It was a toasty afternoon in Durham, North Carolina which is common for late June. Durham, also called “Bull City”, is known for it’s minor league baseball team, Duke (or dook) University and Research Triangle Park. During my undergraduate career at UNC-Chapel Hill, I had multiple opportunities to enter this city on numerous occasions, but most of the time I was hitting Cookout on 15-501 (post-club cravings). Today was different. I parallel parked my car and headed to the center of downtown. I was on my way to Market Street, because there is a block party being hosted by a man I’m determined to make my mentor. I cannot lie that this was my intention in the beginning, but as I neared my destination and heard the sounds of my people, I realized that my time here would spent learning about a greater purpose. I’m here to tell you today about Blackspace, a space brewing with artistic potential and youthful energy.
The block party began promptly at 5:00 PM with a performance from the African American Dance Ensemble and their prolific teacher, Dr. Charles Baba Davis. Their routines consisted of dances hailing from the African Diaspora. Members of the troupe twirled in white cloaks on the black pavement and all wore genuine smiles and shared laughter with the guests. The architectural set up of Market Street allowed the music of the motherland to be heard throughout the American city. After a few rounds of choreographed performance they opened the floor for the community to join…actually they pulled bystanders to the street and taught them the moves, myself included. The rhythm provided by drums and dried gourds turned instruments forced even the oldest of bones to tap to the beat once more.
For a great many years Durham has been emerging as a major force in the NC musical world. After the dance came the expressive performances of the local artists, including tunes from Professor Toon, Zoo Cru, Jeghetto and many more. Within the hour the crowd had grown from 20 to nearly 100, as families flocked to the sounds of African house music. It was truly a beautiful sight to see black and white children dancing, cultures combining and lovers sharing ice cream cones. Moments like these can change a perspective for life and it was a blessing to be part of this. Throughout the evening the microphone was passed from emcee to emcee, each flowing across the live instruments and simultaneously enlightening the crowd. Seriously, lyrics ranged from freedom and black excellence to uninterrupted Spanish. Between the performances, the dance floor opened back up for members of Blackspace and the community to shake away their frustrations and fears.
*Ice Cream Break*
On Market street lies a little ice cream shop known as the Parlour. They serve classic flavors of ice cream as well as baked goods. I ended up leaving with a vanilla waffle cone and a few napkins to spare. If you’re ever near Market street stop by and grab a cone, it’s the perfect treat for a hot, summer day.
*End Ice Cream Break*
The host of this impressive block party wore a full-length sleeveless dashiki, with his dreads hanging underneath a customized hood. For months he called out to the citizens of Durham to help their community, and this event was proof that they were listening. Pierce Freelon is a visionary born and raised within the city of Durham. He is a multi-talented leader, working as a professor at UNC-CH, providing vocals as the lead singer of “The Beast” and is now the founder of Blackspace. I happened to meet Pierce my freshman year at UNC-CH, where he spoke and performed at a Hip Hop Symposium. Although our conversation was brief (because he’s a busy man), I still felt a lasting impact from the words exchanged. Ironically, history seemed to repeat itself after the block party and I found our conversation cut short once again (because he was headed to Haiti the next day). However I learned that some individuals don’t need to share many words because their actions speak for them, and Pierce’s actions have given me all the conversations I could want.
Now this is the part where I need your help; I’m going to pose a question to you and I want you to stop reading and really think about it. Take a moment and dive back into your to childhood and ask yourself, was the pursuit of art encouraged? Most of you, like myself, will probably shake your head and laugh. You’re chuckling because you can either vividly remembering the conversation where someone, a teacher, counselor or parent told you that art wasn’t something to seriously pursue. Unless you were a natural talent, art inevitably took a back seat in your life; and your dreams of being a musician, painter, or chef with a television show that comes on at 6:00 diminished. However as we get older we learn that art is necessary, and often, vital to our daily life. This may not seem true at first, but what about all the pictures you see in textbooks, the songs you listen to on your commute and even the symmetrical windows next to your desk. All these were constructed by human hands and they inherently improve this world. Then we sit back and reminisce on our artistic dreams from childhood, the same ones that the school taught us to ignore. Blackspace aims to reverse this dilemma by pairing the youth with established artists and mentoring them. Children are allowed to pursue their imaginations, in turn allowing them to discover their passions at an earlier age. Blackspace is a safe haven for the youth of Durham to learn about arts, afrofuturism and social entrepreneurship. By focusing on these “forgotten” attributes and reinforcing the curriculum taught in schools, this space is serving as the training ground for the future generation of artivists. Did I mention that it’s free? Below are some images of the performers, who also serve at Blackspace. If you want more information on Blackspace and it’s vision then click here.
In closing, I’d like to return to my opening verse. Remember that it is not us who will shape the future, but those who are following us. If we want to make an impact on tomorrow then we must teach today. Blackspace is full of artivists, passionate men and women who are actively dedicating their time to improve the lives of the Durham youth, in hopes that they will create a better world. If you ever find yourself in the area, drop by the studio and share a bit of your own knowledge. You never know how your simple conversation could help shape someone’s conviction.
*Video Coming Soon*