Black History Month Events in Los Angeles

L.A. events and cultural attractions are celebrating Black History Month throughout February

Photo courtesy of California African American Museum
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Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their important role in U.S. history. The event was originally the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Following is a list of Los Angeles events and cultural institutions participating in Black History Month.

Battleship IOWA: 5th Annual Gravely Celebration Experience (Feb. 15, 2018)

Major General (Retired) Peter J. Gravett, US Army
Major General (Retired) Peter J. Gravett, US Army | Photo courtesy of Battleship IOWA

There is no better place in Los Angeles to celebrate and commemorate the impact African Americans have had in the United States Navy and to this country than Battleship IOWA, located at the L.A. Waterfront in San Pedro. The “Battleship of Presidents” is the same ship where Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, the first African American to command a Navy warship, served during his illustrious Naval career.

The Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Leadership & Service Award, which is conferred annually by the nonprofit Pacific Battleship Center (PBC), will be presented on Thursday, Feb. 15 aboard the historic ship. This award recognizes African American leaders in Southern California who exemplify the trailblazing service of the late Vice Admiral. This year's recipient is Major General (Retired) Peter J. Gravett, US Army. Sharing the stage will be Student Essay Contest winners, who have explored VADM Gravely's motto: "Education, Motivation & Perseverance." The celebration experience launches on the fantail of the Battleship IOWA with a sunset reception at 5:30pm, followed by the Starlit Award Program at 6:30 PM. For more info and to RSVP, visit the Gravely Celebration Experience website.

California African American Museum (February 2018)

Panel: "Circles and Circuits I" at CAAM
Panel: "Circles and Circuits I" at the California African American Museum

Located at Exposition Park in Downtown L.A., the California African American Museum (CAAM) exists to research, collect, preserve and interpret the history, art and culture of African Americans. The museum's permanent collection houses 4,000 objects that span landscape painting and portraiture, modern and contemporary art, historical objects and print materials, and mixed-media artworks.

Black History Month programs at CAAM include: "Placemaking Portraits," a family friendly workshop with artist Adler Guerrier on Feb. 3; Frederick Douglass Now, the internationally acclaimed solo performance by Roger Guenveur Smith in celebration of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial (Feb. 8); "Curatorial Walkthrough: How Sweet the Sound" (Feb. 16); "Salon & Performance by Maurice Harris" (Feb. 18); a panel with featured artists from Circles and Circuits I on the exhibit's closing day (Feb. 25); and "Screening & Panel: Jewel's Catch One." 

African American Heritage Month (February 2018)

"Lezley Saar: Salon des Refusés" at CAAM
"Lezley Saar: Salon des Refusés" | Photo courtesy of California African American Museum

Presented by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), African American Heritage Month is a City of Los Angeles cultural celebration that runs concurrently with Black History Month. For a complete list of African American Heritage Month events, visit the DCA website.

On Wednesday, Feb. 7 join Mayor Eric Garcetti; Council President Herb J. Wesson, Jr. and the Los Angeles City Council; Board of Public Works Commissioner Mike Davis; the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA); Our Authors Study Club; and the 2018 African American Heritage Month Committee to celebrate the Opening of African American Heritage Month in the City of Los Angeles. At this presentation in the City Hall Council Chamber, DCA’s 2018 African American Heritage Month Calendar and Cultural Guide will be officially unveiled, and officials will present the Los Angeles Award to Living Legend Dionne Warwick and the Hall of Fame Awards to: Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham III (Law); Lt. Col. Patricia Jackson-Kelley [United States Army – Retired] (Military); and Noel Massie, President, US Operations, United Parcel Service (Business). Presentation in the Council Chamber at 10 a.m. followed by the Opening Ceremony on the South Lawn.

Rotunda at the Central Library in Downtown L.A.
Rotunda at the Central Library | Photo courtesy of Candice Montgomery, Flickr

Numerous branches of the Los Angeles Public Library are hosting events for African American Heritage Month, including movie screenings, family storytime, arts and crafts, and panel discussions: African Drums at the Wilmington Branch on Feb. 1; "Akeelah and the Bee" screening at Westchester - Loyola Village (Feb. 3); Jazz Storytime & Dance Party at John C. Fremont (Feb. 5); Build a Mbira (Thumb Piano) at Central Library (Feb. 6); African American Heritage Film Festival at Hyde Park (Tuesdays, Feb. 6 - March 6); African Dance Rhythms at Northridge (Feb. 10); Tuskegee Storytime at Watts Branch (Feb. 13), The Books of Faith Ringgold at San Pedro Regional Library (Feb. 15); Tribute to Congresswoman Barbara Jordan at Central Library (Feb. 17); African American Illustrators at Palms - Rancho Park (Feb. 20); African Sunset Art at Little Tokyo (Feb. 22); "King...A Filmed Record" screening at West Valley Regional (Feb. 24). For a complete schedule, visit the LAPL website.

CELEBRATING JAMES BALDWIN: HERE AND NOW - Skirball Cultural Center (FEB. 11, 2018)

Celebrating James Baldwin at Skirball Cultural Center
Photo courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center

As part of African American Heritage Month, the Skirball Cultural Center and L.A.’s oldest literary arts organization, Beyond Baroque—marking its 50th anniversary—present Celebrating James Baldwin: Here and Now, an afternoon of readings and discussion focused on the life, contributions, and legacy of the writer-activist. Acclaimed actor, producer, and political activist Alfre Woodard hosts the program, which includes remarks by L.A. Poet Laureate Robin Coste Lewis and performances of Baldwin’s work by actor Jussie Smollet (Empire). Books featuring Baldwin’s work will be available for purchase. A reception follows the program. General Admission is $15, $12 for Members and $8 for Full-Time Students.


Now in its 26th year, the Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) is the largest African American film festival and Black History Month event in the United States. PAFF is taking place Feb. 8-19 at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills Crenshaw 15 Theatre, located within Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

The 12-day PAFF experience will feature more than 75 fine artists and 170+ new films from over 40 countries spanning five continents and 26 languages. Opening Night features the world premiere of Love Jacked, a romantic comedy centered around Maya, a headstrong 28-year-old with artistic ambitions and her father Ed, who wants his daughter to run the family store. Taking place on Valentine's Day, the Centerpiece screening is a party and secret screening TBA. Directed by Roland Joffé, The Forgiven will make its U.S. premiere on Closing Night. Based on Michael Ashton's play "The Archbishop and The Antichrist," The Forgiven stars Forest Whitaker as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Eric Bana as convicted murderer Piet Blomfield in this political drama set in post-apartheid South Africa.

PAFF co-founders Danny Glover, Ja'net DuBois and Ayuko Babu
L to R: PAFF co-founders Danny Glover, Ja'net DuBois and Ayuko Babu | Photo courtesy of PAFF, Facebook

PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover, Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’net DuBois, and Executive Director Ayuko Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African Affairs. PAFF is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibition of films, art and creative expression.


"African-American Achievements in Television" at The Paley Center for Media
Photo courtesy of The Paley Center for Media

In honor of Black History Month and to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills is hosting African-American Achievements in Television: A Black History Month Spotlight Presented by Citi. The month-long celebration features an interactive exhibit, family drop-in activities, education classes, and screenings that take visitors on a journey through the most significant African American moments in television. The activities are free and open to the public. In the gallery, visitors can watch exclusive Paley Center compilations of the television work of African American actors, writers, producers, journalists, athletes, and musicians who had a powerful impact on American society and culture. On Saturdays and Sundays in February, enjoy free screenings from the African American Collection in the Paley Archive, including a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, classic comedy programs, a Scandal marathon, and previews of two new documentaries.

Taking place on Tuesday, Feb. 13, They Run the Show: African-American Creators and Producers in Conversation will gather prominent African American showrunners, creators, and executive producers for a panel to discuss the current state of the industry. Participants include Lee Daniels (Executive Producer, Empire and Star), Yvette Lee Bowser (Executive Producer, Dear White People), Janine Sherman Barrois (Executive Producer, Claws), Cheo Hodari Coker (Creator/Executive Producer/Showrunner, Luke Cage), Prentice Penny (Executive Producer/Showrunner, Insecure). General Admission tickets are $30.


Diana Ross in "Mahogany" at the Hammer Museum
Diana Ross in "Mahogany" (1975) | Photo courtesy of Hammer Museum

A collaborative project with author and Cal Arts professor Tisa Bryant and celebrated writer Ernest Hardy, The Black Book series at the Hammer Museum chronicles black life and thought through literature, cinema, and other media. On Valentine's Day, The Black Book presented a screening of Mahogany (1975), co-directed by Motown founder Berry Gordy and starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams. Ross plays a Chicago shopgirl who is discovered by a fashion photographer (Anthony Perkins) and rises to the top of the modeling world.

Screening on Sunday, Feb.25, Chocolate Babies is an audacious political satire that features a band of HIV-positive queer urban activists of color that stages a series of surprise attacks to expose political corruption surrounding the AIDS epidemic. A Q&A with Bryant and Hardy follows the screening.

Witness: The John Edgar Wideman Experience - Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills (Feb. 3, 2018)

"Witness: The John Edgar Wideman Experience" at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills
"Witness: The John Edgar Wideman Experience" | Photo courtesy of Forest Lawn, Facebook

To honor Black History Month, Forest Lawn Memorial Parks presents a WordTheatre production of Witness: The John Edgar Wideman Experience, a music and hip hop-infused performance of stories that explore the promise and peril of the African American experience. An impressive list of actors, dancers and musicians will give voice and expression to Wideman’s survey of the complicated intersections of love, loss, race, politics, family and violence.

One of America's premier writers of fiction, Wideman will be in attendance for the performance, which is created, produced and directed by WordTheatre Artistic Director Cedering Fox, with music and dancers from Culture Shock Los Angeles. Witness will feature more than a dozen actors, including Gina Torres, Okieriete Onaodowan, Marla Gibbs, Gary Dourdan, Brent Jennings, Dohn Norwood, James Pickens Jr., Roger Guenveur Smith, Jahking Guillory, Tracie Thoms, Glynn Turman, with narration by Dave Fennoy and music by Garth Trinidad. Witness: The John Edgar Wideman Experience is taking place on Saturday, Feb. 3 in the Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. Reception with light refreshments at 7:30pm, performance 8-9:30. For reservations, email [email protected].

African American Festival - Aquarium of the Pacific (Feb. 24-25, 2018)

African American Festival at Aquarium of the Pacific
African American Festival | Photo courtesy of Aquarium of the Pacific

The Aquarium of the Pacific presents the 16th Annual African American Festival, taking place on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 24-25. The weekend festival celebrates the rich diversity of African American and African cultures with live entertainment, arts and crafts, and more. Festival performers include Mardi Gras second line dancers, hip hop and break dancers, jazz musicians, interactive drum circles, West African dancers and storytellers. The festival is included with paid general admission and free to Aquarium members.