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Steppin' Into The Screen | The Sun Rises in The East

The Sun Rises in The East: a love letter to learning, and the perfect tale of how important it is to educate yourself, about yourself.

The East was a pan-African cultural organization based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Founded in 1969, by teens and young adults, to combat a lack of representation. Having its own African-centered school, food co-op, newsmagazine, publishing company, record label, restaurant, clothing shop, and bookstore. It was the ultimate ‘do it yourself’ guide.

"It started with the school."

When black and white schools integrated this was undoubtedly seen as a step in the right direction. Progression on paper. However, because of the way in which this took place; black people moving into white schools, there came this idea of having to conform with ‘the white way’. As shown in the documentary there appeared to be this rhetoric that black people needed white people. The East came out of a dismantled community control experiment, which highlighted this narrative. Black teachers and recent high school graduates decided to create their own institutions outside of the system, starting with the Uhuru Sasa Shule “Freedom Now School”.

Jitu Weusi, the founder of the East, projected the message of self-reliance, self-determination, and self-building; a message that made its way into the hearts and souls of the members, teachers, students, and guests of the institution and stuck with them throughout their lives and careers.

The East showcased the inclusivity of exclusivity, having a place that was exclusive to black culture, history, and business showed to its members the importance of them in society. Especially at the time of the civil rights movement, the East spread the message that ‘there is no peace until we are all fortified’. Not only was The East a place to educate, but it also hosted world-famous jazz musicians and poets. It served as an epicenter for political contemporaries such as the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and the Congress of Afrikan People, as well as comrades across Africa and the Caribbean.

The East built an independent Black nation in the heart of Central Brooklyn. “

This is the first feature-length documentary to explore The East and its continued influence on Black Brooklyn. With interviews from leaders of The East, historians, and people who grew up in the organization as children, we really see how The East held a place deep within the members' hearts forever more. The documentary, though only 58 minutes long, is able to encapsulate the entire story of the East from its founding, right until its eventual dissolution. And it doesn't shy away from the many difficulties within the institution, from gender politics, financial struggles, and government surveillance.

What is so amazing about this documentary is how close to home it is. Made by Tayo Giwa and Cynthia Gordy Giwa, two founding members of Black-owned Brooklyn, a digital publication that promotes, and supports black-owned businesses based in Brooklyn. It's as if they are telling their own origin story.

Cynthia Gordy Giwa (left) and Tayo Giwa (right)

Tayo states: "Their [The East's] legacy reverberates in present-day Bed-Stuy through the neighborhood’s strong sense of community, unabashed love for our cultures, and Black joy that nourishes me on a daily basis ... Theirs is a history worthy of reverence and a powerful legacy that should be known far and wide."

Black-Owned Brooklyn is a digital publication spotlighting Black-owned, Brooklyn-based businesses and the people behind them. Run by husband-and-wife team Tayo Giwa and Cynthia Gordy Giwa, we also document Black life in the borough more broadly, from deep-rooted histories to beloved cultural gatherings and everyday lived experiences that contribute to the borough’s soul and vibrancy.

We'll be screening 'The Sun Rises in The East' on Wednesday, March 15th at Melkweg, Amsterdam! Join us and get your tickets HERE!

Ps. Multi-instrumentalist Phantom Wizard will perform a live improv set before the film starts so don't be late.


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James Brown
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