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William Seraile is professor emeritus of Lehman College. He joined Lehman’s faculty in 1971 and was one of the nation’s pioneers in teaching African American history in an academic department. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Central Washington University; a master of education from Teachers College, Columbia University; and a doctorate from the City University of New York. Bill’s honors include the Unsung Historian Award from the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History; and the William Leo Hansberry Award for Contributions in History. He is the author of many articles, monographs, and books, including Angels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum; and Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce.
In 2006, Professor Shirley C. Taylor helped establish the Apollo Theater’s Education Department, which provides arts, media, and humanities programming for schools; professional and career development for teens and young adults; and public engagement programs for a variety of audiences. She presently serves as the Apollo’s Senior Director of Education.
Shirley created and manages Apollo Live Wire & Live Wire from the Archives; School Day Live; and the High School Internship Program. This array of programming serves the Harlem community and beyond. Over her tenure, approximately 100,000 K-12 students have benefitted from cultural education that uses the famed Apollo theater and its history to develop curriculum. She wrote the initial curriculum for the Saturday Workshop Series (now the Summer Internship Program). The program taught high school students the different elements of stage production—audio technology, lighting design (electrics), carpentry and prop creation, and video integration.
In addition, she has published more than fifteen study guides for young audiences and educators, and has curated over fifty public programs that include more than forty Live Wire presentations. She has invited renowned scholars to the Apollo stage to discuss the depth of Black performance traditions. She is driven by her belief that culture is how we share and understand the story of ourselves and of each other; and culture opens a lens into our divergent experiences and the ways we exist in the world individually and collectively. It is her belief that culture points the way to how we can build bridges of understanding, respect, and appreciation of each other.
Driven by this ethos, Shirley established the Oral History Project (OHP) to connect students at a local elementary school to the Apollo and to the people in the community. The project was inspired by a program created for Chinatown schools after 9/11 by the Columbia University Center for Oral History Research. The OHP curriculum connected Harlem school children with elders in their 60s, 70, and 80s who lived, worked, and played in Harlem. Under the instruction of teaching artists and in a matriculated program, 4th and 5th graders learned about the history of Harlem and the Apollo in the first year. The 4th graders created and performed stories for their school communities, based on the narratives the elders shared. In 5th grade, students interviewed the elders from the community. The stories were transcribed, and then turned into vignettes and performed for an expanded school community at the Apollo.
Shirley began her journey as an arts administrator at the New York Foundation for the Arts in 1987 and has since built a career leading a variety of arts and cultural education programs throughout New York City. She has served as associate director for Visual Arts Programs at ArtsConnection, Inc.; director of Arts Programs at University Settlement Society; and director of Education and Public Programs at the Noguchi Museum. Shirley has provided consulting services for a number of education and cultural organizations including Yaffa Cultural Arts.
She is a recipient of the New York City School Art League Charles Robertson Memorial Award and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club, Inc. Professional Award. Shirley has also served as a member of the New York City Department of Education’s Advisory Board for Arts Education and on the board of directors for One World Arts. She is a member of the board of directors of Willie Mae Rock Camp.
Shirley is also assistant adjunct professor, Africana Studies, at Barnard College, where she teaches the course, Black Women, Performance, and the Politics of Style. She holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York and is a graduate of the Columbia Business School Institute for Not-for-Profit Management, the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), and the American Express Leadership Academy.
I didn’t really become Black until I set foot in this country. In Jamaica, I was simply a promising, very smart, very articulate young man. I got off the plane at La Guardia, and I became a Negro. Michael (later Ekwueme)w as born in Ulster Spring, Jamaica. After his father died, he and his two siblings were raised by their mother, who worked tirelessly to send them all to the best schools in Jamaica and the United States. Thelwell ultimately chose to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.He enrolled in Howard University in 1960 and quickly became an active member of the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), the campus-affiliate to SNCC. While NAG was not a recognized organization on Howard’s campus, Thelwell, Stokely Carmichael, Courtland Cox, and other NAG students protested racial discrimination in the nation’s capital. They were also active in sit-in protests in neighboring Maryland. During his sophomore year, Thelwell became the editor of the campus newspaper, the Howard Hilltop and used it to spread word of the Movement. As Carmichael remembered, “The Hilltop to which we all contributed became a sho’nuff overt organ of the student movement.”
Throughout his campus career, Thelwell’s involvement with SNCC deepened. In 1964, he became co-director of SNCC’s Washington office with NAG-member Bill Mahoney. He spent much of his time fundraising for SNCC. He also interviewed and recruited students for the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project.
Thelwell briefly went to Mississippi during the summer of 1964. Though he wanted to be a field organizer, “wear the blue jeans and run from the sheriff and do all the romantic kinds of things,” there was work to do in the capital. Following the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s challenge in Atlantic City that August, MFDP chairman, Lawrence Guyot, asked Thelwell to open an MFDP office in Washington. “So I had to turn around and go all the way back to Washington,” he remembered.
As director, Thelwell worked to secure commitments from the Democratic legislators to unseat Mississippi’s congressional delegation. Although he garnered the support of New York congressman, William Fitts Ryan, Hawaii congresswoman, Patsy Mink, and six others, the MFDP’s chances looked slim. In the end, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party received 147 votes in their favor. While the campaign was still defeated, the remarkable support they gained–as in the Atlantic City challenge–was important to opening up Mississippi’s “regular” Democratic Party.
Thelwell continued writing after his time in SNCC, aiming to be “historically and culturally very purposeful and very pointed…largely to reclaim and define our [Black] culture for ourselves.” He authored numerous short stories, as well as arranged Stokely Carmichael’s memoir, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael.