Home > Family Member of playwright August Wilson wants “African-American” restored in the name of the August Wilson Cultural Center

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Family Member of noted playwright August Wilson Starts an online Petition to Restore “African-American” in the name of the August Wilson Cultural Center in Pittsburgh

 Renee Wilson, who says she is the first cousin of the late great playwright August Wilson has started a petition on Change.org urging members of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, The August Wilson Cultural Center board and the City of Pittsburgh to restore “African-American” in the name of the August Wilson Culture Center.

Wilson says she and other members of the community recently noticed that the “African-American” part of the cultural center name had been deleted from the building, and since the cultural center is a community asset, the board should have notified the community before they made this drastic change. “Did they have the legal right to change a community asset? What exactly was the process to make such a change, and who was involved in the process?” Wilson adds, August Wilson would not have appreciated the name change. “We love August Wilson, he is my first cousin, he would be on the side of the people with this issue, anything that has to do with the people, by taking out the “African-American” part of the name what culture are you referring to?” Wilson believes there is going to be a backlash on Wilson’s legacy by deleting African-American in the name of the center, “you are leaving the cultural center without a specific culture.”

Wilson is urging community members and residents to sign the petition and asking elected officials to address this issue immediately. “The African-American Cultural Center is a community asset, and August Wilson wrote so passionately about African-American people in Pittsburgh in his plays, and the board needed to pay closer attention to what the name represented.”  As the petition signatures grow, Wilson believes they will get the signatures needed to send a clear message to the board because what is in a name really matters. "My family has been here since 1910, you can’t just wipe out the identity of a people without having sensitivity to this issue. Did they even have the legal rights to do this since the cultural center is a community asset? They just striped African-American?”

While Wilson appreciates the hard work and dedication it took to finally open the culture center honoring August Wilson, she also understands it was a labor of love by many in the community that took close to forty years to complete, that is why she feels so passionately about the fact that the community seemed to be left out of the decision-making process. Wilson says she and some other community members have left messages for the board and they are hoping there will be a meeting immediately to take place within the August Wilson Cultural Center to address this very sensative issue. 

To view the petition, click here:

“To The Pittsburgh Culture Trust, The August Wilson Cultural Center, the city of Pittsburgh, PA and all other concerned parties; We are asking for the restoration of the name "African-American" back to building located at 980 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219! The building was previously known as "The August Wilson Center for African American Culture." The name has been unceremoniously changed to the August Wilson Cultural Center. We, the African American supporters of the center, are not pleased with this change. We ask that you rectify this to show your continued commitment to the African American Culture in which the center was initially built upon!”

Wilson contends on her Facebook page that the board should have notified the community before they made the change. “People are asking why we didn’t go to Janis Burley Wilson about taking African-American out of the name of the African-American Culture Center why didn't she come to us? I want a meeting this week coming up and the meeting will be in the African-American Culture Center that was made for us!”

According to Cydney Nunn, Public Relations and Marketing Manager at the August Wilson Cultural Center, the Board of Directors released an official statement regarding the issue on Monday. The statement currently circulating on Facebook is as follows:

Dear Friends of the August Wilson Cultural Center,

We have learned that there is concern about the newly branded name for the performing arts venue, August Wilson Cultural Center; the term "African American" was a part of the original name for the Center.

We understand the importance of names and naming among people of African descent, particularly as it pertains to our enslaved African ancestors and their history on the mainland of North America. While the name change was not done in isolation, but rather as part of the broader strategic planning process that resulted in the new Mission and Vision Statements for the institution, we understand that no level of engagement can eclipse the vast and abiding ideological narrative that has historically elicited deep concern and cultural implications. We want to affirm that we are listening.

We, at the August Wilson Cultural Center, have no intention of diminishing a focus on African-American culture. In fact, the name change reflects a deeper embrace of the broader cultural richness of the entire African diaspora and commitment to August Wilson’s legacy. Our new mission states:

The mission of the August Wilson Cultural Center is to own and operate a home for the arts, storytelling, learning and exchange around the African American experience and the rich culture of the African diaspora. We are guided by the enduring truths and essential values evident in the work of August Wilson.

We will continue to examine these and other critical questions of race and identity through the artistic and cultural programming at the August Wilson Cultural Center. We invite everyone to join us in this work. It is our hope that our "call" to fully embrace the national and international stature of our namesake favorite son, August Wilson, and moreover our "call" to broadly embrace arts, culture, experience and expression of the entire African diaspora opens up even more possibilities for how they are honored, showcased and celebrated at the August Wilson Cultural Center. It is necessary that our collective "call," to elevate the unique experience of African-Americans and those of the African diaspora take center stage. Our ancestors never allowed what they were called - or what people thought they should be called - to overshadow their actual calling. We plan to honor that legacy. We will keep you posted on our progress. If you have comments or feedback, feel free to reach out via email at info@aacc-awc.org. Visit our website at aacc-awc.org to learn about the very important work taking place at the August Wilson Cultural Center.

Janis Burley Wilson (pictured above)

President & CEO

 

Nunn says that there will be a follow-up statement from the board to address additional questions from the community and press. In the meantime, Wilson contends on her Facebook page, “Not one elected official has said one word about them taking African-American out of the name of our Culture Center! She warns elected officials running for office to speak up."

 

One of the Pittsburgh residents who signed Wilson’s petition is Ahmad Sandidge who wrote an open letter on Facebook about the issue:

My open letter to AUGUST WILSON CENTER FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE

Do you really think that your explanation was valid? Taking the "color" out the name is expanding the mission? That is corporate speak for we are seeking money outside the community and we don't want to offend those with deep pockets.

Yes the black community in Pgh is one of the poorest in this country. Yes, the school system continues to fail us. Yes the incarceration rate of black males is at epidemic high rates.

But with all of these negatives confronting our children, at least they could walk past the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and see something that reflects them as being positive.

I know it is challenging to provide the programing and the incentives to get people of color to walk in your door. But isn’t that why you were hired? The powers that be could get any non-person of color to run an August Wilson Center....but you were selected to create programing that is relevant to the African American community. Also, to expose those outside of our communities the richness of our culture.

When I was 10 years old my minister pulls me aside and told me, "live your life in such a way that you can tell anyone to go to hell." He went on to say if I do or don’t say that it would be my decision not someone controlling me.

Take the high road sista.....UPLIFT THE RACE

I tried to remain silent but my ancestors won't let me....can the powers that be at the AUGUST WILSON CENTER FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE say the same? I wonder.....

 

So far, close to two hundred people have signed the petition, many believe that restoring the term African-American is important simply because "BlackCultureMatters."

 

 

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