Thursday, September 30, 2010

"You have got to lift others as you climb"

-Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole
Celebrating our 30th Anniversary with Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Michel Martin and Vincent Gray

On Thursday, September 23rd the Humanities Council continued its 30th anniversary festivities with a fascinating conversation featuring two prominent Washington scholars and our Distinguished Service to the Humanities honorees – Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole and Peggy Cooper Cafritz.  The discussion, held at Hogan and Lovell's law offices and moderated by NPR’s Michel Martin, focused heavily on issues of race, power, and education – not surprising given the course of this year’s Democratic primary in Washington. The evening included performances by students from the Duke Ellington School for the Arts (co-founded by Cafritz), African drummers from Soul in Motion, and dancers from the National Hand Dance Association.

A long-time advocate for education reform, Cafrtiz began the evening by discussing her reasons for founding the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, and how the humanities play a constant role in shaping the school's graduates whether or not they choose an arts career. When she and her co-founder, Mike Malone, first developed the idea for an arts school, the goal was to give DC youth the opportunity to use the arts in the same way that many use sports; as a safe and constructive medium through which to concentrate their talents and energies. Cafritz noted that all great artists have a strong foundation in the humanities; a prerequisite for making their work relevant and enjoyable for a wide audience.

Dr. Cole, who currently serves as the Director of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, believes that the humanities are also a means of introspection; they allow us to know and understand ourselves, and how we relate to others. Cole stated that during gala openings at the museum she likes to begin by saying, “Welcome home.” The museum, is “a place that collects, conserves, exhibits, and educates about the visual arts that come from the only place on earth that birthed all of humanity.” Cole suggests that in this way, the arts and humanities can allow people to see themselves as part of a larger world community. Thus the Smithsonian Museum of African Art provides a tangible argument in favor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “World House Concept” in which the civil rights leader outlined a global community that transcended racial, ethnic, and sociopolitical borders.

As moderator Michel Martin pointed out, both honored guests strayed from their assumed or early career paths to pursue lives devoted to the arts and humanities, and thus it is not surprising that both advocated strongly for the inclusion of these disciplines in the development of Washington, DC's youth. Cafritz earned a degree in political science before attending law school at George Washington University, but became famous for her devotion to education and her world-class art collection. Dr. Cole's family owned and operated a successful real estate business, but after attending Fisk and Oberlin Colleges, she decided to study anthropology, a path that was not easy for some of her family to accept. Cole reflected fondly however on her mother's insistence that she “follow her passion,” advice that she has since passed down to her students and proteges.

During a heated election season, it is perhaps not surprising that Martin eventually turned the discussion towards the recently decided mayoral race. Throughout the DC mayoral campaign, polling numbers have suggested that the election was fought largely along racial lines with Adrian Fenty  garnering support from white voters in upper Northwest, and African-American voters favoring Vincent Gray. Peggy Cooper Cafritz reassured the audience that this division is a “now moment,” and not “what truly defines our city.” She insisted that, despite the tensions, the singular focus should be on education. Education is what gives people identity, it is the “great liberator.” Cafritz also believes that improved local media coverage could remedy the District's latent racial divide. When communities of people begin reading about what is happening in one another's daily lives, they cannot help but become more interconnected  and mutually understanding.

Martin wrapped up the discussion by asking both of the honored guests to set the audience to a task aimed at bettering the city and its people. Dr. Cole, looking around the room of successful overachievers implored them each to “go ahead, climb, get more and more famous, but you have got to lift others as you climb.” Cafritz's similarly charged the audience to give the tools of advocacy to as many underprivileged families as possible. While recognizing the importance of education, the humanities, and mutual understanding, both women know there is no substitute for the human connection; people helping people directly.

Adding to the nights excitement was a surprise visit from DC's Democratic nominee for mayor, Vincent Gray. Like Cafritz and Cole, Gray, a long-time supporter of the Humanities Council of Washington, DC,  insisted that the arts and humanities have the ability to bring diverse peoples together, a necessity now more than ever in the District. Gray pledged continued support for the humanities and thanked both Cafritz and Cole for their contributions to quality of life in the city.
The Humanities Council will broadcast segments from the discussion on our Youtube channel over the next few weeks.

For more photos, check out our Facebook album!
For more information on our 30th Anniversary, please visit:
For press coverage and other links, please visit: 

(PHOTOS: The Humanities Council of Washington, DC was honored to be in the presence of our 2010 Distinguished Service to the Humanities Recipients: Peggy Cooper Cafritz and Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, NPR's Michel Martin, and Chairman Vincent Gray who pledged to continue his support of the Council. Also pictured, Chairman of the Board, Marianne Scott, Executive Director, Joy Ford Austin and the amazing Soul in Motion African Drummers. Photos by LJ Creaations)

Here's to Another 30 Years!

30th Anniversary Projects Highlight DC's Unique Culture and History

The Humanities Council’s 30th Anniversary celebration has been gathering steam all year, but the organization’s major birthday parties last week were unforgettable for everyone involved. The festivities featured riveting film screenings, surprise guest appearances, and an emotional discussion from two honored guests.

The 30th Anniversary Showcase on Tuesday, September 21st , at the Charles Sumner School in Northwest, gave recipients of the 30th Anniversary Special Grant the opportunity to discuss their projects in a public setting. Kim Roberts of Beltway Poetry Quarterly brought copies of her retrospective chapbook covering the history of spoken-word poetry in Washington. She brought noted poetry performer Regie Cabico who delivered an inspiring work about race and identity.

Quique Aviles and B. Stanley promoted their project which documents the history of the El Salvadoran presence in Washington, DC. When a Civil War, commonly thought to have been exacerbated by the U.S. government, broke out in their homeland, thousands of El Salvadoran immigrants found themselves settling in the District to escape the bloodshed. Aviles’ performance art makes use of oral history, and his own experiences to create a vivid picture of a community caught between DC’s black and white populations; accepted by neither. Music, humor, and drama converge to reveal a narrative of gradual progress, and the establishment of a sense of community. For future "Los Treinta" performances, please visit

Washington’s public art was featured prominently in Tuesday’s program as historian Perry Frank unveiled her website, Murals of Washington, DC: Spectacle and Message. Frank was joined in her discussion by Byron Peck the artist behind many of DC’s sidewalk-view masterpieces. The website is live, though still under construction. It can be viewed at

The last grantee to present a project was Silver Spring Media Arts’ Walter Gottlieb who screened a near-complete version of his latest documentary, Washington Redskins: the Winning Years. The film chronicles the successful Redskins teams of the 1980s and early 1990s that longtime Washingtonians remember as a galvanizing force in the city. Gottlieb’s entourage of supporters included Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, a former Redskins cheerleader, two Hogettes in full regalia, and the legendary “Voice of the Redskins”, Frank Herzog.

In addition to presentations by all 8 grantees, the Humanities Council distributed awards to some of their most tireless supporters. To close out the evening, the attendees convened at the nearby Beacon Hotel for a champagne toast celebrating 30 years of transforming lives!

For more photos, check out our Facebook album!
For the full list of projects, please visit:

(PHOTO: Original Washington Redskins Hogettes joined us for our 30th Anniversary Showcase and for the premiere of "Washington Redskins: The Winning Years". Photo by LJ Creaations)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Flaxie Pinkett: Social Entrepreneur

New Online Exhibit Explores the Life of a Washington Icon

Over the Summer, The Humanities Council of Washington, DC initiated a project  that will explore the life and legacy of one of Washington's most prominent historic figures – Flaxie Pinkett. Pinkett was an entrepreneur, mentor, and activist, and her efforts to improve the availability and condition of affordable housing in the District will not soon be forgotten.

Flaxie Pinkett's nephew Norris Dodson is leading the campaign to build a scholarship fund in her name for the Humanities Council's youth leadership program Soul of the City. Additionally, Dodson has offered the Council use of a collection of family photographs and mementos that will become part of an online exhibit honoring Pinkett's legacy.

The broader goal of the exhibit is to collect memories, quotes, and stories from the people around Washington, DC whose lives Pinkett touched. These remembrances can be posted here, in the comments section of this blog post, or they can be sent directly to the Humanities Council at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

30 Stories For 30 Years: Women in Film and Video

Oral History Highlights Cinematic Achievements

For three decades, DC women filmmakers have produced some of the most engrossing works in their medium. Since its start in 1979, with nine original members, the organization Women in Film & Video (WF&V) to over a thousands members.

The Humanities Council has made possible a documentary on 30 years of Women in Film & Video, including interviews with the leading ladies of the DC media community. Panel presentation will explore DC womens contributions to film and to nonfiction media.

The project includes oral histories with the leading ladies of Washington DC media community. The panel presentation will focus on DCs center of nonfiction media production in the US using the work of the interview subjects as a lens. Participants will are explore why DC has emerged as a nonfiction center and what these filmmakers have found here that has enabled them to build their careers. The aim is to better understand what can be replicated for subsequent generations of filmmakers, for young DC filmmakers and across the world.

[Learn more about Women in Film & Video at their site:]

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

30 Stories For 30 Years: DC Youth Pride

Latin American Youth Center to Showcase 30 Years of LGBTQ Activism in DC

30 years of civil rights activism has paid off for DC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ) community. Like many minority groups in DC, they have been forced to fight for equality and acceptance despite all-too-frequent discrimination and even violence. In recognition of the advancement of the LGBTQ community, the Latin American Youth Center has received a 30th Anniversary Grant from the Humanities Council of Washington, DC to produce an exhibit and “zine” called “DC Youth Pride.”

The exhibition and zine document the last 30 years of the LGBTQ community’s advancement in Washington, and highlight changes that have made the city a more tolerant place for LGBTQ youth. The project is based on interviews with long-time LGBTQ activists, such as Patsy Lynch who has participated in the Rainbow History Project, conducted by some of the community’s youth supporters.

The exhibit is currently on display in the main hallway of the Latin American Youth Center, 1419 Columbia Rd NW, Washington DC. Stop by the exhibit and pick up a copy of the zine!

For more info on the Latin American Youth Center:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

30 Stories for 30 Years: Melvin Deal

Neighborhood Griot Honored in New Video

“We’ve come to realize we need to make a whole person before we can make an artist,” says Melvin Deal, Executive Director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers. For more than half a century Deal has been connecting Washingtonians with their African heritage through dance, the arts, and even trips to Africa. In order to celebrate its own 30-year legacy, the Humanities Council of Washington DC has made possible a brief documentary film about Deal and his extraordinary legacy.

The brief video will showcase Deal’s many accomplishments, focusing on the countless lives he has transformed, including being there for East of the River residents during trying times in the 1980s. The “dance griot” of DC, Deal has maintained a tradition of storytelling, educating, and teaching culture through African dance and music. He has been declared one of “Washington Living Legends and Cultural Treasures” by the Washington Post. Through intergenerational testimony, interviews with community leaders and government officials, and the words and dance of Deal himself, the documentary film seeks to embrace, promote, and honor Deal’s contributions to help shape and empower DC communities, especially those East of the River.

There was a public showing of the pilot documentary film in June, which was 30 minutes long. For more information, please contact the Ward 7 Arts Collective at (202) 399-1997.

30 Stories for 30 Years: Spectacle and Message

Discover the Murals of Washington, D.C.

The "My Culture, Mi Gente" mural was painted by youth and community art organizer Joel Bergner in 2008. Have you ever been inspired by a mural in Washington, D.C. and wondered what it meant? "Murals of Washington, DC: Spectacle and Message" will provide a new online resource on murals painted in D.C. from1980 to 2010. The website will provide cultural and historical context for the urban art that that reflects and shapes our environment and enlivens all parts of our city.

The Humanities Council of Washington, DC recognizes the importance of art in our living environment. The art around us provides the backbeat that can define the aesthetic of a place. The upcoming web resource dedicated to D.C.'s murals and muralists is funded in part by a 30th Anniversary Special Grant from the Council.

The site will include images of the work, stories of the murals and/or their meaning, info on artists and sponsors, reception, and technical attributes of materials, styles, and installation. Commentary available on the site will relate the art to historical and cultural elements of the city, and each segment will contain links to additional explanatory material or resources.

Look for the exciting online resource to come out later in the year, and in the meantime keep enjoying those murals!

(PHOTO: "My Culture, Mi Gente" is located on the outside of the Latin American Youth Center.)

30th Anniversary Showcase to Honor Tireless Supporters of the Humanities in D.C.

And the winners are...

Bob Bremner
Bremner has been a Humanities Council Board Member since 2006 and currently serves as Treasurer. Bremner received his education from Yale and Harvard, and has worked in finance for over 20 years. A true supporter of the humanities, Bremner has served on the board of the Dayton Contemporary Art Gallery and the Associate Board of the Dayton Art Institute. He has written two published books and is currently working on his third. Bremner will be presented the Angel Award, an honor recognizing continued financial support to the humanities.
Aviva Kempner is an American filmmaker whose documentaries investigate non-stereotypical images of Jews in history and focus on the untold stories of Jewish heroes.  Kempner was born in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and a U.S. Army officer. She started the Washington Jewish Film Festival in 1989. She is also a member of International Film And Television Club of Asian Academy of Film & Television, Noida Film City, India. The Humanities Council will present Kempner the Outstanding Grantee Award, in recognition of the contributions she has made to the Humanities in Washington, DC as a prolific grant project director.

Dr. Elizabeth Primas
Dr. Primas is a native Washingtonian, graduate of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), and DC Teacher of the Year in 2000. Since the inaugural Washington, DC Big Read in 2007, Dr.  Primas has delivered the featured novel to thousands of DC public high schools students, encouraging the participation of students and educators. Dr. Primas will receive the Partner Award, an honor given to an individual who has consistently enhanced one or more of the Humanities Council’s programming initiatives.

The Historic Preservation Office in the D.C. Office of Planning

The DCHPO is committed to maintaining a careful balance between economic development and the preservation of valuable cultural resources. Special mentions go to Associate Director David Maloney and Community Outreach Coordinator Patsy Fletcher for their important efforts to develop partnerships in diverse historic neighborhoods beyond the National Mall. The D.C. Historic Preservation Office will recieve the Service Award for their continued work on the D.C. Community Heritage Project, a partnership with the Humanities Council.

The D.C.  Public Library – Washingtoniana Division
The Washingtoniana Division, established in 1905, has one of the finest local history collections in this area. Washingtoniana's mission is to continually collect and make available material related to Washington D.C. The Washingtoniana Division will be presented the Service Award for the resources it provides the Humanities Council’s D.C. Community Heritage Project grantees and individuals conducting research on their historic homes.

Deanwood History Project – Kia Chatmon

Located in the far northeastern edge of the City, Deanwood is one of Washington DC’s oldest African American neighborhoods.  The Deanwood History Project delved into the community’s history and sought to preserve the legacy and stories of the generations of residents who helped build and create the neighborhood that is now so desirable. The Deanwood History Project and Kia Chatmon will be presented the Grantee Award honoring their contributions to the humanities.

German Historical Institute – Martin Klimke

The German Historical Institute (GHI) in Washington, D.C. is an internationally recognized center for the advanced study of German Culture. It serves as a transatlantic bridge connecting American and European scholars, and seeks to make their research accessible to policy-makers and the general public. The GHI’s primary goal is to foster the reciprocal study of history between the United States and Germany, but the full scope of its mission is much broader. The Institute encourages global studies across all of the social sciences and humanities. The GHI is especially committed to promoting international scholarly collaboration by bringing together academics from every part of the world. The German Historical Institute will be presented the Partner Award for their continued support of the Humanities Council’s programs.

Reading is Fundamental – Teri Wright

Founded in 1966, Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. is the largest non-profit literacy organization for children and families in the United States. RIF's highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. RIF prepares and motivates young readers by delivering free books and literacy resources to those who need them most. Reading is Fundamental will be presented the Partner Award for their assistance in enhancing humanities programs, especially the Washington, DC Big Read.

The National Hand Dance Association – Beverly Johnson

Hand dancing, also known as "D.C. hand dancing" or "D.C. swing", is a form of swing dance that can be traced as far back as the 1920’s. It is distinguished by gliding footwork and continuous hand connection/communication between the partners. It fell out of favor during the disco era, but in the 1980's, Hand Dance resurfaced in the Washington dance community. In 1993, the Smithsonian Institution recognized Hand Dance as an American Art Form. This recognition, and the subsequent development of a Hand Dance exhibit at the Smithsonian led to the establishment of the National Hand Dance Association which will be presented the Grantee Award for their superb series of documentaries and programs highlighting the history of their medium, and their dedication to the humanities.

30 Stories for 30 Years: East of the River

Exhibition and Book Examine Communities East of the Anacostia

DouglassMost D.C. residents don’t know that the Nacotchtank Indians were the first settlers east of the Anacostia River. The Nacotchtank gave the Anacostia its name, and used the area’s waterways for fishing. They planted crops where today there are city blocks and buildings. After European settlers took over the land, they established the village of Good Hope. The village eventually became a home for former black slaves after the Civil War. By the 1890s Barry Farm was a thriving community of black landowners, attracting skilled craftsmen, truck farmers, businessmen, and professionals. One of the early residents was abolitionist, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass.

The Humanities Council of Washington, DC is supporting the Anacostia Community Museum in telling the history of the D.C.'s neighborhoods located east of the Anacostia River. The museum will produce a 150-page illustrated book on the subject.

The museum opened an exhibition entitled “East of the River: Continuity and Change” in 2007. The exhibition examined community life, and explored the development of these neighborhoods from a provocative yet familiar perspective – the struggle over land: who owns it, who controls it, who profits from it, and how residents determine their own destiny.

The exhibit, with additional research, will form the foundation for the upcoming book. For more information on the release of the book, please visit the museum’s website!

(Painting: Frederick Douglass by Daniel Freeman. From the collection of Jerome Gray.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

30 Stories For 30 Years: Washington Redskins - The Winning Years

Glory Years of Redskins Football to be Relived Through Upcoming Documentary

RedskinsEvery Washingtonian remembers the glory years of the Redskins. The Humanities Council is making possible a documentary on those years, of success, 1982-1992, entitled, "Washington Redskins: the Winning Years." Telling the story of the Redskins glory years through the voices of star players and Washingtonians alike, the film illustrates how our football teams winning streak united the city and sparked community pride.
During the years from 1982 to 1992, the Redskins won three Super Bowls, carrying the trophy in 1983,1988, and 1992! The Redskins also made it to five NFC championships during those ten years, and advanced to the playoffs seven times. 

Washingtonians were united through their football team during these ten glorious years, a legacy that continues to instill pride in our city since the early 1980s. In  celebration of this continuing pride over the past three decades, in its 30th anniversary year the Humanities Council is making possible this documentary short. The film is also sponsored by Silver Spring Media Arts and will premiere at the 30th Anniversary Showcase on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. 

Join the Humanities Council of Washington, DC as we celebrate our 30th Anniversary as the organization that continues to bring the celebration of cultural heritage to our nation's capital!

(Above image from the 1983 Super Bowl Courtesy Al Messerschmidt/

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

30 Stories For 30 Years: Los Treinta

Los Treinta explores 30 years of contributions by the Salvadoran-American community in DC.

The project was created by Quique Avil├ęs, a DC poet, performer, and community activist whose work is dedicated to addressing social issues, and made possible by the DC Humanities Council, which has been celebrating and defining the culture of our city for 30 years. For almost 30 years, Quique has been challenging audiences with his provocative, painful, humorous, poignant, and powerful work. Starting in 1980, Los Treinta tells many stories of real Salvadorans in DC, and celebrates the community’s “Pupusa Power!” It will be performed July 30 and 31 at the Gala Hispanic Theater in Columbia Heights, and is also being woven into a poetic essay by Quique.

1980 marked the beginning of the most intense years of the Salvadoran civil war, and the first year of a surge in migration to the US and Washington DC. The Salvadoran community’s impact on the city was unprecedented: Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan, and Columbia Heights began to see Salvadoran businesses blossoming as Salvadorans built community and culture in DC.

Today in 2010, the Washington area is home to the second largest Salvadoran population in the country (after LA) and DC is the only city in the country where the majority of the Latino population is Salvadoran.
Join the Humanities Council of Washington, DC as we celebrate our 30th Anniversary as the organization that continues to bring the celebration of cultural heritage to our nation's capital.