by Cieslafdn | Jun 14, 2018 | Aviva Kempner, Ciesla Foundation, Social Justice Work
June 6, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy. A service was held at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of his legacy. Aviva Kempner, who attended the memorial, noticed historical parallels mentioned at the service with topics in the Rosenwald documentary.
The event began with a musical prelude, “Life Every Voice and Sing,” written by James Weldon Johnson and often referred to as the “Black/African-American National Anthem” (and also served as inspiration for the sculptor Augusta Savage’s famous piece “The Harp”). Writer and poet James Weldon received several Rosenwald grants in the dates 1928, 1930, and 1931.
One of several notable speakers at the memorial as well as an interviewee in the Rosenwald film was Congressman John Lewis. Congressman Lewis read the words from one of Robert Kennedy’s speeches. In the film, Congressman Lewis spoke of his successes and positive work he’s done for the country, an inspirational achievement knowing his humble beginnings were in a Rosenwald school.
The memorial, filled with musical performances and meaningful testimonies by Kennedy’s daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, community leaders, and other elected officials, was not only a beautiful tribute to Robert F. Kennedy, but also served as a celebration to inspire us to continue to persevere in the face of adversity and build a better world.
by Cieslafdn | May 17, 2018 | Social Justice Work
Zora Neale Hurston, Rosenwald Fellow and author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, has a book being published eight decades after it was written.
Barracoon: The story of the last “Black Cargo” tells the story of Cudjo Lewis, one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade. Hurston interviewed 86-year old Lewis in 1927 in Alabama and recorded his account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the U.S. In 1931 publishers wanted her to rewrite it in a language other than “dialect” and she refused.
The book includes a forward by author Alice Walker. Hurston earned an AA degree from Howard University in 1920, a BA from Barnard College in 1928.
One of the Rosenwald DVD Bonus Features, Rosenwald Fund Writers tells the story of African American writers like Zora Neale Hurston.
You can read more about Barracoon here:
Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon’ Tells the Story of the Slave Trade’s Last Survivor
A Work by Zora Neale Hurston Will Finally Be Published
by Cieslafdn | Apr 26, 2018 | Ciesla Foundation, Social Justice Work
For Immediate Release
Ciesla Foundation receives grant to promote racial healing through distribution of Rosenwald
film and bonus features
Washington, DC (April 21, 2018) – The Ciesla Foundation will distribute and showcase the DVD and bonus features of its fourth film, Rosenwald, as part of an ongoing effort to promote racial equity and social justice.
The outreach project is supported in part by a $173,614 grant from W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan. With this support, the Rosenwald DVD will have a wider release of the film at schools, universities, religious institutions and communities, especially those undergoing racial and economic tensions and anti-Semitic attacks.
“The Rosenwald film and its uplifting messages of unity across racial and cultural lines continues to inspire a new generation and to reinvigorate the spirit of cooperation and speaking out against injustice,” said director Aviva Kempner. “One goal of the project is to continue events on college campuses and community groups screening the Rosenwald DVD set with educational programs, especially directed to serve as rapid responses to racist and anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses.”
A tour of the film at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was initiated last year to encourage a better understanding of cultural history, the Jim Crow era and Great Migration, and race relations and is conducted in the spirit of the Rosenwald Fund and its focus on giving.
The tour will continue as part of this outreach, placing special emphasis on scheduling joint programs between African American and Jewish groups, who were natural allies in the past for reasons celebrated in Rosenwald. These film screenings and discussions will allow for the rekindling of those historic alliances.
About The Ciesla Foundation
Based in Washington, D.C., The Ciesla Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public, tax-exempt educational organization. Ciesla (pronounced CHESH-lä) produces documentaries that investigate non- stereotypical images of Jews in history and celebrates the untold stories of Jewish heroes. Ciesla was founded in 1979 by filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who serves as the executive director.
The Ciesla Foundation’s other documentaries, including Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and Partisans of Vilna, have received numerous honors and awards including top honors from the Peabody Award, National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the CINE Golden Eagle Award. Through insightful and revealing storytelling, interviews with key figures and wide distribution, The Ciesla Foundation’s films assure worthy individuals their rightful places in history.
About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.
The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information,
by Cieslafdn | Mar 8, 2018 | Social Justice Work
Happy International Women’s Day! Today we commemorate and celebrate all the notable women in history. However today, we’d like to particularly pay homage to the sculptor Augusta Savage, most known for her spectacular sculpture “The Harp” which was wrongly demolished at the closing of the 1939’s World Fair. “The Harp” was “a 16-foot-tall plaster piece and was Savage’s last major work. It featured 12 stylized black singers representing the strings of the harp. The arm of God forms the sounding board with a young man in front kneeling and holding sheets of music.”
It is the Ciesla Foundation’s mission to rebuild Savage’s sculpture not only for the purpose of acknowledging our national heritage but also to honor Augusta Savage and her legacy. Many refer to her as a legend in the African American community as despite her endless struggle and adversity, she persevered till the end of her life with creativity and resilience.
Read more about the Ciesla Foundation’s cause:“As Confederate Statues Fall, What Should Replace Them?”by Aviva Kempner.
by Cieslafdn | Nov 30, 2017 | Aviva Kempner, Social Justice Work
By AVIVA KEMPNER NOV. 29, 2017 New York Times
View Link to Online Article
It’s heartening that so many Confederate statues are being taken down in the South. But that’s not enough. We must also restore pieces of our national heritage that were wrongly destroyed. First on the list should be “The Harp,” a magnificent work by the noted African-American sculptor Augusta Savage that was demolished at the closing of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
Savage was born in Green Cove Springs, Fla., in 1892. She moved to New York in 1921, where she studied at Cooper Union. Around 1923, Savage was rejected by a summer program at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in France because of her race. Savage publicly protested, and the rejection became a cause célèbre covered by newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.
But Savage didn’t let this snub deter her. During the Harlem Renaissance, she established herself as an artist and teacher, creating busts of prominent African-Americans like W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey.
In the 1920s she produced “Gamin,” a plaster bust likely based on her nephew now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which helped her win a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study art in Paris in 1929.
With the Rosenwald grant, Savage made works that were displayed at the Grand Palais in Paris. She went on to win two additional Rosenwald Fellowships, as well as a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. These awards permitted her to stay in Europe for a bit longer, allowing her to escape American racism.
Augusta Savage working on a sculpture in New York in 1938.
Hansel Mieth/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Savage returned to New York in 1932. Soon afterward, she founded the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, where artists like Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis developed their skills.
Her big break came in 1937, when Savage was commissioned by the World’s Fair to create a sculpture which would symbolize the musical works done by African- Americans. She took a two-year leave of absence from a job as director of the Harlem Community Art Center to concentrate on this project.
Savage called her sculpture “Lift Every Voice and Sing” after James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson’s song, the Negro national anthem. But the organizing committee renamed her piece “The Harp” against her wishes.
A 16-foot-tall plaster piece, “The Harp” was Savage’s last major work. It featured 12 stylized black singers representing the strings of the harp. The arm of God forms the sounding board with a young man in front kneeling and holding sheets of music.
It was one of the most popular pieces of art displayed at the World’s Fair. “Miss Savage’s creation stands in a niche at the focal point of the building front and is commented upon by practically everyone who passes,” wrote the journalist Lillian Johnson in The Afro-American, a Baltimore newspaper.
Despite the widespread praise, Savage lacked the money to store her the sculpture or have it cast in bronze. It was bulldozed at the end of the fair. (The Schomburg Center in Harlem does have a small bronze version of the sculpture.)
It gets worse. After the fair, Savage discovered that the Harlem Community Arts Center had given her job to someone else. She tried to create independent art centers in Harlem, but didn’t have enough money to sustain them. Savage died in March 27, 1962, after a long battle with cancer.
While Savage is gone, her great work, “The Harp” need not be lost forever. It should be recreated and displayed in New York City, where it had such an impact in 1939. The City Council should earmark funds to do this.
Or better yet, how about placing a second replica of “The Harp” in front of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington for all to see? It would be a fitting tribute to Savage, whom the art historian Richard Powell calls “a legend in African-American art history because so much of her life was filled with struggle, with perseverance and with creativity, all mixed up.”
Aviva Kempner is the director of the documentary “Rosenwald” about the philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.
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