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Celebrating Black History Month: Honoring the Influence of Black Artists

March 14, 2024

On Tuesday, February 20, 2024, Yale Child Study Center (YCSC) community members joined together in person and by Zoom for an annual celebration of Black History Month during a special Grand Rounds session, followed by a social event with raffles related to the session. As with the two years prior, YCSC community members were invited to share stories related to the theme of the month during this special session.

Tara Davila, the department’s vice chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion, began the session by welcoming attendees and thanking the volunteers who made these sessions possible. She noted that community members are always welcome to volunteer and bring ideas forward for events such as this one, and in general.

“The focus of today’s celebration is arts and the African diaspora, and so quoting from the Association of African American Life and History, ‘African American art is infused with African Caribbean and the Black American lived experiences. In the fields of visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary, and other forms of cultural expression. The influence of the African diaspora has been paramount. The influence has been deep and varied, bringing a richness to culture across the globe,’” Davila began.

Amy Myers, an assistant clinical professor at the YCSC, spoke next, focusing on a local artist and the impact of his work. “I heard this year that the national theme was the contribution of Black people to the arts, and I immediately thought of Mr. Winfred Rembert, who is a treasure that we had right here in New Haven for several decades,” said Myers.

Myers explained how Rembert’s visual storytelling drew her in as she initially learned about him and his art, linking this to family stories in her home growing up. She shared some images of his artwork as well as pieces of his personal history– and how he translated both harrowing and joyful community experiences in his work.

Tangular Irby, a content program manager for the Center for Emotional Intelligence at the YCSC, followed Myers, sharing more about what she has learned as the granddaughter of Gee's Bend quilters. She began, “Would you believe that what started out as a means for women to keep their babies warm, in a time when homes had no heat and families had ten or more children, is now being called art by historians, curators, and collectors? They recognize this artwork as essential to the history of American art.”

Irby, a descendent of Gee’s Bend quilters, as well as, Dinah Miller, an enslaved woman aboard the Clotilda, the last slave ship, spoke of creativity – not just in quilting but in parenting, in seeking independence as a young person – and in overcoming obstacles to exercise the right to vote. She tied this to her work through the relationship between art and emotion, along with how she has shared some of her own family stories through several children’s books she has authored. She ended by charging audience members to share their own stories, asking, “What are the things that are most precious to you that you want to pass down to the next generation?”

Ayo Ayobello, an assistant professor of child psychiatry in the department, spoke next and shared that he considers himself a “Psychi-artist” as he has been inspired by the arts in many ways. “I wanted to talk today about innovation and the intersection of visual arts and psychiatry because the arts in general have played a huge role in my life not just professionally…but as a therapeutic tool…channel for healing, channel for growth.”

Ayobello shared four of his paintings and the stories behind each piece of work, including two self-portraits, another representing a patient early in his career, and one of his daughter – all of which are imbued with great meaning related to his life and his work. He then transitioned to talking about innovation and a new therapeutic tool he and a friend have collaborated to create, called the Wellness Pizza.

Davila then stepped in for Christian Edwards, who was unable to attend the session but provided welcome remarks to introduce a special guest, the director of the St. Luke's Steel Band ,Kenneth Joseph. He closed out the session by providing some history behind and a live demonstration of the steel pan, which has had a big impact on his life.

Davila shared on Edwards behalf that “the sounds of the steel pan take Chris back to his childhood when his family would visit Pan Yards in Brooklyn, NY. They enjoyed the sounds of different bands as they competed in Panorama, a steel pan competition…Chris's grandparents often encouraged him to take lessons, but…at the time, it didn't seem like a cool thing to do, he said…he wishes that he had accepted the offer. And that's part of why he reached out to Mr. Joseph.”

The steel pan demonstration transitioned the in-person crowd to a reception with refreshments and raffles centering Black owned businesses and artists, including books, soaps, a quilt square, and a Wellness Pizza. Visit the related links to learn more about some of these items and artists.

Submitted by Crista Marchesseault on March 13, 2024