Idlewild Historic and Cultural Center hosts Empowerment Weekend
IDLEWILD — By the time it was in full swing on Saturday, July 14, the 4th Annual Idlewild Empowerment Weekend filled both floors of the Idlewild Historic and Cultural Center and had sold out area motels.
Approximately 200 participants came from all over Michigan, as well as from Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas, to experience the unique mix of history, education, empowerment and live entertainment that the T ROSE Foundation has been offering annually for the last four years.
The combined energy of the speakers and performers, audience members and vendors, brought the cultural and historical spirit of this renowned Black resort back to life.
V-Gail Simpson from Southfield represented many of the participants’ feelings when she said, “This was an amazing experience for me. This was my first ever venture to Idlewild. I had heard about the rich history this place exudes, but never experienced it firsthand. The community, its culture, and its beauty were well captured. I was taken on a journey from what was to what is today — amazing.”
Attendees were constantly offered opportunities to engage, learn and be inspired — or, as the event’s theme describes, to “Honor the past, stand in the present and look towards the future.”
Reflective of the diversity of ages, backgrounds, races and reasons for attending, the two-day program included an outstanding performance by 10-year-old drummer, Maurice Fears, Jr., from Chicago, and vocal tributes by Karienne Rena, a singer and songwriter from Flint, now residing in Atlanta.
While older audience members heard from inspirational legends such as Carlean Gill, a successful businesswoman and former Idlewild Revue dancer, as she shared stories of personal as well as historical impacts of Idlewild, youth attended activities designed specifically for them.
Male students from the Shabazz Public School Academy in Lansing met with Kevin Livingston, founder of “100 Suits for 100 Men”. Livingston, who has been featured on the Steve Harvey Show for the work he does in his New York City community, conducted a session called “Boys to Men,” while Dr. Fawn Coffey Ukpolo and Shanithia Jhons offered a special blend of encouragement and motivation to Shabazz Academy girls with “Girl Talk.”
One after another, nationally known women leaders and innovative entrepreneurs told stories of achievement, vision and courage. Attendees’ full potential and aspirations were unleashed as they heard from heroes like Marylin E. Atkins, retired chief judge in Detroit’s 36th District Court, whose memoir chronicles helping her family build a cottage in Idlewild as a young girl in the 1950s.
Shirley Gibson, a visionary leader and the first mayor of Miami Gardens (at the time the largest municipality in the state of Florida), described how she made Miami Gardens home to one of the biggest jazz festivals in the country. Uplifting, motivating and socially conscious offerings such as classical violin student Nadia Johnson, the rap duo 2 Queens, the philanthropic Austin Brothers, and Brenda Wilson, the daughter of music legend Jackie Wilson, kept the audience energized and attentive throughout the two day event.
During breaks, event participants and speakers and performers visited vendors who lined the perimeters of the meeting space during the entire program.
Businesses and entrepreneurs came from all over the state, from Ypsilanti to West Michigan, and their selections included books, clothing, jewelry (for men and women), as well as makeup.
About 20 sponsors ensured the success of the empowerment weekend with support from the Michigan Humanities Council.
Witte’s Pasties and Barbeque, located in Idlewild, was the selected restaurant for T ROSE to collaborate with this year to continue her efforts to support local businesses; making the Sunday brunch a fabulous meal for all of the participants.
By opening up their entire space, the Idlewild Historic and Cultural Center recreated the legacy of community the black resort offered summer residents and visitors along with its entertainers. Exhibits about Idlewild and photographs of notable visitors like Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, novelist Zora Neale Hurston, Madam C.J.Walker, Joe Louis and W.E.B. DuBois, welcomed program organizers, attendees and presenters as they came in and out of the Center.
For the second year in a row, Lake County Sheriff Richard Martin attended and welcomed everyone to the Empowerment Weekend.
Feelings of community and inclusion, of respect for Idlewild’s existence and legacy, of hope for Idlewild’s potential to become an African American historical preservation site (and state and national treasure), were evident in reactions shared during the weekend and on Facebook.
Once again, the T ROSE Foundation has provided a successful educational, empowermen, and music festival weekend in the historic community of Idlewild. Founder, Theresa Randleman, has made a commendable impact and has introduced some and reconnected others to their historic roots in Idlewild. Her efforts over the last four years has brought much attention back to a community who’s legacy was becoming lost or forgotten. Her passion for this event is reflected in the growth of each years’ event, starting with less than 20 attendees four years ago and currently hosting more than 200 participants.
A donation was made to Bread of Life Food Pantry in Baldwin with event proceeds.