Black History Month came to a close in dynamic fashion over the weekend in Merced, as poets, musicians, artists and activists convened a three-day conference titled "The Black Arts Movement and Its Influences: 50 Years On."
The conference kicked off Friday night with an opening reception at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, including an exhibit with memorabilia, art and photos from the movement. On Saturday and Sunday, there were day-long panel discussions and workshops on topics ranging from reflections on the origins of the Black Arts Movement, to the effects of women on the movement and how it influenced hip-hop and the spoken word.
The Black Arts Movement, which began in the mid-1960s, is generally described as an effort by writers, poets and artists to emphasize black aesthetics and art forms as an effort to uplift black people globally. Conference organizers dedicated the event to Amiri Baraka, one of the primary architects of the Black Arts Movement, who died in January at the age of 79.
The conference host was Emmy-winning journalist Belva Davis, the first black television journalist on the West Coast. Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Ishmael Reed presented the keynote address on Sunday. The event came to a close with a gospel concert inside UC Merced's Lantern Cafe.
Additional speakers at the conference included activist and playwright Marvin X, Askia Touré, who co-founded the Black Arts Movement, and Umar Bin Hassan of the The Last Poets.
The conference was spearheaded by Kim McMillon, who is pursuing her doctorate in African American literature at UC Merced. Organizing a conference dedicated to the Black Arts Movement would be a tall calling for most people, but McMillon acknowledged a much of the planning was simply tapping into her mental Rolodex and contacting some old friends.
McMillon made a lot of those friends while working in the Bay Area theater scene for more than 20 years, prior to her relocation to Merced in 2009. During her years in the Bay Area, McMillon produced two of her own plays, the first being "Voyages: A Multi-Media Excursion to Reincarnation" at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium.