Renowned sculptor and artist Edward Joseph Dwight Jr., the first African American astronaut candidate, will be at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) on February 24 as part of the college’s month-long African Heritage celebration that kicked off February 1 with dancers (shown), poetry, panels and more.
Dwight, who will be recognized at BMCC as a Living Black History Maker, has worked as a sculptor for more than 40 years and has created more than 120 public art commissions, more than 18,000 gallery level sculptures, and was the original designer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington DC. His sculptures and memorials honor events and contributions of African Americans in the stream of American history. One project that Dwight has been commissioned to create is a 30-foot-tall sculpture of a family of sharecroppers. This monument will be the central focal point at the forthcoming “Cotton Pickers of America Monument” and Sharecroppers Interpretive Center, which is the flagship project of Khafre, a cultural and educational non-profit organization located in the Mississippi Delta.
Christopher Shults, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning and African Heritage Month Committee Chair at BMCC, is a former board member of Khafre and became acquainted with Dwight at that time.
“I remembered a particular piece of Dwight’s work, ‘The Hands That Picked Cotton’, which shows not only hands picking cotton, but hands casting a ballot,” said Shults. “The significance of this art, in the context of these times we are in, following the 2016 presidential election, is powerful.”
This sculpture, he says, has been loaned to the College by the artist for display at BMCC during the entire African Heritage Month. Its first public showing will be at the opening ceremony on February 1.
“It fits this year’s African Heritage Month theme and slogan, ‘We Were, We Are, We Will’,” says Shults. “‘We Were’ represents the slaves and sharecroppers picking cotton. ‘We Are’ reflects our ability to vote, and ‘We Will’ represents what comes out of the ballot box, which is the future.”
This year’s opening ceremony, “Rally for Love, Equality, and Justice,” will be held from 1:00 – 4:00, February 1in the BMCC cafeteria.African drummers, singers and poets; African art, and a special dance performance by BMCC students, faculty and staff will be part of the event, as well as a sampling of African and Caribbean dishes.
Throughout the month, more than 15 panels, workshops and activities will be conducted. One panel, on February 3, will feature Black and African American BMCC alumni discussing their journeys, both personal and professional, and how BMCC prepared them for success.
Other highlights include two physical and emotional wellness days, and a February 22 panel featuring four successful entrepreneurs of color who will share their struggles and triumphs in starting a business. In addition, Dr. Sade Turnipseed, Professor of History at Mississippi Valley State University, will be sharing the historical impact of cotton on the American and world economies and will explain where the term “financially in the Black” actually comes from.
According to Shults, African Heritage Month “reaffirms the fact that as an institution, we honor and appreciate the different races, cultures and religions that make up our College and while we celebrate these differences, we also celebrate being one community.”