By Tracie Isaac –
In honor of Black History Month each year, Mayor Lovely Warren and the City’s Black Heritage Committee host a month-long program of events to celebrate our nation’s black heritage. This February, the City of Rochester’s Black Heritage Committee curated a schedule of cultural activities with phenomenally-talented participants.
Each week, Rochester residents were treated to events ranging from weekly lunch-hour gospel concerts, art & jazz, storytelling for youth 12 and under, and food tastings.
The city also held the first College Gospel Concert Fest this year, featuring choirs of multi-cultural college students, local church choirs, and various soloists. Many attendees were enthralled by the embracement and execution of the variety of young adults who sang the uniquely-arranged traditional spirituals, as well as contemporary gospel, and even gospel jazz performances.
The Black Heritage schedule culminated with the “16th Annual Black Heritage Gala,” on Saturday, March 10, at the Joseph A. Floriano Rochester Riverside Convention Center, 123 E. Main St.
Gala attendees arrived adorned in exquisite black tie and African-inspired formal attire, not unlike the royal courts who arrived in the movie “Coming To America.”
The evening began with a social hour, where vendors offered culturally-inspired wares from African art, literature, home accessories, children’s clothing, male and female accessories, and much more.
The Buffalo Soldiers led the opening ceremony as Color Guard, followed by the Fallen Soldier Tribute, which was led by Bing Reaves Sr.
Loretta C. Scott, Black Heritage Committee chair and Rochester City Council President, shared in her journal letter and welcome remarks that this year’s theme, “African Americans in Times of War: Celebrating African American Military History,” shone a light on our men and women in the United States Armed Forces.
“This theme celebrates those in our community who have answered the call, defended our freedom, and who have selflessly served our country,” Scott said. “African American units served the country with pride and honor, even in the face of discrimination at home, as the U.S. Armed Forces remained segregated throughout the First World War. Today, the Armed Forces continue to provide opportunities in the African-American community.”
Many who have served our country, both domestically and overseas, have also made dramatic impacts on our community as role models, mentors, and distinguished leaders, she said.
Attendees also sang the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” followed by remarks from Mayor Lovely Warren, who asked the audience to never forget the courageousness of the men and women from history such as Crispus Attucks, Cathay Williams, the Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen, and countless other heroes whose names we may not even know.
Lynette Adams and Tokeya Graham also served as Mistresses of Ceremony for the second year in a row, which set the tone for the program to be entertaining and progressive.
In addition, Adrian Hale, a Rochester native who served in both the U.S. Marine Corps and the Air Force Reserve, also presented a riveting keynote speech during the event.
Hale is currently a Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce staff member who is responsible for the organization’s education initiatives.
He works to improve the educational outcomes of RCSD youth, and improve their career readiness and employability, as well as to re-skill the city’s labor force.
The 2018 Black Heritage Pioneer Awardees included Willie J. Lightfoot; Annie Kay Craven; Bing Reaves Sr.; the late Deacon Johnny M. Wilson Sr.; and Leonard Merritt.
There was also a special tribute to announce the establishment of the Gloria Avis Ward Legacy Award, which the committee presented as a new part of the gala.
From inspiring words of the speakers and awardees, to the sumptuous buffet of soul food, and the close of the evening with the entertaining band “Shine,” the evening satisfied attendees from their souls to the soles of their feet.
In an effort to recognize and celebrate the many contributions African Americans have made throughout history, it seems that the month of February just isn’t enough.
The City of Rochester, and the Black Heritage Committee, presented the height of excellence during the Annual Black Heritage Gala this March, by recognizing that African Americans have a culture rich with contributions, and that Black History is made every day.