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The 2019 Sandrell Rivers Day celebration took place at the theater that bears her name.
The 2019 Sandrell Rivers Day celebration took place at the theater that bears her name.
Photo courtesy of Gregory Reed

Sandrell Rivers Theater Holds Third-Annual Celebration of Its Namesake

You’re invited to a birthday party for one of South Florida’s greatest arts champions, a woman you may never have heard of.

On Saturday, August 29, Fantasy Theater Factory at the Sandrell Rivers Theater presents the third-annual celebration of its namesake on Facebook Live.

Sandrell Rivers was an arts administrator for Miami-Dade County’s Parks and Recreation Department from 1988 until the day before her death from cancer on January 1, 2010. She brought artists including Hugh Masekela, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Isaac Hayes to the stage at the Joseph Caleb Center for the Arts, and she promoted South Florida’s African diaspora artists through her international travels. Her efforts so impressed a Nigerian dignitary, De Wheno Aholu Menu-Toyi 1 — the Akran of Badgary in Lagos State — that he named her a chief. She bore the title proudly.

“Chief Rivers had a passion for the arts and a passion for her community,” says Larry Fields, Fantasy Theater Factory CEO and executive artistic director. “She worked very hard and successfully at bringing Black artists to Black audiences at a time when Black patrons were still unwelcome in many areas of Miami, especially Miami Beach.”

Born in Miami in 1947, Rivers earned two degrees from Tennessee State University and taught at arts institutions in Chicago before returning home, according to an article published in the South Florida Times shortly after her death.

The pandemic prevents this year’s celebration of her from being held at the theater. But the show must go on, and not just for the audience, Fields says.

“It was important for us to continue making the financial investment in our artistic community during this moment of economic devastation in our community. Every professional artist who appears at the Sandrell Rivers Day Celebration is paid, and it was important for us to make sure that we kept that commitment to the artists.”

Saturday’s festivities will feature almost two dozen talented South Florida performing artists and entertainers, including jazz saxophonist Melton Mustafa Jr., dancer Randolph Ward, magician Billy Byron, and even an aerialist, Luckner “Lucky” Bruno. Singer Brenda Alford will host.

“Sandrell was what I call a hundred-percenter. When she did something, she put 100 percent into it. She was a generous person and didn’t always receive credit or compensation for the good she did,” Alford recalls

The event also includes a presentation of the Sandrell Rivers Humanitarian Award to Dr. Larry R. Handfield, a criminal defense lawyer known for his investment in the community. For example, according to an FTF release, for the past ten years, for example, Dr. Handfield has sponsored a visit to Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant on Miami Beach for 100 kids, sending them by limousine with a police escort. He has said that, as a product of the inner-city himself.

“I want to remind these children that their history should not define their destiny,” Handfield adds.

– Tracy Fields, artburstmiami.com

Sandrell Rivers Day. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 29; sandrellriverstheater.com. Admission is free; stream via facebook.com/sandrellriverstheater and youtube.com.

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