community arts

The Street Culture Story behind The Double Dutch Classic

Found on the many sidewalks and playgrounds of New York City's concrete streets, Double Dutch a childhood game was birthed from the Aborigines and the Egyptians. It has been practiced for centuries by various cultures around the world. Fast forward to the 1940's and 1950's , the popularity of jumping rope became a playtime favorite amongst girls because of NYC's narrow cramped apartments that came with sprawling concrete front yards. Girls would take their mother's wet clotheslines and rush to the sidewalks eagerly creating funny and clever song chants with jump rope games.

Art by  Chris Kindred

In the 1970's jump rope games became popular again going back to its concrete roots when former NYC Police Community Affairs Detective, David A. Walker, and his partner Detective Ulysses Williams reinvented the street game adding rules and regulations to turn the game into a nationally recognized competitive sport. That transformation from a simple playtime game favorite to an exciting sport of intense competition has manifested  into the international class sport that it is today. Detectives David and Ulysses realized that the NYC's sports culture was geared towards boys and men. The community sports culture was male dominated and just not fun and competitive for girls and women.  Together the NYPD veterans decided to create a community sports league that was safe, fun, and competitive for girls and young women. The female youth were able to develop skills, esteem, and discipline for showmanship competition and at a cultural sport they loved. Essentially, the double dutch sport was hand built by the community with the support of the police department. As The National Double Dutch League began to reach out to public school gym teachers, the sport began to spread throughout New York City and the competition was bold, exciting and fierce. 

By 1974, David and Ulysses launched the first American Double Dutch League championship at Lincoln Center. Laren Walker daughter of the late founder David A, Walker, and the leagues' current president says, " the leagues' goal was to take double dutch, and urban traditional sport and take it to the next level and really let Black girls and the community shine. It was an opportunity to make double dutch an Olympic sport." With 25 years of competition under their belt there is no denying Lauren's father's legacy has unfolded right before her eyes in with its roots in Harlem.

The emergence and popularity of hip-hop played a key role in popularizing many facets of hip-hop street culture and one of the most interesting creations with the sport of double dutch. Hip-Hop catapulted the double dutch phenomenon from New York City streets to overseas in cities like Paris, France. The innovate bold personality and freedom of creation of hip-hop culture captivated the masses around the globe. Fab 5 Freddy particularly solidified the concept of merging hip-hop and double dutch because it was an authentic fabric piece to the street culture and a great element to add to the diverse umbrella of hip-hop art culture. Hip-hop pioneers Grand Master Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Fab 5 Freddy alongside graffiti writers, rappers, DJ's, and double dutch girls all defined the birth of hip-hop. It was the popularity of NYC's street force, the 1980's influence of hip-hop, and the community support that allowed the league to not only be a competition program but become a catalyst in fighting the drug era in NYC and creating opportunities for the youth in spite of the times. Growing from a community sports organization on the street of Harlem to citywide and nationwide championships with nearly 100,000 girls and boys representing schools and communities from all over the US.

As the predecessor of her dad, Lauren Walker plans to continue her father's legacy of community teamwork, cooperative economics, and positive self-esteem by expanding the competition circuit of the teams internationally. The National Double Dutch League is continuously developing its sports programs and adding them to community organizations and specialty camps for the youth.

For the celebratory 25th year, The Annual Double Dutch Classic will be held at the World-Famous Apollo Theater this Sunday, December 4, 2016, from 1pm - 4pm. The competition will be hosted by OWN TV's star of Tyler Perry's "Love Thy Number" Kendre C. Johnson. Coined, "The Superbowl of Double Dutch" by president Lauren Walker the competition highlights national and international communities competing in three categories:

  • Speed & Compulsory (fastest team)
  • Fusion Freestyle (double dutch choreographed with music)
  • Best in Show: (the championship title for the best Fusion Freestyle team)

This year's participants come from Africa (Morocco and South Africa,) Belgium, Dominican Republic, France Japan, Trinidad, and U.S. states which include CT, DC, NJ, NYC, NC, and SC. The 2016 Double Dutch Holiday Classic is sponsored by American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, Coca0Cola, Eastport, Con Edison, and New York Daily News. The NDDL 25th Annual David A. Walker  Memorial, Double Dutch Classic makes possible speed and music fusion events for the best Double Dutch teams in the world. Each year since 1992, the double Dutch Classic has previously sold out to parent supported, standing room only audiences.

Tune in next week for our exclusive "INSIDE THE COOL" coverage of the 25th anniversary!!!

 

 

Inside the Cool with African Health Now's 2nd Annual "Gift of Life" Benefit

Since 2006, African Health Now has impacted 20,000 men, women, and children across Ghana. For the last several years they have honored the leaders and champions of the African Diaspora who command, inspire, and demonstrate through their individual talents the quintessential best within the African community. Each year the proceeds from the "Gift of Life" benefit support AHN's "on the ground" health programming in Ghana, West Africa.

Dana Johnson of www.essence.com

Dana Johnson of www.essence.com

On October 20, 2016, African Health Now hosted its star-studded "Gift of Life" benefit with Dana Johnson  as the mistress of ceremonies and Lola Ogunnaike formerly of Arise TV and CNN as the VIP Reception host. It was a celebration of the 2016 honorees that included some of the biggest newsmakers of the year in community arts, healthcare, and entrepreneurship. NY State Senator, Kevin Parker, Producer to Jidenna, Nan Kwabena, and actor Gbenga Akinnagebe were among the esteemed professionals and tastemakers gathered to praise the honorees of the night. The night culminated with a special guest performance by artist  Brother Kamau who wowed the audience with his latest single from The Birth of A Nation soundtrack titled "The Icarus"  

Each year the annual gala never disappoints and is always a swanky mix of high-powered networking for the new professionals, a family reunion for regularly committed supporters and a revival for all as DJ D-Nice always cranks out the best jams all night long.  Founder of African Health Now, Nana Eyeson Akiwowo manages to highlight the most eloquent and impassioned movers and shakers for equality, social justice, healthcare, art, and culture. Honorees Child Liberty recipient of the Humanitarian Award, (BAM) of the Grassroots Community Foundation SUPERGIRLS recipients of the Youth Leadership Award and Dr. Theodore Hanley recipient of the Health Advocate Award were among the highlights of the evening as they each accepted their well-deserved accolades.  Celebrating the prominent minds of the African Diaspora for their success and offerings to the community that honors their values, and aptitude for reciprocity, optimism, image and cultural pride is really what makes the evening so epic. African Health Now's successful healthcare campaign has reached thousands with so many examples of education and giving back by being deeply rooted in the community of Ghana. The organization has undoubtedly laid the foundation for a long-term strategy to enhance healthcare and its relevance within Ghana and beyond.

Click through the gallery for a brief glimpse into the magical evening.

All photos were captured by Olu Waz  and Hannah Saleh

Watch our exclusive coverage of the honorees and familiar faces of music and movies as we experienced the momentous night.

“The Crown Futures” Installation by Shani Peters at Sugar Hill Children's Museum

In the workshops we talked about the history of crowns and that led us to talk about slavery, racial inequality, and the concept of power. I am regularly pleasantly surprised with the ability of young people to talk about different subjects. These kids know what's going on. I hope we planted seeds in the minds of students so they continue these thoughts as they grown into adults.

-Shani Peters

What do Miss America, Jean-Michele Basquiat, Stevie Wonder, and Nefertiti all have in common? Ok, try adding Kwanzaa to the list and see if you can get a little closer to a common answer. Naturally, a host of good music, high crowns, and Black pride should begin to flood your memory bank, but for the artist, Shani Peters these familiar names proved more than just childhood memories.

Peters, a multidisciplinary New York-based artist decided to expand on her series The Crown which is an exhibit and series of projects that have evolved over the last several years. Her latest installation "The Crown Futures" at Sugar Hill Children's Museum celebrates the concepts of self-determination through the young eyes of youth ages 5-13 years old. Peters artistic content revolves around media culture, social justice, cultural record keeping and community building so this installation was near and dear to her heart as she reflected on her own childhood for inspiration and healing. Going back to those childhood memories resonates deeply with Peters thanks to her father who was a Black History professor who managed to keep her interest in Black history with the teachings of music, literature, and theater. Her inspirations began with the memories of family Kwanzaa celebrations and its 7 principles, particularly, self- determination. Peters reveals that it was the principle Kujichagulia aka Self-Determination that she struggled the most with to maintain and experience. Like her father who wanted to do so much more than teach Black History but instead create narratives around the lives of those affected most within history, Peters included the everyday children around her to examine, celebrate, and stimulate personal growth for viewers of all ages.

Her interactive workshops didn't just include the creating of the crowns, but also led to productive discussions about race, power, and civil rights. 500 feet of gold paper and 400 crowns later Peters would combine her childhood memories of Kwanzaa, Stevie Wonder's song "The Crown" her sightings of famous crowns like Nefertiti, Miss America, and Basquiat , and her student's creations into a breathtaking installation. An installation that transcends tradition, time, culture, politics, and social existence that we all can relate to. As Peters uses her work to facilitate healing, freedom, self-reflection for Black Americans in particular, you can not ignore the universal message of love, opportunity, and respect for all.

Check out Peters artist statement from earlier works of the Crown Project

The African’s experience in the Americas has been grounded in brutality and trauma. Through eras of forced enslavement, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, both clearly stated and veiled every-day racism, and now the most commonly perceived police abuse of power, Black people have exercised unimaginable degrees of determination to simply survive and persevere. The work in this exhibition is the most recent exploration in the theme of imagining crowns as symbols for Self-Determination and the complexity of the experience of the African people following the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade that my series The Crown has reflected on for the past few years. These new works begin to explore what Self-Determination means specifically for Black Americans situating both historical and contemporary images of Black Americans engaged in focused political protest within the visual narrative of The Crown project. James Baldwin famously stated, “Our crown has already been bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear it.”  These works illustrate the price that was and continues to be paid.

All Photos were capture by Michael Palma

Harlem School of the Arts Havana Nights Dance Gala

For more than 5 decades, the Harlem School of the Arts has provided quality arts training to children of color into the world of the arts that too often seemed out of their reach.  Students of the institution were taught all art forms under one roof from violins and other orchestral instruments to ballet and tap as well as Shakespeare to quench all their artistic desires. But it all began with the dream of a concert soprano, Dorothy Maynor, in the basement of the St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem. The prestigious Harlem School of the Arts is one of New York City’s most pioneering and eminent institutions of quality arts education.  HSA’s notable alumni base of Tony-award winning actors, celebrated operatic voices, jazz musicians, visual artists and dancers has proven decade after decade that it is so much more than an art school that has become a neighborhood gem, but instead, a vital program that has reached thousands of youth across the country, providing direction, discipline, and hope to children who are most in need of knowing there can be a bright and successful future in the world of the arts. The historic establishment provides arts education in four core artistic disciplines: dance, theatre, music, and visual arts where nearly 4,000 children are served on site as well as in various schools throughout NYC.

On May 12, 2016, Harlem School of the Arts hosted a Havana Nights themed Dance Party Benefit sponsored by The Williams Capital Group and Sweet Hospitality. The evening featured live performances by HSA students, The Afro Latin Jazz Cats and the Afro-Cuban Dance Ensemble Oyu Oro.  There were over 200 attendees and others in attendance included HSA staff and supporters as well as community leaders, activists and  host of A-list actors and actresses. Despite almost closing its doors permanently in 2010 due to a financial crisis, the community and arts activist have been working tirelessly to spread the word about Harlem School of the Arts’ legacy, its current student body of amazing emerging artists, and raise continuous funds for the expanding institution. That labor love would finally prove worth it in 2012 when they received a $5 million grant from the Herb Alpert Foundation and raised over $1 million in 2015 at its 50th Anniversary Gala just last year.  This past spring President Eric Pryor in an interview with MetroFocus on PBS Thirteen revealed how HSA, facing difficult financial circumstances over the last decade and the receiving of a major donation from the Herb Alpert Foundation, has allowed the organization to restore its endowment. Pryor confidently expressed that, with the restructuring of a new board and executive leadership, HSA will continue to grow and expand its programming here in Harlem. They have held true to their mission of lifelong learning through the arts with the belief that all children deserve access to a quality arts education, empowering them to become the creative thinkers and innovative leaders of tomorrow.

I had the opportunity to not only come back and cover my arts alma mater but I was able to chat with President Eric Pryor about the importance of HSA’s art fundraising and what new programming we can expect this upcoming fall.