On purpose: Juneteenth NIA Awards

From left: Jackie Warren-Moore, Tonielle I. Moore, Douglas Dixie (accepting for his brother Walter J. Dixie), and Avery L. Brooks. Photo by Kate Monohan.

The NIA Awards were presented last Thursday night as Syracuse's 22nd annual four-day Juneteenth celebration began with the Ancestral Recognition Dinner in the soaring lobby of Irving Avenue's Institute for Human Performance. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union troops entered Louisiana and Texas after the Civil War and informed slaves of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Along with the soul food dinner, there was jazz by the Jesse Collins Group, several performances by Griot Vanessa Johnson (organizer of this year's ancestral celebration), welcome by Juneteenth board president Duane Owens, Vernita King's report on the Southside Initiative's oral history project, and performances by the Southside Initiative's Kuumba dancers Waneisha Allen, Caroline Charles, Ashley Green and Margaret Morelo. SUNY Upstate's Dr. K. Bruce Simmons gave the keynote on health, this year's Juneteenth theme. Broadcast journalists Jackie Robinson and Julius Edwards acted as Emcees; Elder James T. Thompson of Fountain of Life C.O.G.I.C. gave the invocation.

The NIA Awards for community service are based on the Kwanzaa principle of "nia" (purpose), "to make our collective vocation the building of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness."

Poet/playwright Warren-Moore is writer-in-residence for the City schools, coaches at-risk youth at the Center for Community Alternatives, reads at prisons across the state, works with the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company, and was a ten-year Post-Standard columnist.

Youth recipient Tonielle Moore, 17, has been volunteering since age 8, at Cannon St. Center, Southwest Community Center, Crystal House, Parks and Rec, and the Pan-African Village at the NYS Fair. In 2006 she traveled to Africa with Africa Bound and this fall she starts college at SU's Newhouse School.

Jubilee Homes executive director Dixie was honored for work with the Alliance Network, National Action Network and advocacy for local construction trades and other entrepreneurial efforts.

Avery Brooks grew up in an Alabama share-cropping family. He moved here in 1955 with his childhood sweetheart. A founder of YEOP, Brooks has long supported and coached youth baseball and basketball, besides teaching innumerable kids how to fish.

-- Nancy Keefe Rhodes

THis article appears in the June 18, 2009 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle.

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