A chance encounter with the new Mayor of Detroit was one in a series of highlights to our ultra-enjoyable filming of African American History Day on Saturday, February 7, 2009.  The day was kicked off at the Detroit Historical Museum with a chance encounter with Kenneth Cockerel Jr., Detroit’s dynamic new Mayor, accompanied by his son, Kenneth Cockerel III.  The father/son pair spent time touring the various exhibits and chatting with the exhibitors, especially the Tuskegee Airmen display manned by Charlie Bray.

Meanwhile, the auditorium was enthralled by tales of the Underground Railroad presented by Kimberly Simmons.  Entitled ‘The Descendants Speak’ it covered all the salient highlights in this remarkable phase of Nineteenth Century Detroit history.

Next, the auditorium filled with eager listeners at the beck and call of storyteller Ivory D. Williams who shared many gems from his roster of stories, interweaving the wit, humor and fun that have made him a storytelling legend around Detroit. 

Following an interview with Robert Bury, Executive Director and CEO of the Detroit Historical Museum in which he explained the importance and significance of the day, especially this year, the year of President Obama.  Bob, who has been with the Museum for six years, eloquently described the contributions made to Detroit by our largest ‘minority’ while standing before one of many of the Museum’s can’t-miss exhibits, the candid ‘Hero or Villain?’ display covering Detroit’s legacy of leadership, Coleman Young to Dr. Ossian Sweet.  Beside the Detroit Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen booth, John M. Green, founder of the the Ralph Bunche Repository, educated us on the contributions of native Detroiter Dr. Ralph Bunche while displaying the 1915 reprinted book he indexed,

Afterward, Mubarak Hakim presented an African drum and dance demonstration, helping the young people present truly appreciate the new day of hope that Barack Obama’s election has offered us, both as a city and as a nation. 

In the evening, it was our great honor to be included in the Palmer Woods ‘Music In Series’, which showcases jazz, classical and world music in the form of chamber concerts the living rooms of various architectural masterpieces throughout the Seven Mile and Woodward neighborhood.  This evening saw a performance by the Mady Kouyate Trio from Senegal, West Africa and featured the ephemeral sounds of the kora, a 21 string African harp.  Local resident Spencer Barefield could hardly help but jam with the band through several numbers, adding a Detroit jazz flavor to the traditional Manding sounds of Senegal and offering a spectacular and unexpected treat to those of us who have followed Barefield’s career.

Of equal note was the intermission feast prepared by Ugandan chef Alvera Byabato (419-367-8849) which included classical dishes like wali wa kuku, sambus, maamdazi and ndizi.  On a personal note, the Visionalist crew was delighted to find our friend and the host of one of our earliest documentaries on Mexico, Martina Guzman, well entrenched in her current career with NPR recording the event.