Highlighted by an intimate roundtable discussion featuring the progeny of three Hall of Fame Negro Leagues legends, the Buck Leonard Association for Sports and Human Enrichment (BL-ASHE) wrapped up more than a week of community-building events on Saturday night, with their annual gala, “Baseball, Jazz & All That Swing!”
Hosted at the historic Booker T. Washington Theater in downtown Rocky Mount, NC, the event was kicked off with the introduction a Negro Leagues baseball panel featuring Sean Gibson (Great-Grandson of Josh Gibson), Vanessa Ivy Rose (Granddaughter of Norman “Turkey” Stearnes), and Jonathan Hunter (Grandson of Buck Leonard). Rounding out the panel were former Negro Leaguer Charles Walters and Filmmaker Matt Emmerich, whose 16-minute feature film about former Major Leaguer Sam Bowens of Wilmington, was later debuted in its first public showing.
The multi-week celebration began October 15th at Rocky Mount Mills, with a reception for “Black Diamond,” a Negro Leagues baseball art installation by artist Darryl Matthews – himself the son of a former Negro Leaguer. Presented by Drinking Gourd Gallery of Raleigh, Black Diamond is on display in the lobby near Prime Smokehouse through October 31st.
The reception began a busy week of events, including additional exhibits and activities at the Imperial Centre, guided tours of the historic Buck Leonard home, an RBI Youth Baseball clinic, and the inaugural Buck Leonard Golf Classic for Inner City Youth Sports & S.T.E.A.M. Held in partnership with Evolve Golf and Education, the friendly tournament at Belmont Lake Golf Club attracted many new friends and several old familiar faces including NBA great Buck Williams.
Each event of the week and the gala itself allowed CEO Rose Hunter and the BL-ASHE board to highlight their progress over the last year, including several key partnerships that have the 22-year old organization poised for growth in 2022 and beyond.
The gala was emceed by playwright Christine Melton of Melton Pot Productions, who dubbed the evening, “a celebration of heroes and hometowns.” Indeed, the evening felt every bit a coming-out party for a revitalized BL-ASHE and their partners in the inner-city community and beyond. Rev. Richard Joyner delivered an inspiring invocation and was followed by examples of a dynamic and growing Rocky Mount community from Downtown Development Manager Kevin Harris and Philanthropist/Entrepreneur Charles Roberson.
Perhaps the best news of the night for the city of Rocky Mount, is the emergence of a new partnership between BL-ASHE and Monk Youth Jazz of New Haven, CT. With a shared commitment to youth S.T.E.A.M. education and community preservation, the two family-run organizations of Rocky Mount’s favorite sons collaborated for the first time this Spring. With contributing content from BL-ASHE board members Dr. Lisa Nelson and Dr. Kim Koo, the inaugural Monk Saturday Academy was a series of educational modules taught by African American and other professionals of color, and designed to expose young learners to careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics.
As the celebration of Baseball, Jazz & All That Swing closed with a recorded performance from the Monk family, it was clear that “All That Swing” includes a bevy of new partnerships and exciting opportunities for the Buck Leonard Association and the city of Rocky Mount.
When asked her final thoughts of the evening, Ms. Hunter – the matriarch of the Leonard family and BL-ASHE co-founder said simply, “That’s the future.”