body, nor why The Charleston Gazette newspaper should have thought twice before printing a photo of that Black man’s body being used as a plate. 

Suffering for sale 

As the sun set on the live auction stage, a Black woman, a domestic-violence survivor, stepped on a platform to address an audience of drunk white women. 

Few of the “girls” were listening. They were enjoying their conversations and cocktails. I was struggling to hear through the noise and my emotions. Her story was all too close to home for me. She was the mother of my then-husband’s children. She did not directly name him as her abuser, but I assumed she was reflecting on her life with him. I needed to hear every word she said. Her story spoke to me—literally. 

I wondered if others could see themselves in her story, too. As a Black woman, raised in low-income housing, abused by her “baby daddy,” supported by the YWCA and her faith, she had found success in life. 

I questioned what I had just witnessed. Did the Charleston YWCA sell a stereotypical image of Black men and women to a wealthy, wasted white-girl crowd? 

In West Virginia and beyond, the YWCA and many nonprofits like it are led by white women. They have boards of affluent, mostly white women (and the occasional, approved professional Black woman), white committee leaders, and volunteers. When critics call out racism, these organizations often turn to a Black person on staff, a lone Board member, or perhaps a Black person they call a friend. 

See also: Behind the scenes in Black Appalachia

Accusers are often vilified as waging personal vendettas or “simply wanting to destroy” organizations that offer so much good to the community. I know this personally. In 2009, when I left the event, I wrote an op-ed detailing my experience and was told by several trusted advisors that the Y was just too powerful to critique. Publishing it would harm me, they said. I was burning bridges. 

Back then, I accepted the illusion of being seen in private meetings with “concerned” nonprofit leaders. I shared my concerns about the YWCA and many other white-led nonprofits asking organizations to find internal accountability. I didn’t want to damage the Y because then who would do the good work that it did, even if it so often fell short of its mission of “eliminating racism, empowering women”?

Today, I have years of experience, witness, and know better. In 2016, Carrie Bowe, the YWCA’s volunteer social media coordinator, was fired for reciting racist slogans in a national video. The YWCA quickly severed ties with her. Many meetings later, many private conversations later, I dare to speak publicly and to be seen on my terms. 

Recently, I shared my concerns with a white implicit bias trainer and YWCA supporter. The reply: “That was before my time.” As if history doesn’t matter or these organizations look much different or work much differently than how they did in 2009. Therein lies the problem: The white-liberal code of silence that refuses to recognize the past, “bad cops” among themselves, or that the system itself is bad. 

But those white liberals don’t have time for reflection. They’re busy eating sushi.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Two Charleston artists lend talents to acclaimed new work about church massacre

Sometimes, a local poetry reading can land you in the No. 1 spot on a Billboard chart. 

Such was the case for Charleston poet laureate Marcus Amaker. One of his events was attended by Paul Sanchez, director of piano studies and the International Piano Series at the College of Charleston. Sanchez then recommended the poet for a project that is now turning ears, reaching hearts and, ideally, driving change.

That project, “Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers,” recently held the top spot on Billboard’s chart for traditional classical albums. It is also the passion project of operatic baritone Will Liverman, in performance with Sanchez. The album was released by Cedille Records on Feb. 12. 

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Paul Sanchez

Pianist Paul Sanchez collaborated with baritone Will Liverman on “Dreams of a New Day.” File/Provided 

The album shines stirring light on Black composers across generations, from early 20th century pioneers Henry Burleigh, Margaret Bonds and Thomas Kerr to later artists Robert Owens and Leslie Adams. It also showcases contemporary composers Damien Sneed and Shawn E. Okpebholo.

It should be noted that before the recent success of “Dreams of a New Day,” Liverman was already primed to gain new heights in global name recognition.

The baritone, who is known for his versatility in performing both classical repertoire as well as contemporary compositions, is set to star in the Metropolitan Opera’s highly anticipated reopening production of Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up In My Bones” in the fall. It will be the first time an opera by a Black composer is presented at the Met. 

Thus far, the album has enjoyed an auspicious beginning. In January, it was flagged by NPR music critic Tom Huizenga as one of the releases he most anticipated. Last month, it made a New York Times roundup of three new albums featuring Black composers. In his Washington Post review, music critic Michael Andor Brodeur hailed a performance of the album’s commissioned composition, “Two Black Churches,” as “absolutely devastating, and one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard all year.” Then, the week of Feb. 27, the album made it to the No. 1 spot of Billboard’s Traditional Classical Albums Chart.

For the album, Liverman assembled a program of songs billed as portraying “the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the African American experience through poignant texts and expressive musical settings.”

And he enlisted a frequent collaborator in Sanchez. The pianist is a very busy man, even in the midst of a pandemic shutdown. In his role at the college, Sanchez places equal priority on teaching and performance to best ready students for careers in the professional music world.

“I love Paul’s beautiful interpretation of Shawn’s music and how he is able to tell a story with the sensitivity in his playing,” said Liverman. “I knew that he would be the perfect collaborator for the repertoire in this album with what he’s able to bring to the table. He elevated everything we did and it was very easy to sing into his playing.”

Sanchez, who moved to Charleston in 2016 with his wife, soprano Kayleen Sanchez, is a sought-after pianist. He regularly performs on classical albums and has around a dozen under his belt.

He’s known Liverman since 2012, when they were introduced by Okpebholo while both in the Chicago area. The two began collaborating, recording an album of reimagined spirituals called “Steal Away,” composed by Okpebholo in 2013. 

In order to move forward with “Dreams of a New Day,” the artists had to negotiate repeated pandemic pivots. 

“I think the fact that the wheels were already in motion was really important,” Sanchez said. The project first played out first as a virtual performance in an empty Studebaker Theater in Chicago, which, for Sanchez, was surreal with no audience.

Dreams of a New Day

“Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers” features baritone Will Liverman and pianist Paul Sanchez. Cedille Records/Provided 

‘Two Black Churches’

On the album, many artists come together in the creation of the newly-commissioned “Two Black Churches.” 

Liverman asked Okpebholo to create the two-part piece to honor both the 1963 Birmingham bombing (“Ballad of Birmingham”) and the 2015 Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston (“The Rain”).  

“He’s a very, very deep thinker and a very deep composer,” Sanchez said of Okpebholo, noting that his works include echoes of a hymn within a spiritual and hidden meanings below the surface. 

Then there are Liverman’s magnificent vocals.

“Of course, the chops are spectacular,” Sanchez said of Liverman’s technique. “But you can have all the technique in the world and not have the sort of soul and spirit behind it. He’s just an intelligent musician on top of it all, so everything he does makes sense.” 

The two have clicked well, possessing a mutual good humor, and aim to keep the sessions friendly and light while also allowing for the emotional depth to be fully inhabited when they perform.

Sanchez recalled in particular the Chicago performance.

“I remember looking at Will during ‘Two Black Churches’ and he was crying. I remember just kind of waiting for him to breathe. … June and July of this year were pretty tumultuous times,” Sanchez said. 

Following the performance, the two met in a studio in Goshen, Ind., the only place in which they could find a recording venue.


Charleston’s poet laureate Marcus Amaker wrote a piece for the composition “Two Black Churches” on the classical album “Dreams of a New Day.” Provided 

The Charleston connection 

After hearing Amaker’s work at a reading, Sanchez recommended him to Okpebholo for the piece honoring the Emanuel AME shooting.

Okpebholo then reached out to the poet as he was beginning to write “Two Black Churches” and asked him if he was willing to write a new piece about the massacre. 

“I was motivated to work on this project because I trust my poetry when it’s in the hands of Black musicians,” said Amaker. “I knew that Shawn and Will would be able to accurately interpret the trauma of ‘The Rain’ because they understand how racism impacts all of our people.”

Amaker said initially he wasn’t enthusiastic about writing another poem about the church shooting, explaining that digging in to that trauma is not an easy task for a Black artist. 

“It’s an energy drainer. And it brings up a lot of emotions that I’m unpacking about my city, and a system that allows for racism to thrive,” he said. “I was hesitant. But when ‘The Rain’ came to me, I didn’t resist.”

According to Amaker, the process was a true partnership, sprung from discussions between the composer and poet about tone, voice and energy.

“I wanted to make sure that what I wrote would match his desire for ‘Two Black Churches.’ He trusts my voice but wanted to put me in the mind frame of a classical composer,” Amaker said. “It was a great collaboration. The original version of the poem, later published in my book ‘The Birth of All Things,’ was revised to fit the composition. I added words to extend syllables of certain lines, and add more breath.”

Amaker said he is happy with the result. He’s not alone.

“While I’ve never met Marcus personally, I was blown away by ‘The Rain’,” said Liverman, adding that the piece was the hardest one to sing through emotionally due to the writing of both poet and composer. ” ‘Two Black Churches’ is the focal point of the album, and Marcus delivered something truly powerful and special for us.”

The deep emotion, resonant power and aching beauty pulled from every mournful note of the work is a testament to its transcendent convergence of composition, lyrics, voice and piano.

“It’s truly a remarkable piece of music,” Amaker said, crediting Liverman’s interpretation of the work. 

According to Amaker, the power of poetry to speak truth is age-old.

“Poetry is the great truth-teller. For centuries, poets have been offering people the opportunity to wake up,” he said. “But we can only do so much. Real change, in the way this society is set up, has to come from a change in power structure.” 

For Sanchez, “Dreams of a New Day” is a dream realized.

“This is the kind of project that I always dream of doing because it’s something that needs to be put out there. To get to be a part of that, it’s really an honor, and to get to work with people that I really respect and admire, that’s also wonderful.” 

Amaker is equally driven to train his artistry on change.

“To quote the poem I wrote for this project, ‘The Lowcountry is a terrain of ancient tears, suffocating through floods of segregation.’ And to quote James Baldwin, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ ” 

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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Running crew celebrates Black culture on foot

BALTIMORE (AP) – A little past 8 a.m. on a recent Sunday, a group of Baltimore runners stopped partway through their route, near the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues, at the Black Arts District. They posed for a picture at the Arch Social Club, where a mural honors Charm City artists like Billie Holiday and Ta-Nehisi Coates. One of the leaders talked about Baltimore’s famous entertainers and the city’s authors while pointing out Everyone’s Place, a Black-owned mom and pop bookstore.

The team was there to mix some history in with their workout.

Every Sunday in February, the group, called RIOT (Running Is Our Therapy) Squad, has been running to or from a different Black historical landmark in Baltimore. In this, their 2nd annual Black History Month tour, they’ve run all over the campus of Morgan State University, as alumni shared their experiences and pointed out the historically Black university’s architectural history. The squad has looked through the windows at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and learned how the place is one of few in the nation dedicated to preserving African American history.

“We’ve been doing that for the last few months, especially in the pandemic, taking pictures in certain places in Baltimore that promote either Black history or Black art or entrepreneurship,” said Jowanna Malone, 30, who joined RIOT Squad in 2019. She grew up in rural Georgia and has lived in Charles Village since 2017.

Malone discovered the sport as an adult and loves the effort the group makes to combine educational city tours with running.

“There is this perception of Baltimore being some type of dangerous, bad kind of place,” Malone said. “I do appreciate the effort that the group makes and having us run through all different parts of Baltimore and showing us all the beauty of the city.”

Founded in 2015, RIOT Squad is among a network of Baltimore-based running crews using social media to coordinate meetups, share routes and uplift community and grassroots activism. This past year, founder Rob Jackson changed up the routes after noticing the crew was running mainly in the Inner Harbor area.

“We have a lot of transplants in the group,” said Jackson, 39. “We run all over the city now. I wanted everybody to get a piece of this history and see parts of Baltimore that they normally wouldn’t see.”

Running routes have highlighted artwork like the Black Lives Matter Mural in front of City Hall, to the Black-owned businesses of RIOT runners like Mess in a Bottle and Good Part & Co., whose founder was featured in this month’s Under Armour campaign.

Jackson turned to running to process anxiety and stress from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning home from serving in the U.S. Army. Now a contracting officer, he started inviting his peers for runs, and six years later, the running crew has grown to over 30 members who meet up three times a week.

Jackson said growing up in Northeast Baltimore, the sport was foreign to him. Before he joined the military, he didn’t see distance running or Black-led run groups at all. Others agreed.

“When you’re driving around different places, you may not see as many Black runners, we’re not as represented on television or just internationally in the sport,” said Tuan “Riley” Davis, who is from East Baltimore and joined RIOT Squad in 2019. “When I saw a group of runners that were Black, and they look(ed) around my age, all different shapes and sizes, I (knew) I could fit in with these guys.”

RIOT Squad is sponsored by Under Armour. Between this past October and Election Day, RIOT joined the Run to Vote initiative, where participants were encouraged to log 11.3 miles to show a commitment to civic engagement. Under Armour has also provided product for the Black History Month tour, pre-race tips from their Human Performance team, as well as highlighting RIOT Squad on social media.

Other Baltimore-founded groups like A Tribe Called Run are combining fitness with activism, organizing a three mile run-raiser for residents in Baltimore’s 12th district facing food insecurity. The Black Running Organization, also known as BRO, has combined running with service learning and college access. National groups like Back on My Feet, which uses running to combat homelessness, Black Men Run, and Black Girls Run have local chapters in Baltimore.

RIOT Squad membership has increased during the pandemic.

“People are just looking for a way to get out of the house, a way to still have a sense of community, a way to stay healthy and stay active,” said Alison Staples, 38, a RIOT Squad co-leader, who is from Woodlawn.

Jackson uses the group’s social media platform for conversations on mental health and fitness in addition to sharing the timing and routes for runs. Davis, 33, also says the sport teaches one to be mentally fit.

“Running is more like a mental test,” said Davis, who has run consecutively for over 270 days. “Do I have the mental strength to get up and keep going? Even on days when the weather may not be so nice, or I might not feel like it or I might be short on time.”

Malone says RIOT Squad has been a lifeline.

“That’s probably the only sense of communication that I have with people that’s in real life, on a regular basis, (and) that I feel safe doing,” she said. “It’s been this great feedback loop of positive energy that has sustained me mentally throughout the pandemic.”

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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Legendary wrestling promoter Jim Crockett Jr. helped shape industry

As president of Crockett Promotions from 1973 until its sale to Ted Turner in 1988, Jim Crockett Jr. presided over one of the most successful and talent-laden territories in the history of professional wrestling.

As a three-time National Wrestling Alliance president during that period, the influential Crockett utilized the services of Ric Flair defending wrestling’s most prestigious titles throughout his Carolinas-based territory and beyond.

Jim Crockett Promotions would become the home base for some of pro wrestling’s greatest stars, from Wahoo McDaniel and Johnny Valentine, to Ricky Steamboat and Blackjack Mulligan, to The Road Warriors and The Four Horsemen.

And with the reach and viewing power of SuperStation WTBS, Crockett took his company from a respected regional outfit to a nationally touring promotion, expanding the base to territories throughout the country and becoming a cornerstone of the NWA.

Crockett, who had suffered from liver and kidney issues, passed away March 4 at the age of 76, marking the end of an era in professional wrestling.

“It’s very sad,” said his brother David Crockett, “but it’s also good because he’s not in pain anymore. And that’s a good thing.”

Crockett, who had undergone dialysis for years, had contracted COVID-19 but “was clear,” according to David Crockett. “But as far as I’m concerned, I think that he would probably (still) be with us now if it wasn’t for COVID.”


Jim Crockett (right) with brother David Crockett (left) and Jim Ross at Starrcast event in Baltimore in November 2019. Bruce Mitchell/Provided

“It was probably two months since he contracted COVID, and he had gone through quarantine and all that,” said Crockett. “He had extenuating circumstances. It’s just going to make whatever you have worse.”

With his condition worsening, Jim Crockett Jr. decided to stop dialysis treatment a week ago.

“I was lucky to have him as my brother and to experience the world with him,” said David Crockett, who served in key positions with the family promotion and later with World Championship Wrestling. “At the same time, I’m at peace. We are all supposed to believe in a better place. If you believe that, we’re the ones that are holding them back. I’d like to believe that he is truly in a better place now.”

Taking the reins

Crockett was the eldest son of longtime promoter Jim Crockett Sr., who at the age of 35 founded his own pro wrestling company in Charlotte where he would sustain a flourishing organization for five decades. Known at one time as “the premier promoter in the Southeast,” Crockett Sr. passed away at the age of 64 in 1973.

“Big Jim” Crockett, a dominating but unpretentious personality who tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds, initially turned over control of the company to his then-son-in-law, John Ringley, but a family situation resulted in Crockett Jr. being called in to take the reins.

Crockett Jr., with political and other interests not necessarily tied to professional wrestling, rather reluctantly took over the day-to-day operations of Crockett Promotions. But young Crockett would grow into the job, overseeing a prosperous territory that ran in towns throughout the Carolinas and Virginia.

“Johnny (Ringley) came into the company before Jimmy,” said David Crockett. “He had a lot of the contacts. Johnny had salesmanship. Jimmy was not one who wanted to stand out front and beat his own drum. He didn’t particularly want to step into the limelight. But he told me that he knew he could do it. He had the knowledge.”

While Crockett Jr. was given the keys to the kingdom, his brother fully understood the company hierarchy.

“In our business, you can only have one boss. You couldn’t have two bosses.” And the company was in need of an announcer.

“I didn’t really want to announce,” said David Crockett. “I wanted to be in the (production) truck. I had a good time in the truck. When the main event would come, I’d go in and direct.”

With former wrestling star George Scott as booker, the storied Mid-Atlantic territory would be transformed into one of the hottest promotions in the country, with Crockett ushering in a new era of wrestling. “It just isn’t like a normal business,” Crockett Jr. told the Charlotte News in 1975 when he was 29. “I enjoy it. It’s a whole different lifestyle that I’m not sure I could give up at this point.”

His weekly Saturday wrestling programs would also deliver strong ratings with a loyal viewership.

“Our program delivered more adults than ABC Wide World of Sports, CBC Sports Spectacular or NBC Sports in the same market,” Crockett would boast.

Like his father, Crockett knew his fan base.

One of four children, including David, Jackie and Frances, Crockett also owned the Charlotte Orioles, a minor league baseball team based in Charlotte, from 1976-87, and a minor league hockey team, the Winston-Salem Polar Twins. “Dad owned part of the Charlotte Checkers way back when,” added David Crockett.

JCP memories

For thousands of fans, Crockett Promotions helped shape their childhoods, with memories that remain vivid and intact to this day.

For many of them, the Crockett family promoted the wrestling they loved the most.

Mid-Atlantic expert Bruce Mitchell described what it meant to be a fan of Jim Crockett Promotions during one of its greatest periods.

“When I think of Jim Crockett Jr., I remember the huge billboards for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling featuring the faces of Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood, Blackjack Mulligan, The Masked Superstar and the like right across the street from the Greensboro Coliseum. Before there were pro sports teams in the Carolinas (and bigger than the ABA Carolina Cougars), there was his company, Jim Crockett Promotions, running three shows a night virtually every day of the year throughout the region.

“He built his company to the point it drew more money than any other wrestling promotion in the entire world, because he had built the deepest, best roster of wrestling talent anywhere. Any number of all-time greats did their best work for his company. Going to his family’s shows was to be in on the coolest, baddest outlaw secret: that Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was the exact opposite of what all those squares thought it was.”

Lowcountry native and longtime fan Jack Hunter expressed his reverence for JCP shortly after Crockett’s passing.

“Thank you, sir, for an incredible childhood. It’s no secret I’m a pro wrestling nut, and when I was a kid there was nothing better than Jim Crockett Promotions (NWA) that dominated the Carolinas and the entire Mid-Atlantic. I loved Hulk Hogan and WWF, but considered that more cartoon wrestling, and Jim Crockett Promotions ‘real’ wrestling.”

Crockett also had a profound influence on pastor Andy McDaniel, who helped organize a Mid-Atlantic Wrestling reunion in Charleston 23 years ago.


Jim Crockett Jr. presided over the rise of Ric Flair as a main-event attraction and NWA world champion, as well as the birth of Starrcade in 1983, the first non-WWF wrestling pay-per-view (Starrcade 1987), and the purchase of the Saturday night TBS program from Vince McMahon in 1985. Provided photo

“Each of us has an era that defines our youth. It is a particular decade for many, while for others it may be a specific athlete or movie star. While I certainly can relate to any of those options, it would be the work of one man in particular that helped to shape my childhood. That man was Jim Crockett Jr.

“Hearing of his passing truly felt like the official end of my era to some degree. Yes, we still have Ric Flair, Les Thatcher and a few others left from that time, but Jim Crockett Promotions brought it all to life. I will forever cherish the memories of all the shows I was able to attend. Wrestling was the first bond I shared with my dad. Thank you, Mr. Crockett, for the memories. You indeed left your mark on this world and my youth. Your legacy will forever be remembered.”

“The promoter that brought some of my absolute favorite moments ever in wrestling,” tweeted Matt Farmer. “He’s a large part of the reason for me being a lifelong fan.”

“It was as though my childhood died,” lamented Randal Wallace of Myrtle Beach.

“The first wrestling show I ever attended live was a JCP show,” wrote Dylan Hales. “JCP made me a wrestling fan.”

“Your father may have been the patriarch of the promotion, but for so many of us who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you were the patriarch of so many great memories,” the Mid-Atlantic Championship Podcast posted.

“Jim Crockett Jr. made my Saturday afternoons magical. Thank you for the wonderful memories,” wrote Cezar McKnight of Kingstree.

Some, like Major League Wrestling founder Court Bauer, hailed Crockett as a force who went toe-to-toe with Vince McMahon and his wrestling juggernaut.

“Jim Crockett Jr. was ambitious, courageous and a force in our sport. I wish we all could’ve enjoyed more of his presence as we all would’ve been better for it. I’m forever inspired by JCP, his tenacity and rebel approach against an adversary with deep pockets.”

Wrestling titans

Operating as the largest member of the NWA, Crockett posed a legitimate threat to Vince McMahon and the national expansion of his World Wrestling Federation during the mid-’80s.

Both Crockett and McMahon had grown up in their fathers’ wrestling companies with dreams their daddies dared not have. With Dusty Rhodes as his booker and the “ideas man” and architect of Starrcade, the precursor to McMahon’s Wrestlemania, Crockett would become the only promoter in the country with the wherewithal to mount a challenge to the WWF’s hegemony.

Lavish overspending and creative miscalculations, however would eventually cripple the company financially.

Some of the talent, lured by big promises from McMahon, headed north and left Crockett. But some, like Roddy Piper, never forgot the friendship forged in that promotion, and wouldn’t allow his new employer to book him in Crockett’s territory.

“I wouldn’t come and work against Crockett,” said Piper. “I wouldn’t work against Jimmy Crockett and I wouldn’t work against (Pacific Northwest promoter) Don Owen until the time came. I got a tremendous amount of heat, but there’s got to be some kind of honor there.”

“He told us that before he left,” recalled David Crockett. “And I respected that.”

Swallowed up by expansion and cash problems, by November 1988, on the brink of bankruptcy, Crockett sold the promotion — which had operated under his family name since 1931— to media mogul Ted Turner for $9 million, resulting in the eventual rebranding and creation of World Championship Wrestling.

The package included guaranteed jobs for the brothers and some cash. Jim Crockett Jr. would remain as NWA president until 1991.

What ifs …

Although there were a number of reasons for the downfall of the company, Jim Crockett Jr. would assume full responsibility.

“It was just a perfect storm,” explains David Crockett.

But in reality, there was plenty of blame to go around if one might be looking for problem areas, said Crockett. “We could all can share. Blame me. I could have assisted more, or maybe I should have done more.”

As for Dusty Rhodes, the target of ample blame on the creative side, Crockett said, “I’m not going to blame Dusty. He was there to create things. Period.”

There will always be the “what ifs.” Could Jim Crockett Jr. have done something to salvage his company?

“You never know,” answered David Crockett. “Hindsight’s 20/20. I always thought it could, but you don’t know until you try.”

Or could a deal have been made with Vince McMahon at that time in a last-ditch effort to keep the company afloat?

“You know Vince. That’s wishful thinking,” said Crockett. “It wouldn’t have happened with Vince. He’d have to put his name on the thing.”

Taking the possibilities one step further, considering the close working relationship between the fathers of Jim Crockett Jr. and Vince McMahon, might there have been a chance for a détente between Jim Jr. and Vince?

“Dad and Vince Sr. were very close,” said David. “I was just looking at some pictures of Dad and Vince at the NWA meetings. They brought back a lot of memories. But we would have had to go back to our roots, which would have been fine. We still would have had TBS. There were groups out there that wanted to invest, but that happened after the deal to sell it had been signed.”

“I didn’t want to sell it,” added Crockett, indicating that he would have liked to have held out a little longer even though the company was losing money at the time. “I think if Jimmy had seen any way of saving it, he wouldn’t have made the agreement with Turner. Some of it (details) I probably didn’t know. A lot of the wrestlers were already beating the door to Vince. That was a drain. We also inherited Mid-South Wrestling’s debt. To me that was it. We just didn’t do our due diligence correctly. There again, hindsight’s 20/20, and I would have liked it to have been different. But it wasn’t.”

Had things worked out differently, the wrestling landscape might have looked very different today, said Crockett.


Promoter Jim Crockett Jr., who served three terms as president of the National Wrestling Alliance, sold the family company to Ted Turner in 1988. Provided photo

“AEW might not have been here today if it hadn’t been for us having to sell to Turner, and on and on and on. Eric (Bischoff) wouldn’t have been at WCW. You start thinking about all the possible scenarios.”

After wrestling

WCW would go on to become one of the biggest wrestling companies ever, and from 1996-98 it conquered WWE’s Monday Night Raw in the ratings with WCW Monday Nitro for 83 consecutive weeks.

WWE eventually regained its stronghold and purchased WCW in 2001, but no company has come close to giving WWE the type of run WCW did since that time.

Jim Crockett Jr. considered getting back into the wrestling business several years after selling his company. The closest he came to running a new promotion was the short-lived World Wrestling Network in 1994. A venture with Paul Heyman (the former Paul E. Dangerously) also failed to take off when the two butted heads over basic philosophy, with Heyman favoring a harder edge to Crockett’s more traditional approach.

“It pretty much soured Jimmy on wrestling,” said his brother.

Shortly afterward Heyman would rise as a major force in the business, creating the Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling.

After stepping away from the wrestling business in the mid-’90s, Crockett worked as a realtor and mortgage loan originator in Dallas.

Rich legacy

The Crockett era had begun decades earlier when Jim Crockett Sr. began promoting in his hometown of Bristol, Va., in 1930. Four years later he would come to Charlotte and launch what would become the Crockett Promotions dynasty.

Honest and tough with a heart of gold, “Big Jim” Crockett was a successful entrepreneur and owned a series of restaurants which fed his 300-plus-pound frame. Known mainly as a wrestling promoter, Crockett Sr. also promoted concerts, dances and musical events (he was one of the few White promoters in the segregated South that would promote Black artists and shows aimed exclusively at Black patrons). He also was one of the first White promoters to start booking the Harlem Globetrotters back in the early years. At one time in the late ‘60s, Globetrotters owners Abe and Maury Saperstein offered Crockett the promotional rights to every date east of the Mississippi River. Crockett Sr. turned the offer down because it would take too much time away from what paid the bills. And that was pro wrestling.

From humble beginnings to respected businessman who knew what his clientele wanted, Crockett Sr. promoted weekly Monday night shows at the old Park Center in Charlotte and was a driving force in the National Wrestling Alliance, serving as a top lieutenant to longtime president Sam Muchnick.

Everyone respected the man known as “Big Jim.” He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, people listened. Although he had to drive in cars that would accommodate a man his size, he bristled at the thought of driving up to the old Park Center in a Cadillac, realizing that fans who worked all week to afford to come to his wrestling show wouldn’t understand the sight of what he would call a “fat cat promoter” driving such a luxury automobile. He ran a major territory with authority from an old house on East Morehead Street in Charlotte.

What some folks didn’t realize was that Big Jim’s heart was as big as the man. He routinely, many times secretly and without fanfare, wrote big checks to charities and those less fortunate. He was kind and generous and a man of his word. A handshake was his bond.

When Big Jim passed away in 1973 at the age of 64, not only did the town of Charlotte lose one of its most treasured citizens, but professional wrestling lost one of its greatest promoters.

Jim Crockett Jr., known as “Jimmy” to family and friends, would take over the promotion after his father’s death and served as NWA president while running Crockett Promotions out of a small building on Charlotte’s Brianbend Drive that housed an office, a small kitchen, a wrestling ring, a TV studio and a whole lot of memories.

‘An amazing boss’

Forty-eight years after the passing of family patriarch “Big Jim” Crockett, who laid the foundation for JCP more than 85 years ago, the pro wrestling fraternity is now paying tribute to his eldest son, who took the revered company to new levels on a national stage.

Former pro wrestling star Les Thatcher, who worked for both Crocketts, remembered his friend as a boss with a sense of humor who could roll up his sleeves and work in the trenches to promote his product.

“Any of us that worked with Jim are better for it, just as the wrestling industry is a better place because of Jim’s involvement. That golden ring in the sky is in for some great wrestling cards with the list of greats to pick from, and now they will be booked and promoted by both Jim Crockett Sr. and Jr.”

“Jimmy was such an amazing boss, but even more a friend,” echoed Terry Allen (aka Magnum TA). “He opened the doors and gave me the golden ticket to launch my career on a worldwide platform. But that’s just the beginning of our friendship. When my career came to an untimely end, Jimmy treated me like family long after I had the ability to boost ratings and help sell out arenas.

“There would not have been an I Quit match or The Best of Seven Series without the platform JCP provided. He will be missed. I hope you can give Dusty, Wahoo and Blackjack a big hug from me. Rest in Peace my friend.”

“Jim Crockett Jr. signed me to my first wrestling contract,” wrote Lex Luger. “I’m so thankful he believed in me and put me on the path to success just as he did with so many others in the wrestling industry. He will be greatly missed.”

“If not for my love of Jim Crockett Promotions I doubt I ever would have considered a pro wrestling career,” tweeted Lance Storm. “Thank you Jim Crockett Jr.”

Lifetime of memories

While Crockett Promotions no longer exists, the legendary family-run company remains a sentimental favorite among wrestling fans, giving them amazing moments that will never be forgotten.

Stars were born there and countless legends were introduced to the world. No greater array of talent has ever been assembled under one banner than a JCP roster that read like a wrestling hall of fame. They all were colorful characters, many of whom lived their gimmick, often spilling blood and breaking bones just to entertain their audience.

But it really was more than just a wrestling company. It provided a magical place for families and friends to bond, to root for the good guys and jeer the bad guys, and take home memories that would last a lifetime.

Jimmy Crockett took his dad’s promotion into an era that will stand the test of time. Along with his brothers and sister, there’s little doubt that they would get Big Jim’s stamp of approval.

It was one heck of a run.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at His latest book — “Final Bell” — is now available at and on

Did you know …


Dewey Forte. Provided photo

Not all gridiron stars who try are able to make a successful transition to pro wrestling. Former college football player Dewey “Bearcrusher” Forte trained alongside Ron Simmons in the mid-1980s in Florida under Hiro Matsuda. When they made their respective debuts in the state, Simmons thrived while Forte experienced difficulties with some of the business’s nuances. Possibly to gain greater perspective and a fresh start, Forte moved on to the Wild West Wrestling promotion in the Dallas area for a brief run in 1987. He left the industry not long after, taking a job back home in Florida. Forte, a gentle giant and former standout on the defensive line at Bethune-Cookman, passed away at age 55 in February 2016 in the Lakeland area.

– Kenneth Mihalik

Blast from the Past


Brian Lee. Provided photo

“Prime Time” Brian Lee (Harris) often appeared to be on the verge of a major breakthrough. Standing 6-6, he had the look and tools for stardom. Beginning in Memphis in the late 1980s, he worked programs against Sid Vicious and Frankie “The Thumper” Lancaster before moving on to the USWA’s Dallas territory with tag teammate Robert Fuller. Lee’s first major run, however, came in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling where he main-evented for three years, usually as the promotion’s champion or TV titleholder. Initially the company’s main fan favorite, Lee squared off against veteran talents like Paul Orndorff, The Dirty White Boy and Kevin Sullivan. An angle was conducted in 1993 with Tammy Sytch, flipping Lee to the heel side. And his new primary rival in SMW was Tracy Smothers. Lee also teamed with Chris Candido until a falling out, resulting in Lee’s subsequent return to the crowd’s good graces.

A unique opportunity was presented to Lee in mid-1994 when he joined the WWF as Ted DiBiase’s “impostor Undertaker.” This stint required that Lee mimic the ring style of the actual Undertaker (Mark Calaway), who was absent from the scene for storyline reasons. Given the physical resemblance over several months in this fairly convincing guise, Lee defeated the likes of Sparky Plugg (Robert Howard AKA Bob Holly) and Tatanka. The culmination of this facade took place at Summer Slam when the genuine Taker defeated the impersonator. With the ruse over, Lee moved on to the independent circuit, followed by an eventful year with the Philadelphia-based ECW. Back as Brian Lee, he allied with the rule-breaking Raven, and feuded against Tommy Dreamer, The Dudleys, Louie Spicolli and even Terry Funk. He even reunited with Candido during this period. But, in 1997, the WWF beckoned again, proposing a fresh beginning and new identity.

Factions were all the rage in the industry during this era, and Lee was handed the part of Chainz, a member of the biker group Disciples of Apocalypse (DOA). Lee’s cousins, the Harris twins, comprised part of the gang. And Chainz became the regular tag partner of incumbent WWF star Crush (Brian Adams). Naturally, DOA clashed with other contingents – The Nation of Domination, Los Boricuas and The South African Truth Commission. In singles bouts, Lee faced opponents like The Rock, Ron Simmons, and Goldust, and he fared well. But his chief adversary became Kane, who was then in the midst of a monster push. Not long after that lopsided series of matches, the DOA concept was dropped, and Lee was back on independent shows for several years.

But Lee’s days on the national stage weren’t quite over. In 2002, he surfaced in Total Nonstop Action (TNA), working frequently in tag matches until the summer of 2003. From there, he became a regular for lesser-known regional promotions until his retirement from ring action in 2014 after a 26-year career. Brian Lee, now 54, reportedly resides in Florida.

– Kenneth Mihalik

Photo of the Week


Stormie Lee displays a determined look as she prepares to defend her Old School Championship Wrestling ladies title at the Hanahan Rec Center. Mike Mooneyham/Special to The Post and Courier

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Baltimores Billie Holiday deserves renewed attention – READER COMMENTARY

Most of these are in the Black Arts and Entertainment District around Pennsylvania Avenue, but others are in back of Eubie Blake Cultural Center on North Howard Street across from the Northeast Market at Duncan and McElderry streets and on the side of the new Anthem House apartments at Fort Avenue and Key Highway.

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Candyman documentary dropping this spring

The ‘Candyman’ franchise is set to be the focus of a new in-depth documentary being released this spring.

The upcoming film – which is titled ‘The Complete History of Candyman’ – will give horror fans an incredible insight into the movie series which ran from 1998 to 1999, including the character’s origins in Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’.

The synopsis for the documentary reads: “‘The Complete History of Candyman’ presents an in-depth investigation into the series, the author, and the up-and-coming Jordan Peele reboot from brand new and archival interviews from scholars and creators, from the voices who survived the genre’s past trends; to those shaping its future.”

Meanwhile, the new ‘Candyman’ – a spiritual sequel to the original rather than a remake – is set in the American neighbourhood where events began; a now-gentrified section of Chicago where the Cabrini-Green housing projects once stood.

The original movie – which is inspired by legendary author Barker’s short story – follows graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) who explores the story of the Candyman for her thesis on urban legends.

The legend states that the Candyman – who, in life, was African-American artist Daniel Robitaille who was lynched for falling in love and fathering a child with a white woman in 1890 – is summoned after his name is said out loud five times in a mirror.

Tony Todd, 65, is set to reprise his role as the hook-wielding supernatural killer in the new film, and he thinks fans will be impressed.

He previously said: “They’re finishing up touches and I’m probably going to get a copy in a timely fashion.

“I’m fully aboard the team. It’s a great team. Nia DaCosta … not only a female director, but an African American director. You have Jordan Peele, who is arguably one of the hottest producers around right now.

“I think people are gonna be proud to see the character and the story continue. The entire film is shot in Chicago. That new look Chicago.”

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Why Vegan Certified Claims are Mainstream #BeVeg

Why Vegan Certified Claims are Mainstream #BeVeg – African American News Today – EIN Presswire

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I Turned To Art To Be A Better Ally To The Black Community

Local art student, Melissa Licari, stands in front of her artwork. (Courtesy Melissa Licari)

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Throughout February, we asked readers what it means to be Black in L.A. But, as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we’re also continuing to highlight race-related issues like what it means to be a white ally to the Black community.

Local art student, Melissa Licari, supported the Black Lives Matter Movement on social media following the death of George Floyd but felt compelled to contribute more.

By Melissa Licari

I did my small part in the moment by posting the black square on Instagram, donating what I could to various organizations supporting the movement, and having conversations with family members that didn’t understand. But I felt like what I was doing wasn’t enough.

So, I turned to my work as an artist.

I started with research on systemic racism. I watched documentaries, read books, and reached out to people more qualified than me. I found historic redlining maps of L.A. from the 1930s, which used to dictate where Black people could and couldn’t live.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

Even though redlining was outlawed, the impacts of this institutional racism remain. The impact can be seen through maps of 2018 census data that show where minority groups live.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

Racial minority groups, especially Black people, largely remain in the areas that were labeled the poorest back in the 1930s, while white people have remained in or migrated toward richer areas. The opportunities denied to families in the 1930s clearly had a generational impact on the mobility of future generations and results in the indirect segregation of cities across America today.

I also found a graph which showed the disparities in household income between black and white Americans. While the trend has been increasing for both groups between 1960 and 2018, the gap between the two groups has stayed consistent.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

I included a graphic that depicts the disparity in mortality rates between black and white Americans, split by gender.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

I layered these maps and graphs on top of each other and designed the composition of my piece in a computer software program.

Then, I transferred the design to canvas using acrylics, resin, and puffy paint. My intent was to catch viewers’ attention with bold colors and sharp contrasts to evoke emotions.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

My hope is that they might be more open to learning about the facts behind the painting if they can connect with it emotionally. And the process of creating this motivated me as a white woman to become a stronger ally to the Black community, and become more educated on the state of institutionalized racism in society today. I hope the piece inspires others to become educated and take action, too.

I believe my painting is important, particularly for people who look like me. Many white people feel threatened by the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe that this fear stems from a lack of knowledge of the issues. I know that many people know more about systemic racism than I do; however, I also know the unfortunate reality is that there are many people in the world who will not listen to the facts unless they are presented by a member of their own race. I hope that any white person who is fearful of the BLM movement can realize it is OK to change course and become an ally.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

I did hesitate to publish this piece because I didn’t want to take space away from Black artists. But, I do think it is important for white allies to use their voice to help educate other white people about these problems. There are many aspects of the Black experience that I do not know or understand, but I do think it is important to speak up rather than staying silent. It’s important to keep pushing the conversation forward because I believe it is small, incremental changes that result in big changes. I just think it is important for all of us to do what we can, whatever that may be.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

CU Denver Strives For More Equitable Music Education

The University of Colorado Denver’s College of Arts and Media (CAM) recently joined The Alliance for the Transformation of Musical Academe’s (ATMA) Task Force on Musical Racism. Made up of 30 deans, 30 faculty members and 30 students from across the nation, ATMA and the task force are pursuing a more equitable music education system by taking definitive steps to reposition Black American music within their musical curriculum.

Since George Floyd’s murder was televised last year, conversations around systemic racism in America have reached new levels of public consciousness. No aspect of society is excluded from these conversations, not even the music industry.

Today, popular music is largely dominated by Black artists. However, their role in the evolution of America’s modern sound is frequently downplayed in music education. From blues and classic rock to jazz and Motown, the profound influence Black artists have contributed to American music continues to be overlooked. The suppression of Black artists in the music education system is no accident, according to Mark Rabideau, CAM’s associate dean for academic and faculty affairs and author of “Creating the Revolutionary Artist.”

“Higher education is built on principles of white supremacy — the music follows suit in that way. Systems regenerate their own belief systems and to the point where you’ve kind of buried the truth somewhere, so distantly that it’s impossible to see until something radical, like a public televised murder of a black person, jars people to re-imagine the truth they want to be part of,” Rabideau told me. This fact remains at the center of ATMA’s organizational goals as they strive for a more equitable education curriculum.

In addition to joining the Task Force on Musical Racism, CAM has created the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Task Force to address these issues within CU Denver and their local community.

Katie Leonard, CAM’s current Activist-in-Residence and lead organizer for Anti-Racist Club Colorado, is currently working with the EDI Task Force to uproot systemic racism in music education at its core, instead of simply bandaging the wound. This starts with emphasizing equity first.

“We’re an equity first frame of work, meaning that diversity and inclusion find more meaning when they come after equity because we don’t want to include people into a system that’s broken, right? [We need] to make sure that our system is equitable, first and foremost.”

EDI Task Force

EDI Task Force Zoom Call, including Mark Rabideau (top middle), Alana Margolis (bottom left) and Katie Leonard (third row, far right)

ATMA, and CAM’s EDI Task Force, largely revolve around anti-racist policies and ideas. Being anti-racist is not merely an idea, but an action. Simply acknowledging racism’s role in modern America is not enough. If we’re going to fix these issues, definitive, measurable steps need to be taken.

“It’s super important to demystify this idea that someone can be not racist because the reality is that the systems that exist are constantly working around this all the time — they’re purveying racism. If we’re doing nothing to counteract that, and if we’re doing nothing to be actively anti-racist, then we’re complicit,” Leonard explained.

In pursuit of a more equitable music education system, ATMA and CAM are introducing a “tool kit” to help organizations identify internal biases. The tool kit is designed “for music schools to take inventory of whose music, what musicians and what music counts at their institutions,” Rabideau said.

“This is a free available tool that allows them to do a self-evaluation, not to get a score, but rather to have a better perspective of where there’s an opportunity to make a change.  I don’t doubt in any way that this is going to be incredibly powerful for institutions like CU Denver.”

Alana Margolis, a recent CAM graduate, joined the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to take a more creative approach towards uplifting minority communities within the music education system. Margolis and the EDI Task Force are currently hosting open mic nights and other community events, which aim to empower local creators.

“We are now doing these open mic nights once a month. Just to have students, whether they’re singing, or they’re reading poetry, or they’re reading a short story or just anything that has to do with the creative mind, just to be able to showcase what they’re working on, to be able to show everyone that this is what’s important to me, this is what my voice is,” Margolis said.

EDI Task Force

Alana Margolis

These events aren’t only about showcasing local talent, however. They’re also about exploring the origins of popular culture and the arts, which often stem from the Black community.  

“We’re also doing a trivia night, which will be all about the arts, music, film, and CU Denver,” Margolis said. “But we’re also going to include EDI task force little tidbits in there as well, just to be able to show people that, oh, you like this genre of music? Well, this is where it stemmed from. Oh, you like this artist? They were influenced by this artist. Oh, you like this film? It’s based off of this historic event that happened. So we want to make sure that our students are educated and know what they’re talking about so when they go into the real world, they have that knowledge and have that education.”CU Denver

In preparation for their long journey towards systemic change, the task force recently sent out a survey to gauge which areas could benefit the most from a structural shift.

“One thing we’re doing is starting by listening,” Rabideau said. “We just sent out a survey to our entire community that closes in about a week. But right now we know we have about 300 respondents. We hope to increase that number. The idea here is to capture a snapshot of our culture so that we can see where our opportunities lie, where are the challenges we face, and then to do a series of listening sessions, Katie’s going to lead those, I’ll join her, at town halls to hear our students’ voices. And then also do some focus groups where we can get some really detailed qualitative data. The idea here is to really understand our community so that we can acknowledge where we are, and then create a plan to go forward.”

This past year, conversations about systemic racism in the United States have reached new levels of public consciousness, in no small part thanks to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The historical suppression of black voices has long been overlooked, but organizations around the country, including CAM and ATMA, are taking big steps to create a more equitable society. There’s a long road ahead, but CAM is determined to make a difference.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Norton Exhibit Celebrates 80 Years of Eclectic Art and Community

Norton MuseumNorton Museum

Many of us don’t last to 80 years. If we do, we’ve beaten the average, according the latest numbers for life expectancy in the U.S. But the Norton Museum of Art is anything but in its twilight. On the relative heels of its $100 million expansion, you could say it enters its eighth decade this year haler than ever.

In a rare moment of self-examination, the Norton has agreed that 80 is a landmark number, and the resulting exhibition “Celebrating the Norton: Eighty Years” showcases key acquisitions through the decades, archival correspondence from the Nortons themselves, vintage exhibition catalogs and more. Curated by former archivist Marie Penny, “Celebrating the Norton” occupies just a single gallery on the second floor, but it’s flush with fascinating information. One example: In a yellowed letter from founder Ralph Hubbard Norton to surrealist artist George Grosz, the gallerist admits he is flummoxed by Grosz’s gluttonous watercolor “Eaten and to Be Eaten,” and kindly asks the artist to explain some of his imagery in the painting, namely the “head of a person who has been accustomed to good eating, laid open, so that the contents could be seen.”

Asking a surrealist artist to interpret his own work is an almost philistine request today, but the point of the letter is that Norton had a curious mind. That he was considering a Grosz purchase along Old Masters shows that he had modernist sensibilities from the museum’s inception.

Early class at the Norton

Norton opened the museum—the first in South Florida—for the expressed “education and enjoyment of the public.” He commissioned a famous Palm Beach architect, Marion Sims Wyeth, to design the building, and offered free admission (which is still a feature at the Norton for select visitors). Early acquisitions on display in “Celebrating the Norton,” from priceless Chinese sculptures in green jade to tactile impasto landscapes like George Bellows’ “Winter Afternoon,” speak to Norton’s wide-ranging tastes. Though he died 12 years after the establishment of the museum, his omnivorous appetite toward important art in various styles carried over to its future executive directors.

Works on display here speak to that eclecticism, from stirringly realist “art-room” paintings like Willem Van Haecht II’s “Interior of the Salon of the Archduchess Isabella of Austria” to groundbreaking contemporary sculpture and photography. The stylistic gamut in “Celebrating the Norton” includes pioneering color field abstractions to works that sardonically countered the dominance of abstract expressionism, like Larry Rivers’ sardonic pencil drawing “French Vocabulary Lesson.”

Curator Penny had the daunting, some would say unenviable, challenge of selecting only a handful of works to represent 80 years of history and progress, culling a collection of many thousands of works down to 20 or so. Some of these are no-brainers, like one of Sam Gilliam’s quilt-like works from 1977, remarkably the first artwork by a Black artist purchased by the Norton. The museum would spend the proceeding decades making up for lost time, showcasing African-American artists such as Jonathan Green’s floridly vivid memory painting “Bathing,” also on display here.

You could say that “Celebrating the Norton” is a history of the Norton Museum, as opposed to the history. Two dozen completely different works could be hung in this gallery and offer an equally representative survey of the museum’s depth and breadth. Ever more reason, perhaps, to revisit this appropriate self-toast in another 10 or 20 years.

“Celebrating the Norton: Eighty Years” runs through June 13 the Norton Museum of Art, 1450 S. Dixie Highway. Admission is $15 seniors, $18 general and $5 students, and is free for West Palm Beach residents on Saturdays. The museum is currently operating on reduced hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For information, call 561/832-5196 or visit

For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.

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