Post-Festival Highlights

My first thought: Thank you. That’s right, the first Festival of the New Black Imagination was a success, and I think the groundwork is laid for an even bigger and better event next year. But it couldn’t have happened without the support of a bunch of people. Yes, I did a lot of the heavy lifting, but you all responded overwhelmingly in the positive to the idea and the vision I laid out: Namely, creating a space that celebrates

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forward-looking black culture. So many co-signed this vision: A committed advisory board; a killer group of speakers and performers; the great Festival partners; the talent that helped capture the event on film and in still photographs; the event services team that handled registration (lifesavers!); the donors to the IndieGoGo campaign; and not to forget the countless others who simply showed love and encouragement.

It truly takes a village.

For those of you who weren’t able to make it, by all accounts it was a fantastic day. It was Smart Black People Central! And it was all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds: Folks from a variety of backgrounds and all of them covering a range of activities and interests. We squeezed a total of 14 sessions into a single day! It was ambitious, to say the least. Can’t wait to share the video with you guys. While all of the sessions were strong, I want to highlight a few that were really impactful:

The Futurist: Dr. Nat Irvin II

What’s life going to be like in 30 years? Like very little we can imagine now. In fact, the seeds of that future have already been planted. The best thing you can do to get ready for it? According to Dr. Irvin: “Go deep in at least two areas. That 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell talked about? You need to do it twice.” Also, the future’s going to be about having great ideas, so he left us with this provocative thought: “Have sex with a lot of other people. . .their ideas, that is.”

A key piece of writing by Dr. Irvin, The Hidden World of Thrivals, can be read here.

The Poet: Tyehimba Jess

I was blown away after this session. Imagine poetry that can be read top to bottom, bottom to top, in both directions across, and still make sense. That’s what Tyehimba Jess has created, all based on the Arabic ghazal form of poetry. He used the format to explore and illuminate the humanity of Bert Williams and George Walker, two of the best know vaudeville performers. It’d been explained to me what he was going to do, but nothing prepared me for his performance. Can’t wait until you see the video on this one!

The Visual Artists: Sanford Biggers and Wangechi Mutu in conversation with Greg Tate

It was a real honor to host visual artists of Sanford and Wangechi’s caliber at the Festival. Their conversation was a revealing look at process and how they’re navigating the art world. And I can only tip my hat (again!) to Festival advisor Greg Tate who is a master of lobbing questions that, on their surface, seem simple and straightforward, but provoke unexpected and multilayered responses.

By the way, if you haven’t seen it, I suggest you run–don’t walk–to the Brooklyn Museum to check out Sanford’s current show, Sweet Funk–An Introspective, which runs til January 8.

Art & Technology Panel: Kenyatta Cheese, Crystal Z. Campbell, Wayne Sutton, Sian Morson

What I’m so grateful for is that Sian Morson stepped up and put a fantastic session together. I knew about multimedia artist Crystal Campbell and I also knew that she was waiting on a confirm from internet guru Kenyatta Cheese, who only returned from China the day before the Festival. But when she tells me she’s got Wayne Sutton, I’m thinking GTFOH! Wayne is social media and tech royalty, a real rock star. But so quiet and unassuming.

You can check him out on November 13 when the CNN series Black In America 4 takes a look at how he and Angela Benton of Black Web 2.0 are working with a group of tech startups to ensure that they get a foothold in Silicon Valley.

The Entrepreneur: Ali Muhammad

If any three words come out of the Festival, they’ll probably be “See. Do. Be.” With these words and an amazing ability to tell a story sans any visuals, Ali Muhammad shared a philosophy that has enabled him to thrive as an entrepreneur. This is another session worth seeing once the video is available.

The Explainers or How To Be Black: Toure, Amanda Seales, Baratunde Thurston

If you’re going to have a session called “How To Be Black,” it’d better deliver. And these three did so in spades (pun intended!) Seriously, this panel was what we hoped it would be: A smart and funny look at how notions of race are (or are not) evolving in the 21st century. Both Toure and Baratunde were great. But it was Amanda who took on the role of agent provocateur and refused to let either of the panelists get away with easy, pat answers that really sent this session into the stratosphere.

Again, a big shout out to everyone who was involved with the Festival, no matter how small a role you had. It will grow and evolve over time but, as that Sade song goes, it’s “never as good as the first time.” Thank you.

For more photos, all courtesy of Ed Marshall Photography NYC–including shots of the performances by Saidah Baba Talibah, Dope Sagittarius, No Surrender, Tamar-kali and DJ Reborn–check out of the Festival Facebook page.