Art show celebrates Black History Month

By Lindsay Ruebens
UNC Staff Writer
The Durham VOICE

Martin Luther King, Jr., was there. And Frederick Douglass. Muhammad Ali and Ray Charles, too.

Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis, founder and director of the African American Dance Ensemble, addresses the crowd along with spoken word poets Sean Ingram (left), Dasan Ahanu (middle right) and Joseph Churchwell (right). Photo by Lindsay Ruebens

The people in the paintings, along with several other heroes, were honored in conjunction with African-American culture as part of the First Annual Black History Month Tribute on Feb. 21 at Joe’s Diner.

“I hope this event will bring something to the community and spark a few flames and get people looking again back into the community,” said Derek Bryant, event organizer.

Bryant, a painter and graphic designer, has been living in Durham since 2007 and decided the area needed a cultured celebration of Black History Month. He invited other artists to the event to provide the community with an art show of music, spoken word, and visual art. He also invited guest speaker Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis, founder and director of the African American Dance Ensemble. About 60 people attended the event.

The venue was none other than Joe’s Diner, which opened on the corner of Angier and Driver Streets Jan. 2 and has become a new symbol of revitalization in Northeast Central Durham.

“When you think of all beautiful things, you think about art,” said keynote speaker Davis, who resides in Durham. “When you think about art, you think about diversity, and when you think about diversity, you think of Joe’s Diner.”

Davis said he was excited to come home and speak to fellow Durham residents.

“Durham is dancing; change is alive and well,” he said.

During his talk, Davis involves audience members in singing, dancing and clapping. Photo by Lindsay Ruebens

That change started when the night opened with an original song, “Something on My Mind,” sung by Tyaisha Williams, who calls herself Black Diamond. Then Sean Ingram, Joseph Churchwell and Dasan Ahanu performed powerful renditions of spoken word.

“I feel that so many people get fed emotionally and spiritually through art,” said poet Sean Ingram. “It’s a second church in a sense – especially in today’s times, we need more outlets for inspiration.”

Following the spoken word was Davis’ presentation about strength, community and identity. Without any notes, Davis led the audience in a high-energy, interactive talk.

“I want to see with my heart and not my eyes and ears,” he told the audience.

He led the crowd through a rhythmic ritual with candles to honor ancestors, and he emphasized the importance of respecting elders in the community, calling out and honoring the elders in the crowd.

Davis also communicated with the people through different kinds of call and response. One was complete with different vocal parts for the audience, who clapped, danced and sang:

“O, joy has come to the Earth today / let’s celebrate our heritage / let’s celebrate our diversity / let’s celebrate our togetherness.”

Artist and Durham native E. Ashley Sutton stands next to a portrait she painted of Ray Charles. She said she had painted it two days before in the span of four hours. Photo by Lindsay Ruebens

“This is pure Africa,” Davis said to appreciative laughter.

He later distributed colorful peace symbol necklaces to each person present. Davis asked them to hold the symbol in their hands and concentrate on a powerful mantra.  Everyone then exchanged the necklaces multiple times with one another to spread goodwill.

The event closed with a dinner catered by Joe’s Diner. Bryant said the night was such a success that he and Joseph Bushfan, the diner’s owner, want to host art and cultural events once every three months.

“We’re going to continue to keep the energy going,” Bryant said. “This was a great benchmark for the first one.”

Bushfan said this was a completely new experience but that he found it enriching.

“If he’s ready, I’m willing,” he said of Bryant.

Georgette Leary of Durham said she liked the energy of the event and being surrounded by creativity.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Leary said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

E. Ashley Sutton, a Durham native, displayed some of her paintings on the walls and said she was proud to bring art to the area.

“It means a lot to bring something positive here,” Sutton said. “The turnout was great — it looks better than I’d pictured in my mind. It was a great collaboration.”

Related Links:

Map of location:

Bio info on Chuck Davis:

Info on African American Dance Ensemble:

Info on Joseph Bushfan:

Info on Sean Ingram:

Info on E. Ashley Sutton: