Bradenton area celebrates Black History Month

You can argue, as some people have, that we're supposed to live in a post-racial America and that there's no need for something called Black History Month.

You'd be wrong, though, and if you've ever taken advantage of Black History Month events you've no doubt been surprised by things you've learned and experience. The fact is, your life has been touched by African and African-American history, heritage, visual and performing arts, music and culture in ways you have probably never imagined.

We're just about a quarter of the way through the 40th annual Black History Month.

The next three weeks are bringing some great Black History Month events to the Bradenton-Sarasota area. They all should be edifying, and a some of them should offer a lot of fun, too. Here's a look.

Sarasota's Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is hosting a couple of community forums under the banner of "WBTT Voices."

The first is from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday. It's called "Meet the Florida Highwaymen Artists," and it focuses on the group of African-American folk artists who, from the early 1950s into the 1980s, painted landscapes of the serene and still undeveloped Florida landscape. The Highwaymen's artwork will be on display, and among the evening's activities are a reception with some of the artists, and a panel discussion.

The second program is a discussion of the work of August Wilson, who's regarded as one of the greatest American playwrights of all time. "Personal Reflections of August Wilson," is scheduled for 6-7 p.m. Feb. 14. Dr. Chris Rawson and Chuck Smith will sharing their personal experiences with Wilson.

Both those programs are free and open to the public.

New College of Florida notes Black History Month each year with an African-American read-in that honors the works of African-American authors, plus other events. This year, the college is offering a series called "Black Constructions: Alternative Modes of Blackness Through Time." It's a month-long series of lectures, concerts and film, a conversation about race and ethnicity, and an academic symposium. Among the upcoming highlights are a presentation with cel

ebrated author and activist bell hooks at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in College Hall.

Some of the New College events are open only to students and faculty and other require registration. Check ncf.edu/2016-black-history-month for a full schedule.

Nearby, at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, a live performance of "Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race & Self Discovery" is scheduled for at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The one-person play tells the story of Michael Fosberg, who grew up in a working-class section of Chicago. Raised by a white mother and stepfather, Fosberg later learned that his father was black. It's free and open to the public.

On Feb. 17, USFSM students will gather in the courtyard at 12:30 p.m. for a free outdoor poetry slam featuring works by black poets. Music, games and various world cuisines -- Jamaican, Haitian and American soul food -- will be offered free of charge through the afternoon. Call 941-359-4200 or go to usfsm.edu for information on either of those events.

Although it's not being billed as a Black History Month event, WBTT is staging one of Wilson's greatest plays, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," through Feb. 20. Wilson's "Century Cycle" is a group of 10 plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century. This one take place in 1927. WBTT is working its way through all 10 of the plays. Just by coincidence, so is American Stage in St. Petersburg. That company's current production is "Jitney," the 1970s element of the cycle. It runs through Feb. 28. It's safe to say that no other area of the country has two excellent professional theaters that have staged the entire Century Cycle, let alone two that are doing it at the same time. Experiencing Wilson's work informs audiences about African-American heritage as profoundly as any symposium ever could.

WBTT is at WBTT Theatre, 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Call 941-366-1505 or go to westcoastblacktheatre.org. For information about Americnan Stage, call (727) 823-7529 or go to americanstage.org.

Some of the New College events are open only to NCF students and faculty members and other require registration. Check ncf.edu/2016-black-history-month for a full schedule and other details.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.