White House Honors Brooklyn with Prize and Presence
The Billie Holiday Theater Awarded the National Medal of Arts
The Billie Holiday Theater, currently celebrating more than 50 years as Bedford Stuyvesant Corporation’s performing arts mecca and a diamond in New York City’s vast field of playhouses, was awarded the National Medal of Arts Award, Tuesday, March 21, at the White House in Washington, D.C. Restoration’s President and CEO Blondel Pinnock accepted the coveted award on behalf of The Billie from President Joseph Biden.
Among the recipients receiving the Medals for “excellence, growth support and availability of the arts in the United States” of the Award were Johnnetta Cole, the first Black woman president of Spelman College and director of the National Museum of African Art; Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala; Brooklyn’s author Colon Whitehead (The Underground Railroad” and “Nickel Boys”), the only novelist to win two consecutive year Pulitzers; scholar Earl Lewis, chronicler of African American history; and the International Association of Blacks in Dance, (accepted on its behalf by Denise Saunders Thompson).
In addition, awards were presented to painter-muralist Judy Baca; 11-time Emmy Award-winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus; Mindy Kaling, the first woman of color to create, write, and star in a primetime sitcom; premier fashion designer Vera Wang; dance patron Fred Eychaner; Joan Shigekawa, head of the National Endowment for the Arts, multi-Grammy winning singer-songwriter Jose Feliciano; Bruce Springsteen, a Presidential Medal of Honor recipient; authors Amy Tan, Tara Westover, Ann Patchett, and Walter Isaacson; engineer and poet Richard Blanco (“One Today”); and Of The Billie, President Biden said, “Over 50 years ago, the Billie Holiday Theatre opened in Brooklyn. Black writers and actors, from Samuel L. Jackson to Debbie Allen to Smokey Robinson, debuted there in New York at that theater. Today Billie still stages first-rate theater productions, nurturing new generations of Black playwrights and performers as a culture of the cornerstone of our nation. And it’s really — it’s an incredible place.” He said the award was being presented to The Billie “for being an artistic jewel for the nation. Channeling its namesake’s exploration of freedom and identity, The Billie Holiday Theatre cultivates some of our nation’s most renowned Black actors, writers, designers, and musicians, and has expanded the reach of American artistic expression and achievement.”
The President said of Ms. Cole she “takes the study of Black history and culture to new heights” and “has strengthened American education, advanced American scholarship, and enriched the lives of students of all ages and the future of our nation.
Biden described Mr. Stevenson as “one of the most important civil rights leaders” through his exoneration of the wrongfully convicted.” Stevenson’s museums exist, said Biden, “so the history of lynching and racial violence in America gets the reckoning it deserves. And providing a compelling foundation for me to be able to sign into law Emmett Till’s Bill to make lynching a federal crime. Bryan does it all — challenges us to get proximity to the suffering and abandoned and the poor and the condemned so that as we search for the humanity in others, we find it within ourselves first”
“From coming-of-age to crime, to science fiction, to even zombies, Colin Whitehead is one of America’s great storytellers,” said Biden, adding that the author brings “a fresh perspective to the legacy of the original sin of slavery, elevating our nation’s consciousness around truth and justice.