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Beyond the Frames : A Reflection by Filmmaker Cyrille Vincent

Eight years ago when I arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts, I had no idea that the city was resting on a long heritage of Black history or should I say American history…

Portraits of African American Icon at Mechanics Hall
(From Left to right ) Portraits of William and Martha Brown by Brenda Zlamany, Frederick Douglass by Imo Nse Imeh and Sojourner Truth by Manu Saluja

Since my arrival, I have learned that Worcester not only hosted the KKK but also Black influential leaders such Marshall Walter ''Major'' Taylor, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, the Brown’s Family and many more.

Some of these Black historical figures lived here in Worcester almost all their lives and others were just guests for a short period of time.

(Left) Cyrille Vincent with Debbie Hall (Founder of The Worcester Black History Project)/Right-Cyrille Vincent with Joe Petty (Worcester Mayor).

Residents or sojourners, these Black prominent leaders have stamped the city of Worcester with their indomitable spirit and remarkable legacy.

Last Thursday, I had the honor to attend Beyond The Frames : A Celebration; at the Mechanics Hall downtown Worcester. 

The event was an inaugural ceremony revealing three commissioned portraits of African American icons that will now grace the walls of the gorgeous ‘‘old girl’’ Mechanics Hall.

It was a wonderfully put together event featuring an artist’s talk and a reception.

There were also several artwork auctions and a keynote speaker.

According to a pamphlet distributed to the event guests, Mechanic’s Hall trustee Stacy Luster ignited the idea back in 2019. 

She suggested that the hall commission a portrait of Frederick Douglass.

Douglass who was already very known for his social reform and abolitionist work was amongst the first to speak on the stage of the the Mechanics Hall when it opened in 1857.

Stacy's idea was subsequently expanded to include other important African Americans. 

Cyrille Vincent at Mechanics Hall for Beyond the Frames : A celebration

My guest for this event at Mechanics Hall was Jimmy Jackson, a young talented filmmaker who has been working with me for over three years now as Production Assistant.

We enjoyed the evening, meeting new and old friends was one of the highlights for both of us.

We learned a lot from the artist's creative process as their method differed in a very interesting non conflictual way. It seems that they were all on the same mountain but just different perspectives.

The work they created complimented each other and the other portraits already in the hall.

The artists and their work stood out without clashing and this was something special to witness.

Cyrille Vincent & Jimmy Jackson (Production Assistant)

The project chairs were Kathleen M. Gagne, Executive Director of the Mechanics Hall and Gloria D. Hall who is a Public Art Administrator and Preservationist.

Other committee members included Senator Harriette L. Chandler, Drs John and Dorista Goldsberry , Carolyn and Howard Stempler.

I am eternally grateful to all 3 artists who created the portraits namely Brenda Zlamany, Imo Nse Imeh and Manu Saluja. They have blessed our community with their arts and souls.

As a filmmaker myself, I know that the journey as a creative is not an easy one. However these artists have reinforced in me the philosophy of life  that I have learned from Major Taylor, the very subject of the movie WHIRLWIND I am currently working on.

He lived by the mantra below: ‘’Life is too short for any man to hold bitterness in their heart.’’ In other words, you have to let go of all of the mess life throws at you so that you can soar high.

(From left to Right) Gloria D Hall, Brenda Zlamany, Imo Nse Imeh, Manu Saluja & Juliet Feibel

Just like these individuals, Major Taylor had a positive impact on Worcester.  He played a pioneer role in sports at the turn of the 19th century and he battled for civil rights and equality. For these reasons, I would love to see his portrait added to the wall as well. Those who know his story know he has made influential contributions similar to these other great African Americans who are now on the walls of the Mechanics Hall. Continuing to include additional Black Civil Rights icons would be a fabulous way to  commemorate the contributions of Blacks to American History. 

Finally I would like to reiterate the idea that Black history is American history and should be celebrated everyday not only in February but through the year and every year.

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