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Honoring African American Contributions in the Arts

A Brief Overview of Black History Month

Since 1976, the United States has recognized the month of February as Black History Month (BHM). The origins of BHM go back over 98 years ago when Carter G. Woodson along with a group of other prominent African Americans sponsored a national Negro History Week during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass through the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), which he is a founding member. During this week schools and community groups were encouraged to organize celebrations, create history clubs, host performances, and hold lectures. Triggered by the civil rights movement and a growing interest in Black identity during the 1960s, the Negro History Week evolved into the Black History Month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, encouraging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Black History Month holds significant importance for me not only because it’s during my birthday month but it provides me with an opportunity to educate myself (and my family) on the achievements of notable and not-so-well-known African American contributors to all industries from manufacturing to finance. In speaking with a prominent executive, earlier this week, she described learning about her history (specifically) and the historical contributions of African Americans gave her a sense of empowerment because “we are our ancestor's wildest dreams” and understanding what people that look like me did under hostile conditions inspires me to greater heights”. Indeed, representation matters, and throughout this month as an African American man, father, brother, businessperson, and leader, I feel more connected to my ancestors by learning more about them as well as the desire to make them proud.

Celebrating African American Creativity and Influence in the Arts

Each year the ASALH selects a different theme for BHM. The theme for BHM this year is ‘African Americans in the Arts’. Further, the ASALH speaks of this theme as an opportunity to examine the varied history and life of African American arts and artisans, in an aim to celebrate and honor the "richness of the past and present" as we continue to look forward to what the future brings.

In this BHM edition of StrataXcellence, we highlight 5 artists in different lanes who are bringing innovative ideas to fruition that add to the culture but also enhance the lives of those who interact with their ideas.

Chef Kwame Onwuachi’s Dōgon Restaurant: Honoring DC's Black History

This article is a great way to start the tribute to African Americans in the Arts. This restaurant is based on Benjamin Banneker. Chef Kwame exhibits innovativeness in insisting that restaurants must have a “story”. This type of thinking lays a foundation for the culture of the restaurant beyond the typical areas, like quality, timeliness, and care. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Overview of Chef Kwame Onwuachi's new restaurant, Dōgon, at Southwest DC’s Salamander Hotel.

  • Emphasis on the restaurant's inspiration from Benjamin Banneker, a Black astronomer and cartographer.

  • Connection to Dogon culture and Onwuachi's Afro-Caribbean background influencing the restaurant’s design.

  • Mention of the menu drawing from Afro-Caribbean cooking and the chef’s diverse heritage.

  • Importance of storytelling in the restaurant business and its connection to Black history.

Leandra Ellis-Gaston in "Six: The Musical"

This article highlights the leadership of self that is vitally important in leaders of others. While the show itself is about finding your voice amongst similar but different members of a group, Ms. Ellis-Gaston had to find her voice to advocate for diversity in the makeup offerings for her character and the accessibility of the role for other minorities. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Introduction to the Broadway musical "Six" and its unique blend of Gen Z glam, Broadway, and pop music.

  • Spotlight on Leandra Ellis-Gaston's role as Anne Boleyn and her contribution to the empowerment of diverse voices.

  • Description of the audience's collective experience and the musical's emphasis on finding one's voice.

  • Discussion on the importance of diversity and representation in Broadway, particularly in shows like "Six."

Derrick Adams and The Last Resort Artist Retreat

This article was quite enlightening as I was not familiar with the artist. I’m more familiar with the location of this place than with being in Baltimore. The idea is innovative in its approach to addressing burnout by creatives. In addition, it's not just about the location, it's about the concept of bringing creatives together to recharge so they build and create dynamically. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Overview of Derrick Adams and the establishment of The Last Resort Artist Retreat in Baltimore.

  • Description of TLRAR as a space for Black creatives to relax, reflect, and fellowship.

  • Discussion on the support received from Tiffany & Co.'s social impact platform and the month-long residency program.

  • Mention of the inaugural Lift As You Climb, Black Leaders in Art & Culture Symposium.

  • Adams's vision for fostering the creative community in Baltimore and future projects like The Black Baltimore Digital Database.

CultureCon's Expansion in 2024

CultureCon is an annual convention celebrating the individual contributions of Black and Brown creatives and professionals. They are now expanding this approach to HBCUs to allow student creatives to network and grow with the industry. This is such an innovative idea in leveraging the virtually untapped talent pool and underutilized creative capacity housed in the various HBCUs throughout the country. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Introduction to The Creative Collective NYC and CultureCon.

  • Announcement of CultureCon's expansion with three new ventures: CultureCon Studios, CultureCon on Campus, and Creative Class Awards.

  • Overview of CultureCon Studios amplifying diverse stories within the CultureCon ecosystem.

  • Description of CultureCon on Campus as an immersive experience for HBCU college students.

  • Introduction to the Creative Class Awards, set to honor the next generation of Black culture-shifters.

  • The commitment to empowering the Black creative community and creating a more equitable and diverse future.

Embracing Black Excellence: The Rise of Babel Loft

We close this BHM edition of StratXcellence with an article highlighting the innovative concept led by two sisters who are determined to create community while also fulfilling the needs of the local business ecosystem. They have successfully created a space that converts from co-working (during business hours) to cosmopolitan (during happy hour). This sister team has curated the decor and everything in the space to establish an ambiance that transitions seamlessly from day to night. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Ode to Babel's Legacy and Expansion Founders Marva and Myriam Babel: Creating Community Spaces

  • Babel Loft Experience: Co-work and Lounge Concept Unique Atmosphere, Seamlessly Transitioning from Day to Night

  • Collaboration with Kenneth Nix: Blending Past and Present Homage to Black History Through Décor and Artworks

  • Curation of Artworks Reflecting Black Excellence Plans for BIPOC and Queer-Centered Offerings

  • Invitation to Join Babel Loft's Community Growing Waiting List: Testament to Popularity and Impact

  • Babel Loft: A Beacon of Black Excellence in Brooklyn Fostering Community, Culture, and Inclusivity

In conclusion, as we honor Black History Month, we celebrate the resilience, creativity, and enduring legacy of African American contributions to our society. From the visionary leadership of individuals like Carter G. Woodson to the innovative endeavors of modern-day artists and entrepreneurs, Black history is a tapestry woven with stories of triumph and perseverance. Let us continue to embrace and uplift Black excellence in all its forms, not just this month, but every day, as we strive towards a more inclusive and equitable future for all. Join us in exploring and engaging with the diverse voices and talents showcased in this year's Black History Month edition of StrataXcellence. Together, let's amplify these stories, honor these achievements, and pave the way for generations to come.


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