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Fire hits Jamaica’s Afrikan Poetry Theatre

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An electrical fire consumed the second floor of a cultural center in Jamaica last weekend.

The Afrikan Poetry Theatre — located at 176-03 Jamaica Ave. — is around 100 years old, according to theatre director Sekou Branch.

Leaders of the center have applied for years to receive capital funding to renovate the facility, but have been denied at every attempt, according to Branch. Over the years, members of the art center have been raising money for renovations that would help avoid a catastrophe such as this. The members were hoping to gather enough funding by the end of the year.

Offices were destroyed, over 12 computers are gone and they have lost their industrial printers and copy machines. Film equipment, keyboards, and artwork have also been destroyed, Branch said.

Greg Branch, Sekou’s cousin and the executive chairman of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, said that the items are being examined by a claims adjuster for insurance purposes, and while expensive, can be replaced. What can’t be replaced are the things that the members and leaders of the center hold dear.

“Some of the materials are priceless to us,” Greg Branch said. “You’ve got photographs that date back to the founding of the theatre in the 1970s, which obviously you can’t put a price on.”

Photos of Queens and New York City luminaries were among the items lost.

At the time of the fire, Sekou Branch was on his way to see the “Black Panther” film, as a Black History Month film festival was being held at the center. He said about 40 others attended the event.

The festival started around 7:30 p.m. and he received a phone call from the fire marshal at 8 p.m. last Saturday.

None of the festivalgoers where hurt during the fire, according to the cousins. The Black History Month film festival was a collaboration with the Museum of Moving Image. Some of the films were screened in the film center in Astoria, and the last three films were to be shown Saturday at the Afrikan Poetry Theatre.

The screening was delayed, but the cousins said they want to finish off the series at a yet to be announced date, either at MOMI or an art center in Jamaica.

As they wait to learn what aid the insurance company will offer, they said they will use the renovation money they have been saving toward fixing the center. They have also started a GoFundMe campaign.

The cousins hope that their tragedy can turn things around for the center.

“Now that we are in this situation, perhaps we will be fortunate enough to have access to those [capital building] funds,” Greg Branch said.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

Posted 12:00 am, March 3, 2018
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