Last Saturday (Feb. 17), in the New York City borough of Queens the iconic Afrikan Poetry Theatre experienced a potentially demolishing fire, which ran through the upper level of the community center.
During a Black History Month Film festival, an electrical fire totaled the iconic two-story building’s upper level, leaving a computer lab, office space, and film equipment desolated.
The theater’s director Saiku Branch, also the son of the co-founder, was with his children on the verge of watching Black Panther when he received a call about the theater fire around 8 p.m. According to Branch, they “lost a lot” from the unfortunate inferno.
Once the flames were spotted by the theater’s program director Vernon ‘Smij Williams, he immediately rushed out a troop of children, who were amid competing in the Artfest talent contest, safely out of the burning building. “He saved a lot of people and the building from being destroyed,” Branch tells New York Daily News.
Situated on Jamaica Ave, the Afrikan Poetry Theatre serves as a venue where the teachings of African culture were primary and it was also a space for the youth to explore arts in the likes of music, poetry, spoken word, film, and acting. Co-founders, the late John Watusi Branch and late Yusef Waliyaya established the theatre in 1976, in lieu of the raging burst of revolutionary black arts in the 70s.