In 1969, when the Black Arts Movement was emerging, educator-activist Jitu Weusi launched an Afro-centric cultural economic renaissance in Bedford Stuyvesant. It was the East. Jitu inspired a generation of young people. It had New York’s first state-certified Afro-centric school Uhuru Sasa Shule, a food co-op, newsmagazine, publisher, record label, restaurant, clothing shop and bookstore. The East hosted world-famous jazz musicians and poets at its highly sought-after performance venue including Max Roach, Roy Ayers, Betty Carter, Sun Ra, Randy Weston. Hugh Masekela and Amiri Baraka. It also served as an epicenter for political activists like the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords. The East also launched the International African Arts Festival, now in its 51st year.
The legacy of The East is showcased in the award-winning documentary The Sun Rises in The East, directed and produced by Bed-Stuy married couple Tayo Giwa and Cynthia Gordy Giwa, who are also the creators of Black-Owned Brooklyn, a publication and Instagram site that documents local Black business, history and culture.
“Jitu Weuisi and The East were concerned with tackling white supremacy at its psychological root,” said Tayo Giwa. “They were thinking about: How do you shape Black minds? How do you shape Black aspiration and belief in self? What role can education and culture play in our liberation? They were experimenting and taking risks, ultimately doing transformative work for Black people.”
The film also examines the challenges that led to the organization’s eventual dissolution. The East officially closed in 1986. “Their legacy reverberates in present-day Bed-Stuy through the neighborhood’s strong sense of community,” said Cynthia Gordy Giwa. “It’s a thriving, independent Black business community that continues to this day with an unabashed pride in our diverse Black cultures.”
The International African Arts Festival 2022 will be July 1 -4 at Commodore Barry Park.