Supporting our cultural and educational institutions

Irv Randolph | 12/9/2013, 7:48 a.m.
I recently had the pleasure of being a guest and honoree at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Unity Community ...
Irv Randolph

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest and honoree at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Unity Community Center, an organization that has been training young people in Camden in martial arts, African drum and dance and jazz for over three decades.

I watched with appreciation as young people performed their martial arts, music and dance routines with great skill and discipline. Many of the young adults performing were once children at the center and now are musicians, public school teachers and other professionals that now help teach younger members.

Earlier in that same week I watched legendary comedian Bill Cosby give a benefit performance for the 35th anniversary of Bushfire Theatre in Philadelphia. I was proud to serve on the anniversary committee for the theater’s celebration.

What Unity Community Center and Bushfire Theatre have in common is that they are both African American institutions doing excellent work that do not always receive the level of support they so rightly deserve.

I was disappointed to hear Unity Community Center’s founder Robert Dickerson disclose at the anniversary event how little support the center has received over the years from politicians. Imagine how many more young people could be saved if the center received more funding to expand throughout Camden and the South Jersey region.

Unfortunately Dickerson’s complaint is not uncommon. I have heard the same comments from Al Simpkins, the founder of Bushfire Theatre and read similar comments from Joan Myers Brown, the founder of Philadanco, an internationally acclaimed dance company. Brown recently received the National Medal of the Arts, the nation’s highest honor for those in the arts, from President Barack Obama. Philadanco is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The fact is that many of our cultural and educational institutions are barely surviving despite years of excellent work and national and international acclaim.

Across the country several African American cultural institutions have shuttered their doors from lack of support.

Our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, (HBCUs) are also experiencing serious financial difficulties and are threatened with closure or drastically reduced offerings.

While the economy can be blamed for some of these difficulties the fact is that many of these intuitions were suffering when the economy was better.

We can not let our institutions die or flounder.

We have to figure out ways to make sure these institutions are financially sound so that they not only survive but thrive.

While others can help, African Americans must take the lead in saving institutions that help educate our young people and perpetuate African American culture and the arts.

The African American community is not lacking the financial resources and ingenuity to find creative ways to garner more support for our institutions. We have more than enough African American politicians, business people and people of affluence and influence to support our institutions.

More must be done to raise awareness, funds and overall social commitment from the African American community to support these life-saving institutions.

During this holiday season let us each find ways to give back to educational and cultural institutions that enrich our lives.

Irv Randolph is the editor and co-publisher of South Jersey Journal.