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Black History Month 2024: African Americans and the Arts

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Black History Month is an opportunity to explore the remarkable contributions of African Americans throughout history. The theme for 2024 is African Americans and the Arts. We're going to explore this Black History Month theme with a special focus on the dynamism brought by young Black artists.

From music and literature to painting and performance, the creative spirit of Black youth plays a pivotal role in shaping our culture. The thematic focus on African Americans and the Arts amplifies the voices, stories, and contributions of Black artists throughout history.

Art in youth work is a beautiful thing! Art helps young people explore their own individual stories and paths. And it offers them powerful tools to express themselves in unique ways.

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    African Americans and the arts

    African American artists, both pioneers and emerging talents, have woven threads of creativity across all artistic fields and genres, including

    • Visual and performing arts
    • Literature
    • Fashion
    • Folklore
    • Language
    • Film
    • Music
    • Architecture
    • Culinary arts

    Their influence can be found throughout history. And the power of their art has been a way to preserve history as well as to empower historic change.

    The jazz melodies of Duke Ellington and the soulful poetry of Maya Angelou stand as timeless contributions. Now, young jazz artist Immanuel Wilkins and poet Amanda Gorman represent a new generation bringing a fresh perspective to the canvas of expression.

    The visual arts, too, witness the dynamic interplay between seasoned creators like Jacob Lawrence and Augusta Savage and the innovative brushstrokes of emerging talents. The collaboration between generations creates a rich and evolving narrative that reflects the resilience and vibrancy of African American artistry.

    Music genres such as jazz, blues, hip-hop, and gospel are deeply rooted in African American culture. They not only reflect history but also continue to influence and shape global landscapes. Young musicians continue to infuse these genres with contemporary sounds, pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.

    In the film and television industry, Black youth contribute to the broader representation of diverse stories. Their narratives, shaped by modern experiences, bridge the gap between tradition and innovation, ensuring a more inclusive portrayal of society.

    Trailblazers and rising stars bridge generations

    • Langston Hughes, leader of the Harlem Renaissance

    Langston Hughes was an American poet and social activist. He left an indelible mark through his poetic prowess. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" carries the weight of history, connecting generations through its profound verses. His influence extends beyond his time.

    Hughes' commitment to portraying the complexity of African American life through various forms of art serves as a guiding light for young artists, encouraging them to use their creativity as a powerful tool for expression.

    • Simone Leigh, named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2023

    Simone Leigh is a Black artist who is shaping the artistic landscape today. Her drawings and paintings reflect the contemporary experiences of her generation, offering a fresh perspective on the world.

    Simone's commitment to community engagement is equally noteworthy and reflects her belief in the transformative power of art to inspire and empower. Through her youth work, she mentors and encourages young artists to find their voice and use their creativity to address social issues.

    She uses her platform to advocate for the importance of art education. Her dedication to both art and community echoes the interconnectedness of artistic expression and social impact.

    Explore the arts together with young people

    There are tons of incredible Black artists around the globe! If you’re searching for a new youth program activity, try checking out local museums and libraries with young people to see if they feature Black artists you could learn about together.

    Black History Month 2024 honors the innovation and interconnectedness within the African American community. And it reminds us that the arts, in all forms, are a powerful vehicle for storytelling, self-expression, and positive change.

    If you’d like to explore more, check out YIPA’s training on Trauma Across Generations: Engaging the African American Community, or Improv is a Youth Work Superpower!

    About the author

    Jade Schleif is the training director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Jade a question or share your feedback about this blog, email jade@yipa.org.

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