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“Top of the Mile”: A Celebration of Culture and Community

Post by Evelyn Owen
Performance by Bolo Bolo Blauweh
Energetic performance by Bolo Bolo Blauweh. Photo: Calvin Hayes

Last month, our friends, neighbors, and partners flocked to The Africa Center for “Top of the Mile” Community Day.

The event was a wonderful celebration of culture and community, filling our ground floor and plaza with the smells of African spices and the sounds of Afrobeats.

We were especially excited to invite people to walk around our building, check out our virtual-reality tour, and learn more about our vision and plans.

Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorite images and videos from the day. Enjoy!

Opening Ceremony

 

Djembe drumming group Bolo Bolo Blauweh got the day off to an energetic start, with thrilling drumming and dancing on our plaza.

Their performance was followed by a traditional Ghanaian libation ceremony directed by Dr. Kofi Boateng of the West Harlem Development Corporation. Dr. Boateng led the crowd in a traditional prayer addressing the ancestors with a display of respect, and requesting guidance and support for The Africa Center.

Libation Ceremony
Libation ceremony performed by Dr. Kofi Boateng, ED of the West Harlem Development Corporation (center), together with The Africa Center's Community Outreach Liaison, Lawrence Ekechi, and Interim CEO, Dana Reed. Photo: Calvin Hayes

Next came a welcome address from The Africa Center’s Interim CEO, Dana Reed, and from our lead event supporter, Brussels Airlines, delivered by their North America Director, Christophe Allard. Mr Allard spoke about the importance of building partnerships to promote a contemporary and successful Africa, a vision that is shared by The Africa Center and is reflected in our mission and plans.

Brussels Airlines were kind enough to share a 20% discount on their flights to Africa from NYC’s JFK airport with visitors at Community Day. We’re delighted to announce that this offer has been extended to visitors to our website, too! Use the code “WegotheextrasmileVIP” and start planning your next trip. We’ll be sharing some destination ideas on this blog soon…

A series of speeches from important guests, friends, and supporters of The Africa Center rounded out the ceremony.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and her senior leadership team spoke about the importance of The Africa Center’s mission and relevance to all communities, noting that their office and African Immigration Task Force look forward to engaging with us in future.

Alassane Diop, Athena Moore and Matthew Washington, all of the office of Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, with The Africa Center's CEO Dana Reed
Alassane Diop, NMO Constituent/Immigrant Affairs Liaison, Athena Moore, Director, Northern Manhattan Office, and Matthew Washington, Deputy Borough President, all of the office of Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, with The Africa Center's Interim CEO Dana Reed. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Dana Reed and Curtis Archer
The Africa Center's Interim CEO, Dana Reed, with Curtis L. Archer of Harlem Community Development Corporation. Photo: Calvin Hayes

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a kind letter of support, recognizing The Africa Center’s role in enhancing the “cultural dynamism” of New York City and wishing everyone an enjoyable afternoon. The letter was read out to the crowd by Famod Konneh, Bronx Borough Director in the Office of Mayor. You can read the full text of Mayor de Blasio’s letter here.

Famod Konneh with Dana Reed and Lawrence Ekechi
Dana Reed, The Africa Center's Interim CEO; Famod Konneh, Bronx Borough Director in the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Lawrence Ekechi, Community Outreach Liaison at The Africa Center. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Serving and Strengthening Our Harlem Community

 

We were thrilled to welcome so many of our friends and partners to participate in Community Day, especially those based nearby in Harlem.

Educators from our neighbors on Museum Mile, El Museo del Barrio and Museum of the City of New York, put together fun activity and information tables, and representatives from Harlem Park to Park let guests know about all the exciting things happening locally.

Advisors from Prudential were on hand to offer free financial advice, and Brightpoint Health provided free health screenings. Elsewhere on the plaza, the NYC Commission on Human Rights and the Office for New Americans informed visitors about their rights as New Yorkers, and offered voter registration to engage our community in the election process.

All through the day, officers from the NYPD 23rd Precinct were on hand to share about their work in our neighborhood, and keep everyone safe.

Representatives from the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Representatives from the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Brightpoint Health stand
The team from Brightpoint Health were on hand to offer free health screenings. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Members and friends of the NYPD 23rd Precinct gather onstage at Community Day, together with Chef Pierre Thiam and The Africa Center's Community Outreach Liaison, Lawrence Ekechi. Photo: Regina Holececk
Tours of The Africa Center

 

For many visitors, the opportunity to tour The Africa Center’s building and learn more about our plans was a highlight of the day. Two different types of tour were on offer: a hard-hat tour of all three floors of our building led by members of our Executive Team, and a virtual-reality tour showing what the space may look like once complete.

Our architects, Caples-Jefferson, were also on hand to answer questions about the plans. A 2-D version of the virtual tour is available here. If you haven’t already, check it out!

Tiffany Urosa and Jethro Rebollar of Caples-Jefferson Architects
Tiffany Urosa and Jethro Rebollar of Caples-Jefferson Architects were on hand to tell visitors about their vision for our building. Photo: Calvin Hayes
View of the atrium
Visitors enjoy the atrium while a hard-hat tour group explores the second floor. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Music and Activities

 

Music and performance was a huge part of Community Day, with acts coming from Harlem, Africa, and around the world.

DJ Stormin’ Norman set the tone with his sweet and soulful sounds on the plaza. Harlem-based songstress Samira Gibson wowed the crowd with her rendition of the South African national anthem, as well as her latest single, while poet Cynthia Amoah delivered a powerful spoken-word piece about ancestry, belonging, and strength.

Later in the afternoon, musicians from the Manhattan School of Music jazzed things up, before dancers Izzy Odigie and Samuel Kyei broke things down with their Afrobeats class.

Big thank-yous to Face-2-Face Africa and Babu Global for their expert production skills in putting together such a stellar line-up.

DJ Stormin' Norman
DJ Stormin' Norman. Photo: Calvin Hayes

Meanwhile, our younger visitors were getting busy with a range of engineering experiments and games presented by our friends at Uncharted Power (formerly Uncharted Play.)

With names like “Marshmallow Challenge” and “Egg Drop,” the experiments transformed fun, kid-friendly activities into tools for teaching principles in structural engineering and team building.

Uncharted Power’s mission is to democratize energy access around the world, and they have been using our building as a maker space to generate incredible, innovative solutions that will power and empower communities in Africa and beyond. Learn more below.

"Soccket" soccer ball
Uncharted Power hosted engineering experiments and games for kids. Pictured here is the "Soccket," a soccer ball that generates electricity as it is played with. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Food and Drink

 

African flavors were front and center at the food stands, and the plaza’s picnic tables were filled with guests enjoying the range of delicacies on offer from our vendors: DF Nigerian Gourmet Food Truck, SettepaniEgunsi foodsLimationShadeesha SweetsSnacks of AfricaEssie SpiceGinjan, Harlem Seafood Soul, The Egg Roll Queen, and Mama Pops Popcorn.

We’d like to say a special thank you to Givn Water, who kept us hydrated with free water throughout the day, and Whole Foods, who were giving out free healthy snacks by the basketful.

Divine Flavored Nigerian Food Truck
Divine Flavored Nigerian Food Truck. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Essie Spice stand.
Visitors enjoy learning more about the African flavors on offer at the Essie Spice stand. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Harlem Seafood Soul food truck.
Harlem Seafood Soul food truck. Photo: Calvin Hayes

A highlight of the day was the brilliant and informative presentation from Chef Pierre Thiam, who introduced the ingredient “fonio” to the audience, and demonstrated how to cook with it.

Fonio is an ancient grain that grows in the Sahel region of West Africa. Thanks to its highly nutritious and drought-resistant properties, it is a promising crop for people living in this area as they struggle with effects of climate change. Chef Thiam is campaigning to raise awareness of this “supergrain” and make it a popular choice for cooks and foodies around the world.

New Yorkers can get their fonio fix through Whole Foods Harlem and also Yolele Foods (their website has more information about fonio, recipe ideas, and more!)

Chef Pierre Thiam giving a cooking demo
Chef Pierre Thiam giving his demonstration of how to cook with "fonio," an ancient grain from the Sahel region of Africa. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Chef Pierre Thiam with bowl of fonio
Chef Pierre Thiam with his finished bowl of fonio. Photo: Calvin Hayes

Chef Pierre Thiam talks about the grain "fonio"

Renowned Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam gave a fascinating presentation about "fonio" at our Community Day on Saturday.Fonio is a drought-resistant, nutritious, ancient grain from West Africa's Sahel region that he hopes will grow in popularity as the area struggles with the effects of climate change. Huge thanks to Chef Thiam for sharing his expertise with us. Learn more at his website: http://www.pierrethiam.com/#WorldFoodDay

Posted by The Africa Center on Monday, October 16, 2017

Fashion

 

Ethiopian fashion designer, stylist, and model Salome and Congolese designer Fanny Hickman exhibited some of their latest looks, and even staged an impromptu catwalk show in our atrium! Meanwhile, Harlem-based fashion outlets Harlem’s Heaven Hats, And And NYC, and Royal Jelly Harlem presented a range of their stunning designs.

Royal Jelly Harlem stand
Visitors enjoy checking out the fashion and accessories on offer from Royal Jelly Harlem. Photo: Calvin Hayes
…and you!

 

Community Day wouldn’t have been Community Day without you, our visitors. Thank you so much to everyone who joined in the fun. We can’t wait to see you next time.

Visitors enjoying the plaza
Visitors enjoying the plaza. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Visitors with policeman
Visitors with a policeman from NYPD 23rd Precinct. They kept us safe all day, and even joined in with dancing on the plaza! Photo: Calvin Hayes
Visitors in the atrium. Photo: Calvin Hayes
Group photo of eminent guests
Eminent Guests at Community Day, including: Detective Dartray Belk, Office of the Police Commissioner Liaison Unit; Siddique Wai, President and National Spokesperson, United African Congress; Alassane Diop, NMO Constituent/Immigrant Affairs Liaison; Dr. Kofi Boateng, West Harlem Development Corporation; Famod Konneh, Bronx Borough Director in the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio; Matthew Washington, Deputy Borough President. Photo: Calvin Hayes

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The Africa Center
The Africa Center1 week ago

There are exciting things going on in our space!

We're thrilled to have artist Victor Ekpuk in residence to create a new ephemeral artwork inspired by our neighborhood of Harlem.

Here's a sneak peek from earlier this...

3 weeks ago
We are thrilled to announce our partnership with @chefpierrethiam and his new African comfort food restaurant Teranga! Coming soon to @TheAfricaCenter in Harlem! https://t.co/ixwrBH1DOs
TheAfricaCenter photo
NYT Food @nytfood
“Teranga is about the way we treat our guests": @chefpierrethiam on the West African restaurant he'll open next month in Harlem https://t.co/WWSJq7jEAa https://t.co/Q2jbIpodoa
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