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Brewer, Williams Celebrate Harlem Renaissance Centennial, Black History Month

Drummers

About 500 people gathered at MIST Harlem Wednesday night for the annual Manhattan Borough President’s Black History Month Reception.

Dedicated to the memory of writer Toni Morrison, this year’s reception commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.

Representatives from various organizations, such as the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Harlem Writers Guild; and New York Urban League recited the prose and poetry and honored the ideas of Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Billie Holiday, Zora Neale Hurston, and other greats of the artistic and intellectual movement. 

Highlights of the presentation included an appearance from NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes, who received an unparallelled standing ovation, and the rhythm; costumes, and choreography; of a West African drumming duo.

The evening concluded with a buffet-style dinner of fried and buffalo-style chicken, sweet potato fries, and spinach pies as jazz played in the background. 

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo by Michael Rock

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who hosted the event, told New York County Politics that the previous year’s event, held at Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus, emphasized politics over culture. “It’s nice to have not just political discussions, but this is the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance,” she said. “[It] was all about music, culture, poetry, prose, and that’s what we were celebrating tonight, and it was really done well.”

Brewer then told this reporter that she wants the city’s schools to better educate students on the works of the Harlem Renaissance and its legacy. “I hope Black History Month is taught in the same way with remembering where the prose and the poetry came from,” she said.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who showed up to read a James Baldwin piece, agreed, stating that he wants black history to “be celebrated all throughout the year.”

“I personally look forward to the day when we don’t have Black History Month. We don’t have all these history months. We have history,” he told NYCP, “History should be celebrated. Until then, these events are going to happen.”

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