2019 Season’s Newsletters

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Week Zero/One

The highlight of Week  Zero was our “Welcome To The AAHH House” party. We owe a tremendous debt to Monte Thompson and crew for making this a resounding and well-attended success. We had great attendance (60) and Erroll had to give two introductory speeches as the crowd grew.

Our work started in earnest with our traditional porch chat on Sunday, 6/23. Last year, the focus was on listening.  This year, an additional focus is on how the discussions of last season partially informed our strategy and program for this season.  The picture was taken as people arrived.  Maybe 20 attended (normal last year was between 15 and 20). 

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On Tuesday the Speaker Reception/Open House was held in the House, which has become a wonderful place of fellowship.  Our speaker, Dr. Joe Trotter, and his wife interacted with numerous visitors (15) to the house. We were supported with refreshments and manpower by the Baptist House for which we were quite thankful.

Dr. Trotter's speech was in the Hall of Philosophy on Wednesday at 3:30 pm. It was a scholarly, low key and well researched talk reflecting his status as a historian and a scholar. Elaine Davis introduced Dr. Trotter wonderfully. Michael Hill, President of Chautauqua Institution, was present at the start of the speech (a link to his tweet is shown below).

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An interview with our first speaker was also in the Daily, Dr. Joe Trotter:

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Elaine Davis introduced Dr. Trotter wonderfully. Michael Hill, President of Chautauqua Institution, was present at the start of the speech. Michael Hill tweeted:

Elaine Davis

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On Thursday, at the House, we hosted a Chautauqua Dialogue, which we have committed to do weekly. While the purpose of these is to give visitors opportunities to discuss any experience they’ve had while at Chautauqua, they likely come to the AAHH House to discuss reactions to AAHH’s lectures and African American/Minority issues. Participants in the Dialogue were uniformly effusive in praise of Dr. Trotter’s speech, particularly its nuanced and storytelling nature, and encouraged us to invite Dr. Trotter again, especially for his story-telling about early African American entrepreneurs, engineers and barbers

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Week Two/Three

Weeks Two and Three are in the books and both were rousing successes!

Week Two started with a very well attended porch chat.The crowds continue to grow. Last year 10-15 was the average crowd and this year we are seeing 20-30 people on the porch each week. We had a number of board members present for Week Two (including CHQ Board) and they contributed substantially to the discussion. It is always enlightening to hear Helene Gale talk about five generations of Chautauquans in her family and many of the latest generation were on the porch making suggestions and asking challenging questions about the progress we are making. That seems to validate that we need to do much more outreach to the 25-35-year-old group as well as to the 50-60-year old’s getting ready to retire.

The Open House on Tuesday was a real treat as we were joined by the chaplain of the week, Dr. Zina Jacque, a dynamic, yet highly personable, minister from the Chicago area She engaged the numerous visitors and offered a few suggestions which will help inform our planning going forward. Helene Gayle hosted the discussion on Tuesday. We had an overflow crowd in the social rooms of the House.

The Thursday speech was a collaboration with the Education Department and was given by Dr. David Blight, the Pulitzer prize winning author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.

From the Chautauquan Daily: Pulitzer Winner David Blight to Expand on Frederick Douglass’ Life & Legacy He gave a spellbinding presentation to an overflow crowd (rain and lots of thunder) on Douglass’ famous July the Fourth speech. He likened it to a three movement symphony with the first movement designed to soothe and engage the audience, the second to shock and cause them discomfort and the third to provide a sense of hope that there was a solution to the conditions which caused the second movement.

Dr. David Blight’s speech was recorded on Chautauqua’s Facebook page, and well worth the time to watch.

Week Three started with a successful porch chat similar to Week Two with a frank and candid dialogue around issues of race again similar to the previous week.

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Wednesday’s Open House was again a success as we had our speaker of the week, Dr. Daina Berry from the University of Texas, there to answer questions about her upcoming talk and her research about women in slavery. The crowd was again large and engaged.

Dr. Berry gave a stimulating and scholarly presentation on Wednesday about how slaves developed a sense of their self-worth when the only value they had was that assigned by the market. She started her presentation with an audio excerpt from Oscar Brown Jr’s famous slave auction track “Bid ‘em in, bid ‘em in”. The crowd was engaged instantly. The granularity of her presentation was evident in the post talk questioning when many of the questioners started their questions by stating that they were unaware of many of the horrors she had chronicled during her presentation.

From the Chautauquan Daily: Daina Berry to Discuss African American History & Resilience

The hallmark of a good speech is that you learn new things! Also, many people bought books!

Some explanation and additional information if you have time and interest: Several CHQ organizations combined to host “Homeboys” from Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries. This year four Homeboy leaders and their wives enjoyed a week at Chautauqua. Their presence at events is a prize. AAHH House was blessed by their presence the second year in a row!

Last year AAHH President, Erroll Davis, was on a panel with the Homeboys and a leader from Chautauqua’s Symphony Fellows program.

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AAHH House is home to the Symphony Fellows who live in upstairs bedrooms. We share the kitchen and social rooms when there are AAHH functions (especially Speaker receptions and Chautauqua Dialogue discussions). The point of bringing up the Symphony Fellows is that two fellows from last year are in the CSO as substitutes this year!

And, there are recordings of both the diversity panel and the Symphony Fellows in performance from last year in the link below.

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Week Four/Five

Highlights of Weeks 4 & 5 were Stacey Abrams and, AAHH’s own, Otis Moss III!

Wow! The Stacey Abrams crowd was happy! Almost 2000 braved the weather to see Stacey in three different venues and many more viewed her live on the Institution's Facebook stream.

July 17 RECORDED LIVE: Hon. Stacey Abrams, J.D. – The Road to a Fair Fight: A Conversation About Voting Rights. Stacey Abrams live:

From the Chautauquan Daily: Stacey Abrams to Discuss Importance of Voting Rights in AAHH Lecture

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AAHH-hosted Chautauqua Dialogues have been very popular. Week 5 we were asked to host dual sessions and still the groups were overpopulated - 51 people in attendance total.

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Otis Moss III is a Founding AAHH Board member, and past Chairman. He was CHQ Chaplain of Week 5 and this was his first sermon. He got a standing ovation! Otis Moss recorded live.

From the Chautauquan Daily: Work Your Corner by Any Means Necessary to Change the World, Rev. Otis Moss III Says

Otis Moss III (and his wife, Monica) hosted the AAHH discussion in Week 5. Rev. Moss’ brief speech highlighted some of the history of famous African Americans at Chautauqua (recorded live). He also did the morning Prayers for Peace (5 minutes everyday), so he represented AAHH broadly and well!

From the Chautauquan Daily: Liberation Ministry Frees People to be in their Right Minds, Rev. Otis Moss III Says

Chautauqua is a place for connections and re-connections. Dr. Jones met a divinity school classmate from the Baptist House!

Chautauqua is a place for connections and re-connections. Dr. Jones met a divinity school classmate from the Baptist House!

AAHH outside speaker for Week 5 was Dr. Alisha Jones, Ethnomusicologist. She spoke on “Deciphering Musical Grievances Against Law Enforcement in African-American Hip-hop.”

From the Chautauquan Daily: Ethnomusicologist Alisha Jones to Talk Grievances in Hip-Hop for AAHH

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Week Six/Seven

Micheal Moore Recorded Live

Director Ted First emceed the Porch Chat on Aug 4. About 50 attended; maybe a record.

At a previous Porch event, Ted shared this history:

“…I gave a historical background on diversity and inclusion at Chautauqua and the more recent attempts (1998-2006) to recruit a Black church from the urban areas of Rochester, Buffalo and/or Cleveland that started under the tutelage of Ross MacKenzie with the idea that we could import a Denominational AA House. And after successive attempts it was learned that growth from the outside in does not work and that it must start with Chautauquans, organically, inside out (as we are developing now).

An engaged conversation ensued around the challenges of growing a community? the limitations of diversity if it emphasizes only one kind and the importance of inclusivity for all, noting that one needs a focus and can’t do everything at once.

The AA experience was noted as unique and foundational to the work of creating depth and breadth in our development of individuals and community. Questions about what is the source for expressions of folks in Chautauqua country side displaying confederate flags? How do we understand that? And understand that you cannot recruit AA as if they are numbers to be acquired to meet some metric and that you won’t reach the masses but a narrow spectrum of those seeking the Chautauqua experience (that goes for whites as well).

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Unsolicited the group said that they had other experiences of such conversations of this focus and grouping and expressed their affirmation on the quality and depth that was served and were most appreciative as they left and were noting the schedule for the rest of the week and it my sense that we see them visiting the house and attending the lecture.” AAHH Executive Committee Director Ted First

Porch Chats continue with good attendance (40-45) and vigorous discussion! Of the few African Americans and people of color who get to the Porch, many are new. So, we’re helping make a better first impression. Amp lectures still show only a sprinkling of color, but that will need to double every week for at least a season in order to be notable.

Notable, too, from this Porch Chat is that the Chautauqua Institution may be preparing a video about AAHH as part of the IDEA campaign. The photographer in the foreground is taking B-roll - video that will play under voiceover or narration to provide a contrast to just video of one person talking or reporting.

From the Chautauquan Daily: Frank Thomas to Speak on Power of Preaching in African American Heritage House Lecture

Dr. Thomas Recorded Live

Wow! Both a sermon and a lecture, and almost all in verse! This is worth the viewing, even if the sound isn’t so good. He also engaged with Chautauquans at the AAHH Speakers Reception. Here he signed copies of his book "How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon" after his Hall of Philosophy Lecture which about 350 attended. Pictures below are of him at our open house and at his Wednesday Lecture; 41 were in attendance.

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A new feature from AAHH is that our Summer Intern, Wayland Whitney, prepares programs for distribution at the AAHH lectures. Here’s one for Dr. Thomas speech. This also helps to increase our subscriber base. We started the Season with 358 subscribers (sign-ups from our events last year) and have increased those by more than 170 as of the last newsletter!

We haven’t mentioned AAHH activity on the Chautauqua Grapevine!

The Grapevine is an institution, a Google Groups listserv that’s actively used by Chautauquans while “on the grounds”. Who’s going to the airport tomorrow? Anyone have a baby stroller I can use? Etc.

Erroll Davis took the initiative to use the Grapevine to promote AAHH activities.

An excerpt: From Erroll Davis to the Chautauqua Grapevine:

Tuesday, August 6th

3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Reception/Open House at the AAHH house, 38 Clark (the corner of Foster and the Brick Walk). Please join board members, friends and supporters of the AAHH for a relaxing and informal reception to meet the speaker of the week for Week Seven, Dr. Frank Thomas from the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. As always, there will also be discussions of AAHH plans and activities. Light refreshments will be provided.

Wednesday, August 7th

3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Remarks in the Hall of Philosophy by Dr. Frank Thomas

As we look back over the last 400 years, the contributions of dynamic Black preachers have been critical in the struggle for social justice and equality for all Americans. The AAHH is pleased to present Dr. Frank Thomas, professor of homiletics and director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Thomas will discuss "The Power of African American Preaching" over the last 400 years. This is shaping up to be an excellent presentation as Dr. Thomas will amplify the many strong and courageous voices that spoke truth to power long before the 20th century icons with whom most of us have some familiarity.

And a comment from Week 7: “From Erroll Davis to the Chautauqua Grapevine: "Week Seven was, in a nutshell, "Special", with Dr. Frank Thomas giving an outstanding presentation on the power of Black preaching. His presentation and many others can be found on our website: www.AAHeritageHouse.org. If you missed any of the great lectures, take a few minutes, go out and listen to some dynamic speakers such as David Blight, Stacey Abrams and Frank Thomas. Week Seven also ended with AAHH participation in a commemorative ceremony, organized by the Dept. of Education, on the terrace of the Smith Memorial Library, on the passing of the Nobel laureate, Toni Morrison.

A complete version of the Grapevine Announcements is here.

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Week Eight/Nine



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AAHH lecturers are still drawing large crowds. Please note that this is an unusual turnout Dr. Stan Deaton. 3:30pm on Wednesday afternoon after a lot of programming (two other lectures) and still more to go in a day! Almost 1100 attended the lecture and almost 40 came to the Speakers Reception.

Stan Deaton at the Speakers Reception together with AAHH Directors Tim Renjilian, Joan Brown Campbell and Albert (Penny) Pennybacker.

Stan Deaton at the Speakers Reception together with AAHH Directors Tim Renjilian, Joan Brown Campbell and Albert (Penny) Pennybacker.


A Thank You from the Board of the African

American Heritage House (AAHH)

  The African American Heritage House (AAHH) has completed its season and we want to pause and reflect a brief moment before we launch into 2020 planning.

By any measure, the season was a huge success. For the first time, we were able to present a full nine-week speaker series and we either produced or supported four events every week over the season.

Attendance at our weekly Sunday porch chats grew over the season with the number of returnees being augmented by new visitors each week. These chats were an opportunity to discuss the goals and objectives of the AAHH, to orally share the history of African Americans at Chautauqua and to respond to the many questions raised each week about how to address the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at the Chautauqua Institution.

Our Tuesday Open Houses/Speaker Receptions were used to not only allow our speakers to meet Chautauquans and visitors firsthand but also to share fellowship as we discussed social justice and historical issues from an African American perspective.

Our Wednesday speaker series brought new voices and new perspectives to the Chautauqua community. As they sought to tell the story of the last 400 years, our speakers brought both excitement and keen insight into the Hall of Philosophy. There, over 6,000 people converged to hear top intellectuals, scholars, and political leaders address topics ranging from the exploitation of Black labor, to the horrors of slavery, to the brilliance of Frederick Douglass, to the power of Black preaching, to the role of music in the struggle, and finally, to the voter suppression of today.

Each of our speakers were followed the next day by a Chautauqua Dialogue, sponsored by the Department of Religion and hosted by the AAHH, focused on the impacts of the speeches on the participants. These grew so large over the season that we had to seek additional venues and additional facilitators to support the Dialogues.

Every season, of course, should end with thanks, and there are many to be given out. First, we want to thank the thousands of people who came to our events, listened, and then engaged in often spirited dialogue. We hope that your minds were stimulated by the discussions, and we look forward to your returning in 2020 to discuss how an off season of reflections may have impacted your perspectives.

Second, I want to thank our financial supporters, of whom there were many. Without your support, we would not have been able to mount the program and attract the nationally renowned speakers that we did.

Next, we want to thank the Chautauqua Institution, not only for giving us the opportunity to present weekly, but also for the critical logistical support and advice we received during the season. Mounting four events a week was a learning experience for us, made easier by the timely and candid advice and support from the Institution.

Lastly, while it is always dangerous to try and name names as you inevitably will overlook someone, we do want to expressly thank a few individuals and organizations.

  • Our graduate intern, Wayland Whitney, who worked tirelessly to make every aspect of the season a success.

  • Katie White and the Baptist House and its many volunteers, without whom our stumbles would have been magnified instead of minimized.

  • Every denominational house with which we had contact, all of which warmly welcomed us.

  • All the other groups who supported us, including, in particular, the LGBTQ community with whom we share a special bond as marginalized communities.

  • As we go into planning for the 2020 season and beyond, our goals and objectives remain the same. We want to make Chautauqua a welcoming and compelling place for all people. We want to see the full mosaic of America reflected on the grounds. We want to engage in those “difficult conversations.” Finally, we want to make sure that the real, complete stories are told as we believe very strongly that a better understanding of history will always lead to a better present and future.

Do enjoy the developing seasons and we look forward to seeing you all again next year.

Thanks for all your support! Sincerely, Erroll Davis - President AAHH

 (As appeared September 2, 2019 in chautauqua-grapevine@googlegroups.com)