The African American Connection for the Performing Arts has existed in Rome for over 40 years. And throughout those years the group has grown from humble beginnings — putting on one production a year — to what it is today, a thriving non-profit organization whose members seek to bring together history, spirituality, community and entertainment.
On Friday, the group hosted its “Affair To Remember,” a black-tie gala at the Rome Civic Center, at which several Rome residents were recognized and awarded for their service to the organization and the community over the AACPA’s long history.
The honorees were recognized for their various roles within the organization over the years. Some were awarded for participation in stage productions, others were awarded for their support. Some received awards for creativity and vision while others were recognized for simply being a fixture within the organization for so many years.
“At its core, this organization isn’t just about putting on stage plays,” said Willie Mae Samuel, organization founder who still writes and directs productions as well as oversees activities and events. “We have always put community connections first. Whether it’s a connection to the past or to our spirituality or to our future, or to the children, we have always put an emphasis on relationships and connections.”
The list on honorees includes individuals and groups who hail from various parts of the Rome community. They include Beatrice Kidd, Shirley Wells, Joe Michael Wells, Valerie Jones Wile, April Ridley, John and Laney Stevenson, the Rev. Carey Ingram, Rodney Turner, Latonya Fuller, Belinda Jackson, Doris McDaniel, Rev. Derrick Miller, Djembe Drummers: Mountain Top Experience, New Life of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, Tanya Smith Howard, Elaine Beeman, Alisa Scott, Gregory Shropshire, Solita Burley, Sam Burrell, Rev. Warren Jones, Betty Whitaker, Lucille Kennemore, Mary Shrophshire and Monica Burge.
Van Smith, longtime AACPA supporter, said the honorees were unaware that they would be recognized until their names were called during the event.
“The people we honored have never asked for praise or recognition for the hard work and skills and talents that they have shared with this organization and with the community,” Smith said. “And that’s exactly why we thought it was appropriate to honor them in this way. So many people have given of their time and energy to make us what we are today. We couldn’t let that go by without saying ‘thank you’ in a very special way.”
Event organizers did not forget the supporters who have passed away. In a special portion of the event, eight honorees were recognized who have “gone to see the King,” as Samuel put it.
As community members gathered in their finery for the black-tie event, organizers hoped the true spirit of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts would remain a priority.
“We started out nameless,” Samuel said, remembering the long-gone days of the organization’s youth. “We went into schools and tried to connect with the community that way. Then we changed our name several times. And it may change again. But one thing will remain the same. I’ve said that I want the word Connection to always be a part of who we are. Because that’s what we should be about. We should strive to connect people with their past and their history. We should try to connect the older generation with the new one. We should try to connect people with their faith. And most of all we should try to connect people with each other.”