Over the course of nearly two decades, the African American Children’s Book Fair has become one of the region’s oldest and largest single day events for families. The annual event draws thousands of parents and children from across the Philadelphia region. The book fair is a an example of Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati’s mission to preserve African-American legacy through books.
“The success of the program is due to the fact that we offer the best and the brightest from the African-American children’s literary community,” explains event founder, Lloyd-Sgambati. “Participants are nationally known best-selling authors and illustrators. Many have won the American Library Association Coretta Scott King award. These authors/illustrators have written some of the best books of our generation. This book fair is an opportunity for them to promote their works to our children to enlighten, empower and enrich their lives. In addition to the authors and illustrators we have an area called Literary Row that distributes book related promotional materials, a parent’s resources section and an Educator’s Book-Give Away.”
In 1985, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center began to document the numbers of books published in the United States for children each year which were written and/or illustrated by African Americans. When CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served as a member of the Coretta Scott King Award Committee that year, she found that of the approximately 2,500 trade books that were published that year for children and teens, only 18 were created by African Americans, and thus eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award. Of 3,600 books published in the U.S. in 2012, the CCBC found that only 3.3 percent were about African Americans, 2.1 percent were about Asian-Pacific Americans, 1.5 percent were about Latinos and 0.6 percent were about American Indians.
“The real tragedy of all of this is that we’ve got a lot more work to do,” noted Lloyd-Sgambati. It is not that African-American consumers won’t buy books for their children; it’s that they cannot find our books. You have limited shelf space in bookstores in general for children’s books — it is not just African-American books; publishers sell what is in demand. The publishing business is a business it is not some artistic purse ways. It is something that if they don’t see profit they just don’t produce the books.”
The diversity gap in African-American children’s literature is a matter that deeply concerns Lloyd-Sgambati, and underscores the importance of the Children’s Book Fair. “These are stories that are not generally told in our community or told in the media, so it is encouraging but we still have a long, long way to go,” explained Lloyd-Sgambati. “With a reported double digit illiteracy rate in the region, our success is due to the fact that we offer the best and the brightest from the multicultural literary community; books that enlighten, enrich and empower the young citizens in our community.”
Lloyd-Sgambati continued: “These authors and illustrators have written some of the best books of our generation. This book fair is an opportunity for them to promote their works to our children to enlighten, empower and enrich their lives. In addition to the authors and illustrators, we have an area called Literary Row that distributes book-related promotional materials, a parent’s resources section and an Educator’s Book-Give Away.”
The 22nd Annual African American Children’s Book Fair will be held on Saturday, from 1-3 p.m. at Community College of Philadelphia, 17th and Spring Garden Streets, in the Gymnasium. Over 20 nationally-known bestselling authors and illustrators will participate. The Literary Row distributes book related promotional materials free of charges, and the Educator’s Book-Give Away distributes brand new books to teachers and librarian to use in their classrooms. The event is free and opened to the public.
On June 5, 1966, the civil rights hero James Meredith left Memphis, Tenn., on foot. Setting off toward Jackson, Missi., he hoped his march would promote Black voter registration and defy racism. The next day, he was shot by an unidentified white man and transferred to a hospital. What followed was one of the key dramas of the civil rights era. Aram Goudsouzian’s “Down To The Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, And The Meredith March Against Fear” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is the story of this last great march of the civil rights era and the first great showdown of the turbulent years that followed.
“The march through Mississippi in June of 1966 tells old and new stories about the Civil Rights Movement,” noted Goudsouzian. “Called both the ‘Meredith March’ and the ‘March Against Fear,’ it was an operatic drama, full of glorious triumphs and deep despair. It featured the giants of Black politics grappling over control and strategy. It starred Martin Luther King, revealing him at his most morally powerful, even as he struggled to unite leaders and stoke the American conscience, rendering him vulnerable and despondent. The march further showcased Stokely Carmichael, the charismatic prophet of Black Power. When Carmichael unveiled the incendiary slogan midway through the march, it did seem to signal the end of an era: a demise of nonviolence, a liberal anxiety, a surging Black anger. Black activists had never attempted a more ambitious demonstration, but it was the movement’s last great march.”
What followed was one of the key dramas of the civil rights era. When the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement flew to Mississippi to carry on Meredith’s effort, they found themselves confronting Southern law enforcement officials, local activists, and one another. “The ‘Meredith March’ is familiar to many historians — it occupies a chapter in various civil rights histories and biographies,” said Goudsouzian. “But I thought this milestone deserved a longer, deeper look. As I got into newspaper accounts and archival material, I learned more about how, as masses of people rambled down country roads and arrived in the squares of Mississippi’s small towns, they demanded their rights as American citizens, unsettling the local patterns of race relations. It was a big march, getting national and international attention, but it depended upon the politics of small communities, the resolve of Black Mississippians, and the strategies of white officials. The march thus reveals the Civil Rights Movement as both local and national.”
“Down to the Crossroads” reveals the complex legacy of an event that would both integrate African Americans into the political system and inspire an era of bolder protests against it,” said Goudsouzian. “This story also shows how Black Power was more than a bogeyman of Black rage. It was an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement — it demanded that Black people control Black communities, expressed pride in Black culture and history, built on a legacy of thinkers such as Malcolm X, and considered race and democracy in international terms. Of course, the slogan also dramatized disaffection from national politics and white liberals. Black Power was both constructive and destructive, both hopeful and cynical, both unifying and alienating. Its many meanings and manifestations capture the complexity of the Black freedom struggle, especially as the movement emerged from the crucible of the March Against Fear.”
Born and raised in Houston, pianist Robert Glasper literally grew up in jazz clubs. His mother performed with a jazz band, and she preferred to bring her young son with her rather than leave him with a sitter. Glasper and his mother were also active in music at their church — his mother sang and played piano, and by age 12, her son had assumed some of the piano duties.
After Houston’s High School for Performing Arts, Glasper moved to New York to study music at the New School. He began gigging around town and found work with such established jazz artists as Philly’s own Christian McBride and the then up-and-coming neo-soul singer Bilal Oliver. Together, the pair would traverse various underground urban music scenes — many of which served as the foundation of the fledgling neo-soul movement.
“I moved up to New York in ‘97 for college, and I met Bilal in college, and we became best friends the same day we met,” recalled Glasper. “We lived together for four years and I was his music director for eight years. And, we just had this conversation a little while ago, I was there right in the middle of the neo-soul sound right when it was happening. We were going to the jam session. Bilal and I would drive down from New York to go to the Black Lily and hang out. So, I was actually there during that time, and when Bilial’s first album came out in 2000, we were on tour with Common and Eryakah Badu. I met The Roots and used to hang with them in New York, and they had the jam sessions called, ‘The Wetlands.’ So, that’s why I feel like I really can speak on the music, because I was at the recording sessions with all these artists, like D’Angelo. I feel like I have that spirit of that music and I remember how it felt, and people were loving it and the vibe it created. Then that vibe gradually died down; it got watered down and other stuff took over. And then music got strange. That’s why I want to bring this back, and I am just so happy so many people are behind it and what we’re doing and how we are doing it.”
The genre’s works incorporate classic soul music, jazz, funk and African musical elements into R&B with the use of live instrumentation. Despite some ambivalence among artists, the term “neo-soul” has gained widespread use by music critics and writers who enjoy the artists and albums associated with the musical style. “To me”, said Glasper, “neo-soul is soul music that is influenced by hip-hop. Neo-soul was influenced a great deal by J Dilla, and for me that’s where it strung from and that’s the vibe. I say neo-soul just so that everyone can know what I am talking about. And a lot of people go, ‘Why it gotta be ‘neo’?’ And I tell them they are not trying to knock it; it is a different kind of soul music. It is not not Aretha Franklin. It’s not Marvin Gaye. You can hear the difference, and there is a difference.”
The “difference” Glasper references is especially clear on “Black Radio 2,” the Robert Glasper Experiment latest album. RGE consists of bassist Derrick Hodge, Casey Benjamin on vocoder and synth, and drummer Mark Colenburg and again enlists a stellar cast of vocalists. The set’s first single, “Calls,” features vocals by Jill Scott. Glasper also has reinterpreted songs from rock acts Nirvana, Radiohead, Soundgarden and David Bowie.
“It has been absolutely amazing,” said Glasper of the response. “I wouldn’t have ever thought it would be the way it is — especially when the music I am making is known as the underground, soul, hip-hop stuff that has kind of like had its day and is gone. I feel as though there is another wave now, and people are like really championing what we are bringing to that sound. So it has been quite a ride.”
As the interview was coming to a close, Glasper did a spontaneous foodie shoutout about his favorite South Street spot. “I’m Ishkabibbles all day,” proclaimed the pianist with a hearty laugh. “Do I know? I think I have been to every Philly cheesesteak spot, but for some reason Ishkabibbles just gives me what I need.”
British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare work explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization.
A hallmark of his art is the brightly coloured fabric he uses. The 17 sculptures, paintings, photographs and installation in “Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders” address themes of education, opportunity and scientific and cultural discovery, ideals embraced by Albert C. Barnes.
Shonibare’s work also underscores Barnes’ engagement with contemporary art and artists. The centerpiece of the show is Magic Ladders, the first Barnes’ Foundation commission since Barnes ordered “The Dance” from Matisse in 1930. Depicting children climbing ladders whose rungs are made of books (inspired by Barnes’ library), the piece evokes the idea of empowerment through knowledge. The Foundation’s collaboration with Shonibare pays homage to Barnes’ interest in contemporary art and artists.
“When I was approached by the Barnes Foundation to produce work, I was actually quite excited because it is a very well-known collection,” recalled Shonibare. “Dr. Barnes, himself, is very interesting because he was quite a progressive person and actually championed the works of African-American artists as well. When my work was actually developing the debate about identity was very much a part of art making, and lots of artists actually started to to question the white male establishment in art.”
Over the past decade, Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. Shonibare’s work explores these issues, alongside those of race and class, through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance. Using this wide range of media, Shonibare examines in particular the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories. Mixing Western art history and literature, he asks what constitutes our collective contemporary identity today.
Having described himself as a “post-colonial” hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. “I was very much inspired by the idea of deconstructing something and taking apart and questioning the content,” Shonibare said.
Shonibare’s sculptures — life-sized mannequins clothed in the colorful Dutch wax fabrics produced in Europe but closely associated with Africa — offer a provocative examination of European colonialism and European and African identities. “I actually enjoy kind of playing with existing things and then showing you a different way of looking at it,” explained the artist. “The fabrics I use in my work, on the face of it they may be considered to be African textiles, but they are actually Indonesian influenced fabrics produced by the Dutch.”
This is the Shonibare’s first major exhibition in Philadelphia, since his residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in 2004 and it includes a commission entitled, “Magic Ladders.”
“Several of Shonibare’s sculptures refer to the Enlightenment and its ideals of rationality and exploration,” says Judith F. Dolkart, deputy director of art and archival collections and Gund Family Chief Curator at the Barnes. “Shonibare shares Dr. Barnes’ belief that education can improve individual lives, benefiting society as a whole. Barnes turned his pharmaceutical factory into a progressive and integrated workplace, where he devoted two hours of each eight-hour workday to discussions on philosophy, psychology, and aesthetics with his employees.”
The Barnes Foundation presents “Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders” from Jan. 24 through April 21 at 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. For more information, call (215) 278-7000 or visit www.barnesfoundation.org.
When the legendary Marian Anderson sang in 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial before 75,000 people in Washington, D.C., it was a performance that deeply influenced a then 10-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. Five years later, King won a speaking contest at his Atlanta high school, using the topic “The Negro and the Constitution,” and mentioning the event.
As a high school junior, according to the National Constitution Center King said: “She sang as never before with tears in her eyes. When the words of ‘America’ and ‘Nobody Knows De Trouble I Seen’ rang out over that great gathering, there was a hush on the sea of uplifted faces, Black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality and fraternity. That was a touching tribute, but Miss Anderson may not as yet spend the night in any good hotel in America. … Recently she was again signally honored by being given the Bok reward as the most distinguished resident of Philadelphia. Yet she cannot be served in many of the public restaurants of her home city, even after it has declared her to be its best citizen.”
So, it stands that Philadelphia’s own Anderson headlined a concert that eventually shaped a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement decades later when MLK spoke at the March on Washington.
In 1963, King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial where he gave his “I Have A Dream” speech and echoed Anderson’s performance. “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring,’” King said. According to NCC, among the singers who performed at the event was Marian Anderson.
Flash forward two decades and, after a long struggle, legislation was signed in 1983 creating a federal holiday marking the birthday of King. To celebrate the upcoming 31st annual Day of Service the National Marian Anderson Historical Society will pay tribute to the seniors of the community.
The Marian Anderson Residence Museum is run and maintained by The Marian Anderson Historical Society, a group dedicated to promoting the late classical singer, who was considered one of the most important opera performers of the 20th century. The organization was founded by Blanche Burton-Lyles and consists of The Marian Anderson Residence Museum, where Anderson lived for much of her life, and the Marian Anderson Birthplace. The property has been placed on the National Register Of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.
“Ms. Anderson bought the house in 1924, transforming the small basement into an entertainment center,” explained Burton-Lyles via the website. “The area included a portable bar stocked with champagne and water (Anderson’s favorite drinks), a few pieces of furniture and a piano. Here she would entertain friends and fellow musicians while resting up from world tours. Blacks during this time could not go out socially, so homeowners would enhance their basements to entertain friends. Ms. Anderson’s modest home contains rare photos, books, memorabilia and films about her life, and also supports an artists-in-residence program developed by the Marian Anderson Historical Society to encourage and mentor outstanding classical artists.”
The 2014 National Marian Anderson Historical Society (MAHS) MLK Day Of Service Seniors Tribute Luncheon & Open House will be hosted on Jan. 20 from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at The Marian Anderson Museum, 762 S. Martin St. Entertainment will feature Lady Blanche Burton Lyles and resident classical scholar Jillian Patricia Pirtle. All ages are invited to participate. MAHS urges seniors to RSVP and encourages the “Young and Able to RSVP to be Of Service on this Sacred National Holiday Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” at (215) 732-9505.