The Brothers' Network Newsletter
Traveling B(l)ack Through History
The whole idea behind The Brothers' Network is to assist its members, friends and partners to become libertated human beings - people who are real players in real life as they move through their life process, because it's only through these individuals that we can change hearts, minds and perceptions. The energy that gives rise to the creative process is limitless and boundless - it's the energy that animated both Roland Hayes, the first African-American classical vocalist to win international acclaim, and Julian Williams, the Afro-German R&B balladeer. This is why we engage in presenting and sharing the developmental process that leads to greatness in the arts, culture and science. Through stories such as those of the lives of restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, we instill in our brothers the possibility of becoming one of the world's best. As our British brothers observe Black History Month, we join them and acknowledge the global influence of people of African descent throughout the centuries - influence that others have ignored, hidden and overlooked; influence that is once again coming into the light.
-Gregory T. Walker, Founder, The Brothers' Network
P.S. Be sure to visit our all-new website at www.thebrothersnetwork.net.
Photo: Walker with Gautam Rhagavan of the White House Office of Community Engagement at a briefing with senior White House staff on community concerns, September 2012
Brother of the Month
Neil deGrasse Tyson
By Sandy Smith
To the ranks of scientists like Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan - brilliant individuals with the gift for explaining advanced ideas and complex subjects to the general public in an accessible manner - add Neil deGrasse Tyson to the list.
As director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space Science and a member of the museum's Astrophysics Department, Tyson brings space science down to earth. His interest in astrophysics was piqued when, at age nine, he visited the Hayden Planetarium for the first time with his parents. By age fifteen, he had gained fame in the astrophysics community by delivering lectures on the subject while a student at the Bronx High School of Science. As he has put it in several interviews and lectures, "I wanted to become an astrophysicist not because I chose it. The universe chose me. I was called by the universe. I had no choice in the matter."
Tyson's ability to share his oneness with the universe engagingly has made him a popular figure with the general public - even when, as with his successful campaign to have Pluto demoted from its status as a planet, he ran afoul of its sentiments. He has won numerous accolades for both his intellectual prowess and his clear communication style, including NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal, its highest civilian honor, the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award from the Space Foundation, and the Isaac Asimov Award from the American Humanist Association. His popular honors include being named to the "Time 100" list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007, to Harvard Magazine's list of the 100 most influential Harvard alumni that same year, and perhaps the most interesting honor of all: being named the "Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive" by People magazine in 2000.
His name even reaches into space itself: There is an asteroid in the solar system bearing his name. The International Astrophysical Union renamed Asteroid 1994KA Asteroid 13123 Tyson in 2001.
Tyson's absorption into the universe - the same universe whose stuff is what makes us, he takes pains to remind us all - does not remove him from the world we mere mortals inhabit. His zest for life is reflected in the other passions he has indulged over the years, from ballroom dancing in college to collecting fine wines and cigars today. And he has a wife and two children to ground him as well. And yet, as he has noted in a lecture dubbed by some as "The Greatest Sermon Ever," his chief passion ultimately takes him well outside that world - to a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, where he is alone, with nothing but a telescope, his thoughts and the vastness of the cosmos for companions.
And Speaking of a Mountaintop...
Please save Saturday, Jan. 19, for our biggest gala event ever - a benefit to raise matching funds for our John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant to stage the Henry "Box" Brown Festival, a year-long exploration of the notions of freedom, identity, community, and dignity through the prism of performing arts and culture. The gala fundraiser is organized around the Philadelphia Theatre Company production of "The Mountaintop," Katori Hall's dramatic reimagining of Martin Luther King's last night on earth. The black-tie event will feature an exclusive pre-performance dinner with the playwright and leading cultural luminaries both in and beyond Philadelphia, including Tony Award-nominated actor and Brothers' Network Advisory Board member Colman Domingo. There will also be an elegant post-performance VIP reception featuring signature cocktails, live music, dancing, fine cuisine and passed hors d'oeuvres. For more information, call 267.334.4897 or email email@example.com.
Colman Domingo Is "Wild With Happy"
Philly native, Tony Award-nominated and Obie Award-winning actor-playwright Colman Domingo's newest play takes a subject we normally consider grim - death - and turns it into a comic experience. "Wild With Happy" explores what happens when Gil, an actor who’s struggling to carve out his own new life, finds his worlds colliding when his mother dies and he decides to have her cremated. His attempt to return her to the place that made her happiest makes for an evening of outrageous - and outrageously funny - theater. In addition to writing the play, Domingo is a featured member of the four-person cast.
"Wild With Happy" is now in a limited world premiere engagement at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York, through Nov. 11.
History and Culture
Revealing the Black Presence in Renaissance Europe...
In England as in America, black history is often seen as going back no further than the slave trade. Exhibits and scholarly research on both sides of the Atlantic reveals this view of black history in white Euroamerican culture to be woefully short-sighted.
In Britain, scholars have unearthed copious records that demonstrate Shakespeare didn't have to travel far to find "Moors" on which to model some of his most famous characters - they were all around him in the London of his day. Britain's earliest black community, it turns out, dates to the Elizabethan era, and while most of its members were servants (not slaves), some rose to positions of respect and status among their white peers. A recent BBC News Magazine article takes a close look at Britain's first black community in Elizabethan London.
Blacks were making their mark on European society across the English Channel as well, and not only in Spain. Dutch and Portuguese traders sought commerce with African ports, bringing back with them not only unusual items but also Africans themselves. Artists of the Renaissance documented the existence of these Afro-Europeans through paintings and other works of art. Baltimore's Walters Art Museum has gathered these works in one place for a groundbreaking new exhibit, "Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe," at the Walters from Oct. 14 to Jan. 21. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 North Charles Street in Baltimore's historic Mount Vernon cultural district.
...and the Experience of Blackness in Europe Today
October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom, and both in Britain and elsewhere, Europeans of African descent are expressing their connections to and their separation from the societies in which they find themselves.
A major distinction between America and the nations of Europe is the more fluid notion of national identity found on this side of the Atlantic. For black men like Caribbean-born, British-raised Caryl Phillips, that fluidity proved an attractive force that allowed him to reflect on his native (yet somehow not wholly native) land from the perspective of a distant shore. "Colour Me English" is a collection of essays that reflect on the constantly shifting sands of race, nationality and identity, combining clear thinking and a belief in the need to emphasize our shared humanity in the construction of identities.
Most European societies, however, haven't gotten to the place where Phillips wants them to go. (Not that the United States has gotten there either.) Thus it is that Africans in those societies still experience themselves as "being different" - "anders sein," in German. Afro-German singer Julian Williams put that sense of difference to music in his recent song of that name.