‘We owe it to the generation before us to honor this generation behind us’

On Feb. 4, we launched a project that explored the Afrofuturism arts movement and its many connections to the Dayton region. Then, on Feb. 18, we followed up with three local artist to go beyond imagining the future and to discuss what can be done to help create that better future for Black artists in our communities.

On Feb. 28, we held a Community Conversation focused on the Afrofuturism arts movement, its many connections to the Dayton region and what our communities can do to better support our Black artists.

The discussion was co-hosted by Community Impact Editor Nick Hrkman and Reporter Russell Florence and featured the following panelists:

Leroy Bean, poet and a founder of Broken English: 101, a monthly live entertainment production

Shon Curtis, freelance photographer for various agencies and organizations, including OMS Photo

Credit: zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o'neal

Credit: zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o'neal

Krista Franklin, collage artist, poet and educator

Mariah Johnson, Dayton Metro Library Cultural Programming Manager



Countess Winfrey, professional dancer, teaching artist, and choreographer

Editor’s Note: The transcript below has been edited for brevity and clarity. You can watch the full discussion on our website or on the Dayton Daily News Facebook Page.

How do you define Afrofuturism?

Countess Winfrey: When I think about the term Afrofuturism, I think about the past and the present and how that fuels the imagination that comes from the idea of Afrofuturism. There’s not a specific definition for it, it really depends on the individual. It brings forth this unknown realm that we get to create as people and as artists, which I think can be a little bit scary because there’s no real right answer as to how to approach the topic, but I also think that there’s so much liberation in the term Afrofuturism because it leaves room for you to imagine the world that you want to see.

Krista Franklin: This a conversation that’s been going on for a really, really long time. Initially, Afrofuturism involved the intersection of technology and Black life. How are Black people using technology to create new worlds, new dimensions, new ways of thought? Initially it was housed in the literary realm, in science fiction and comic books, things of that nature, like Black Panther. Marvel came out and kind of set the world on fire with that one, right? We got everybody’s attention around the topic of Afrofuturism and one of the major components of that story is definitely this notion of another realm where Black people could be free. Where we could be with one another, where it was peaceful. Where we were self-governed. There’s a space for us. In the past, it wasn’t highlighted, these spaces where Black people actually existed in these fantastic futures, right? You would read a science fiction book and you would be like, where did the Black people go? What happened to them? It has definitely expanded over the years to be more inclusive and to incorporate different kinds of disciplines, from fantasy to cosplay. The notion of Black people in outer space or having a connection to interplanetary and metaphysical worlds has gone on since the beginning of time, before it ever had a name.

What was your first experience with Afrofuturism?

Mariah Johnson: For me, it was when I watched Good Burger and the dance scene with George Clinton. Who is this guy with these multi-colored locks, this interesting costume? That was my first experience seeing Black people in a different type of identity, being free and obviously not caring what anybody else thinks.

Leroy Bean: Listening to Outkast, ATLiens was definitely a huge influence. The different types of sounds and stories they came up with was really impactful for me, but I didn’t necessarily have the language for it at that point. I think I started to understand the concept when reflecting on a bar that Andre 3000 said, I think in The Art of Storytelling, where he asked what she wanted to be. And she said alive. And I thought about how we don’t think about making it past 25. After I started to really get into schools and teaching and I saw how these kids weren’t really able to look past a certain age, that there was only maybe 5 or 10 years in front of them. That’s when I started to really understand how important Afrofuturism was.

What do you think Dayton gets right about supporting Black artists?

Countess Winfrey: When I first moved to Dayton from Tennessee, Dayton was definitely different than any city that I’ve lived in. But being a part of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) and seeing the longevity that the company has had and the loyalty that a lot of people have to the organization, specifically the older generation, the generation that really knew our founder, Jeraldyne, was really a first-time experience. For me, being able to see the amount of support that the company has been able to have over the course of the last 55 years is really pretty wonderful. So I think that’s something that Dayton definitely gets right. I feel supported as an artist and I think it’s very important to support other artists. I really try to make it a point to support as many young artists as I can, even if it’s just showing up to their show or showing up to their coffee house event or their gallery event. It’s something that I think makes Dayton very special. Not that these things aren’t happening in other cities and I can just only account for my experience here. But there’s always more that can be done.

Would you like to see more commissions for Black artists?

Countess Winfrey: The project I did with the Cincinnati Art Museum, they were specifically wanting to highlight Black artists in all the different genres and centered the project around Black futures. As I was preparing for that particular commission, I started reading this anthology called ‘Black Futures.’ And there is this photo in it that said “THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE.” It’s just one sentence, but it’s like... right. How do we continue to make that a real perspective instead of just, “Oh, maybe I’ll make it to 25”?

What can Dayton learn from bigger metros like Chicago?

Krista Franklin: I think that one thing Dayton could practice is to support the people who live there, who are doing incredible, magnificent things. Where are the monuments to acknowledge the contributions that Dayton put on the world? Where are the sites of acknowledgement? Where are these spaces that actually hold and house the archives of the magnificence that has happened out of Dayton and that is still happening in Dayton? That’s something that a lot of cities struggle with. How do you harness what has already happened and to acknowledge it and to hold it up as a source of of pride? It makes people want to stay, it makes people want to travel and visit that space.

You wrote about your recent visit to Paris for the James Baldwin Writer’s Conference. What is different about Parisian or French culture and how they support their artists that Americans could learn from?

Leroy Bean: There is a clear understanding that the artists and the people need each other and everything is built around that relationship. That we’re not just using art to be entertained for the night, we’re using art to really create a beautiful environment and city and culture and way of life on a day-to-day basis. When these restaurants are getting built, they have outside seating and potentially have some type of artist-in-residence that’s performing there. There are a lot of jam sessions and workshops and there was always something to get into every day of the week. It was very clear how valuable arts and culture was to their way of life because there was such a strong connection between them.

Shon, you attended Stivers, a public arts high school. How did that experience affect who you are today and what else can be done to reach and support the next generation of artists?

Shon Curtis: Stivers does this really amazing job of allowing you to experience the diversity of culture. It allows you to gain access to different worlds, really. It centers all these experiences and principles and various cultures around whatever your medium is. We have all these societal limits, but their imagination is limitless. How do you foster that and build education around that freedom?

Countess Winfrey: I went to an arts high school in Nashville, Nashville School of the Arts, and I remember having that same sense of feeling limitless because I was watching all these people around me just dive into whatever their artistry looked like. And I love that. It has made me want to continue to surround myself with other artists because there is this space of freedom that you’re able to access.

Krista, you rightfully mentioned Daytonian Gregory Tate, who passed in 2021, as an important influence on the Afrofuturism movement. Could you talk about his family’s Dayton roots and his legacy?

Krista Franklin: Gregory Tate was one of the most influential individuals in the Black world. He was born in Dayton. I first came into contact with Greg’s writing through Vibe Magazine when it first started. He was one of the major contributors to that magazine. He was a cultural thinker. He was a conductor. He was a musician. He was a powerhouse, a very powerful individual in the world that we sadly lost too soon. As far as his contribution to Afrofuturism, he was one of the first people in that Afrofuturist listserv that Alondra Nelson created. He was one of the forethinkers of Afrofuturism, he was one of the people that galvanized Black thought and Black stars in a multidisciplinary way while at the same time you developing these incredible, influential writings. He is definitely one of the influences of my own writing and I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to intersect with him through a mutual dear friend, Latasha Diggs, who introduced us. I want to encourage people who have never read any writing by Greg Tate: Do yourself a favor and immediately run to the library and find his work.

Do you feel that Dayton has an archival issue?

Krista Franklin: As a lover of libraries, it’s sad that we don’t have some of Tate’s writings in their special collections. Where are Sugarfoot’s writings? Where are Roger Troutman’s writings? You understand what I’m saying? These are the things that should be housed there, you know, not just for the people who live there, but also for folks who are writing books who can travel to Dayton and get fellowships to begin to write that history. That’s how those books are written, through the libraries and special collections and archives. Talk to the families who are now realizing they have a treasure trove in their house, like when we think about Dilla and what of his was found in abandoned storage facilities. This is Black treasure. We don’t have an archival issue, but we do have an issue where we’re not harnessing this wealth.

What are what are your hopes for the future of Afrofuturism?

Shon Curtis: There was a moment I had with the amazing Bing Davis in my studio as I was photographing him. He said something that struck me: “We owe it to the generation before us to honor this generation behind us.“ It’s understanding that there is no future without honoring our past, which is an essential idea of Afrofuturism. My work is a constant testimony to all those that come after me and all those that came before me and hoping that someone who gets to see it or hear it or touch it can be inspired to create something later.

What other local resources are available to artists looking for support?

Mariah Johnson: The library has green rooms. We have recording studios, we have media carts. There are spaces and equipment to use to start something. You have an idea. You can plant that seed with us here at the library. We have local stages and event spaces. Outside of the library, I think about people at the Brightside who are just in love with supporting local artists. They have supported me, personally, as a local artist. I’m thinking about spaces like The Tank, which is in the Arcade downtown. I’m thinking about people at The Levitt, shout out to Lisa Wagner and the way that they’re starting to like host mini-concerts for local artists.

Countess Winfrey: Look out for those grants. Utilizing the grant money that is available in Dayton and in Ohio, that’s the way to get you kickstarted. You can allow your community to support you and support your vision as you give back to the community. It really can be a cyclical effect. CultureWorks does a great job of having opportunities for artists every year. The Ohio Arts Council. As much as you can, expose yourself to the opportunities to get some financial support.

Afrofuturism and Dayton, Ohio

Krista Franklin: "Transatlantic Turntable-ism." Collage on canvas. 2005.

"Afrofuturism demands society look beyond the present into worlds yet explored, where the fullness of Blackness blooms without limitation." - Read Russell Florence's story about Dayton's many connections to Afrofuturism. Throughout February, Ideas & Voices will feature artists and others to discuss our region’s contributions to Afrofuturism. You are invited to follow along.