Tyrone Jefferson is here to teach you what your history books didn’t.
As executive director of A Sign of the Times — a local band established in 1999 that then became a nonprofit in 2005 — Jefferson organizes events that inform Charlotte about African and African-American history through live performances.
A Sign of the Times, funded in part by the Arts and Science Council, hosts its first installment in a ten-part series called Diggin’ Black History Thru Music and Dance on Jan. 23 at Central Piedmont Community College’s Central Campus. The program will run every Wednesday at 7 p.m. until March 7, and illustrates the triumphs and tribulations of Africans and African-Americans through performances of song, dance and spoken word.
Jefferson clarified that while each event will include a spoken word performance, the first program will feature a lecturer rather than a performing artist.
“In this case, the spoken word isn’t a rap artist, it’s going to be a lecturer, someone who’s well-versed in the south-African [and] east-African origins of man and the 30 dynasties of Egyptian rule,” Jefferson said.
The program will also touch on various significant regions throughout history, including African empires and the Middle Passage.
Before establishing A Sign of the Times, Jefferson was living in New York, where he became interested in learning about African history after hearing authors discuss their travels to African countries. When he moved to Charlotte, he was inspired to pass on his newfound historical knowledge to the community.
“[The event] comes from a love of learning at a late stage in life the history that I was never taught in school. Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America, black folks were coming across the Atlantic way before anyone else thought about it, and there’s proof of that,” he explained. “So learning new things every day helped me not to be so angry with white folks or people that view blacks as ‘less than’ — even though that still occurs today. By learning my history from those who preceded me and how they handled it, I’m able to better deal with situations when it either smells like or feels like racism to me.”
Jefferson hopes that interactive events like Diggin’ Black History Thru Music and Dance will inspire younger generations to embrace knowledge of their African and African-American heritage in addition to appreciating their ancestors.
“[I want to] change the trajectory for a young person like it happened for me, and for them to become radicalized in their mind,” Jefferson stated. “We want to sever this hold that America has had on black people. We are different. If you really believe in the historical narrative, then you know you come from greatness.”