The Black Archives Bring Culture to Overtown With Boost from Knight Arts Challenge

The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida was one of the Knight Arts Challenge winners announced Dec. 3. The Overtown-based organization aims to keep the history of black Miami alive with initiatives such as their monthly Expressions spoken word events, which will benefit directly from the Knight Foundation's $50,000 Knight Arts Grant Credit.

The Black Archives, founded in 1977 by Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields, has worked to make sure that materials documenting South Florida's black population, such as manuscripts, letters, articles, photography and other materials dating from 1896 to the present, were preserved for future generations. The community, including historians, researchers, students and teachers, are allowed to use the preserved resources for their own educational pursuits.

"We're very excited to have been selected as one of the winners. We're working very hard to present programming with the Black Archives that will help revitalize and bring arts and culture back to the Overtown area," said Kamila E. Pritchett, developmental coordinator for the organization. "We've been successful with the Expressions spoken word event...The community has received that event very well and we are just excited to receive this little boost from the Knight Foundation to move forward and make it even bigger and better next year."

The spoken word events are one of the ways The Black Archives enriches Black Miami life today. "When the organization was founded, it was founded because the history of blacks in Miami was unavailable for people to look up and research. The black history in this town is so rich," said Pritchett. "We wanted to make sure that we not only preserve it, but we make it available for future generations so they can see the people who came before them. People are always reading about national people of note that are people of color, but there are a lot of people of color in our own city who have made a significant impact on our day to day [lives]...and our organizations and institutions that are existing now. Our purpose is to protect that information so that future generations can have access to learn about their history."

Past Expressions events have also given back to the community in terms of employment, advertisement and artistic opportunities. "[We've] hired 15 to 20 people in the neighborhood to work all the areas from security [and] parking to assisting with housekeeping and hostess [work] and bartending," said Pritchett. "We also used it to showcase the local vendors, like food places and local talent and musicians. Through that program in and of itself, we've used that as a vehicle to help promote the area as a place to come to for quality entertainment, but also to provide opportunities for employment through the programming."

The Archive also hosts monthly Community Conversations in which guest speakers discuss issues with the community about issues that affect black Miami. "We are also going to be launching an amateur night as one of our new programs at the Lyric Theater called Lyric Live," said Pritchett. "That's going to be...patterned after the noted Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. We're very excited about that as well. Through all those events, we try to source as much as employees...from the local area."

Interested in helping The Black Archives? The organization accepts financial donations and donations to the archives. The Black Archives is also behind the Take Your Seat Campaign, which aims to revitalize the Lyric Theater, reopening in 2014. Community members can purchase a plaque for the back of one of the theater's new seats--replicas of the theater's original seating--and have the seat dedicated either to themselves, a family member or an organization. Contact The Black Archives at 305-636-2390 or Pritchett at [email protected].

Stay up to date on The Black Archive's community and fundraising events at

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Monique Jones