From authors to Alvin Ailey: Black History Month 2017 in Philadelphia

Egun Omode presented a dance and drum performance at the 2016 African Cultures Day. (Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum.)

Looking for Black History Month offerings in Philly?


The 25th annual African American Children’s Book Fair is coming up on Saturday, February 4, at the Community College of Philadelphia. It’s presented by the nonprofit African American Children’s Book Project, dedicated to children’s literature written by or about African Americans. This book fair is “one of the oldest and largest single-day events for African American children’s books in the country” and draws about 3,500 people from around the country each year.

The Free Library is featuring an array of happenings to celebrate Black History Month, including free author events. On February 1 at 7:30pm, it’s Michael Eric Dyson and Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, “a no-holds-barred call for white America to face difficult truths about how it has ignored or dismissed African American grievances.” The next night brings Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin. And on February 23, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the first director of the African American history program at the Library Company of Philadelphia, will discuss her Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge.


The fifth anniversary of the Kimmel’s monthly Sittin’ In: Live Sessions is coming up on Wednesday, February 15, at 8pm in the Commonwealth Plaza. This free, informal music event invites attendees to hear live instrumentalists improvise solos and “vamp on tunes, songs, and chord progressions.” It’ll feature players and performers like Orrin Evans, Ursula Rucker, and many others. The night also includes a special discussion on the history of the jam session’s importance in the African-American musical tradition, with Philadelphia ties.


Revisit Roots at the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP). Last year, A&E and the History Channel partnered to present a reimagined version of the iconic story that gripped America in 1977. On February 1 at 6pm (doors at 5:30pm), Roots at 40 begins with a free screening of the first episode of the new Roots series, then continues with a panel discussion on the history and continued relevance of the show. The speakers will include Mark Wolper, an executive producer of the new series; historical consultant Dr. Daina Ramey Berry of the University of Texas at Austin; and perhaps director Mario Van Peebles. It’ll be moderated by the Washington Post and MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart. A reception will close out the event.


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is coming to the Kimmel February 3 and 4. The show will feature Hope Boykin’s r-Evolution, Dream., inspired by speeches and sermons from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Kyle Abraham’s three-part Untitled America, exploring how the prison system affects African-American families; and signature Alvin Ailey favorite Revelations.

On February 17 at 8pm, Balé Folclórico da Bahía takes over the Merriam Theater. This 38-member Brazilian troupe of dancers, musicians, and singers celebrates “Bahian folkloric dances of African origin,” including capoeira, samba, and Carnival. There will also be two free community Carnival events: At noon on February 7, the Kimmel’s Hamilton Garden offers free capoeira dance lessons thanks to Philly’s Project Capoeira. And on February 17 at 6:30pm in the Commonwealth Plaza, the Kimmel hosts an hour-long Carnival dance party.

For those who want to do more dancing, on February 1, 8, and 15 at 6:30pm, the Free Library’s Greater Olney branch will host free African Dance Workshops.


Do you understand the significance of Egyptian hieroglyphics? Germantown’s Johnson House museum (the site of a well-documented stop on the Underground Railroad) hosts "African American History, Hieroglyphics and Archeology in Egypt" on February 18 from 2 to 4pm. It’s a conversation with seasoned traveler and scholar Dr. V. Nzinga Gaffin. The event is free to the public, with donations accepted.

Institutions like the National Constitution Center and the Penn Museum also have plenty of other interactive ways to celebrate Black History Month throughout February, including the Penn Museum’s African Cultures Day on Saturday, February 25 from 11am to 4pm.

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