Though rich with African American culture that is lovingly cared for and celebrated, the 100-year–old building itself is in need of improvements.
The building is underutilized and renovations are long overdue, according to vice chair Bill Hargraves. Thanks to some private donation, but mostly through city funding, the theater is set to get a makeover.
The proposed upgrades include a state-of-the-art theater, raising the basement ceiling so it can be used for new programs, installing an elevator, and building new classrooms.
“The best is yet to come,” Hargraves said. “We want to keep the doors open and provide an improved modern place for everyone. It will give us a possibility to really make this a vibrant place.”
Hargraves said there is no time frame for when the renovations will begin, but he hopes sometime in the fall. During the construction, the organization will move to another location in Jamaica.
The Afrikan Poetry Theatre is a nonprofit organization that provides a range of cultural, educational, recreational and social development programs. It was founded by John Watusi Branch and Yusef Waliyaya, who were both poets associated with the East Cultural Center and its school, Uhuru Sasa (Freedom Now), in Brooklyn in the early 1970’s.
Branch, who passed away in December, dedicated himself to making the facility an important place in the community. Originally, it was used for theater and jazz, but Branch helped it evolve into so much more, said Hargraves. Today, there are afterschool and family programs and community events throughout the year.
Branch visited Africa a few times a year. On each trip, he would collect cultural items and artifacts, many of which are on display in the theater today.
“He would go to Africa like he was going to Brooklyn,” Hargraves said. “He believed in the African people.”