Art of Harlem: Anthony Djavan Harris

By: Melaina Gasbarrino

Today in Art of Harlem, we take a look at Harlem born and raised, producer and director Anthony Djavan Harris.  As an acclaimed Emmy Award-winning producer and director he develops stories that empower others in an uplifting and riveting way. Mr. Harris looks to sports where he develops unique mantras that focus on the essence of empowering others and has worked with youth to develop a documentary on the New York Knicks Poetry Slam. This documentary won him another inspiring award to add to his collection, a New York Emmy for 'Outstanding Teen Program.' He has created documentaries, promotions, and features that focus on sports empowerment. Through his love for sports and passion to inspire others he has a unique creative eye we all long to follow.

Why did you choose sports as a segway to reach kids?

When you think about it, it's a natural transition.  Young people are very impressionable, and sport is a part of the pop culture landscape that attracts many.  The key, as was certainly the rationale of the organizers of the event as well as mine, was once you got them in to show them some other things that they could apply to encourage and inspire them in their lives.  Young people are the future, and how the entire community nurtures them is very important.

Why was it important to you in the "New York Knicks Poetry Slam" video to empower students to become more comfortable in their own skin?

In the poetry slam it was important to empower the young people because all too often I think young folks are not listened to, or when they do speak - in many different forms - it's not honored.  This project was a pleasure to be a part of and it just epitomized the importance of self-expression.  A good number of the young people literally changed their lives by just being a part of the overall event, and the documentary is a testament to the power of all their sincere efforts.

Who is your biggest influence when creating these works?

There are many big influences.  Foremost, I want to tell the story, whatever it is, accurately, honestly, and in its proper context.  So that influences how I approach it. Filmmaker Haile Gerima from Ethiopia comes to mind quickly.  Back on March 25, 1994, I interviewed him for an article about his film Sankofa.  It was just the two of us for about an hour or so, and it was like sitting in a classroom with the best and coolest professor ever!  Listening to him inspired me to pursue my dreams and goals, and that they could be attained on whatever scale I wanted without compromise.  Looking back that was a very important moment, and it is I think vital for all people to have inspirations, or influences, that reflect their own thoughts and images.  I'd be awfully remiss if I didn't acknowledge the influence that Harlem native and long-time journalist Gil Noble has had on me.  His telling of stories that are not reported on by others is something that I've tried to emulate.  My prayers go out to him, and his family as he goes through some current health challenges.

Where are your works featured besides your website?

Besides the site, works have been featured on cable networks and at film houses, including Maysles here in Harlem, as part of festivals and screenings throughout the country.  I'm pretty excited about the upcoming release this fall of a film on an organization called the Black Men's Xchange (BMX).  I've been fortunate to do several projects for them, and the documentary details the same-gender-loving organization's annual retreat where the focus was healing, strategic intelligence, self-love and discovery.  Some powerful moments were captured on film, and to my knowledge there's been nothing like this on film before.  The tentative title is In My Own Image.

Has growing up in Harlem inspired you?

Oh yes!  Harlem has inspired me in so many ways.  The community has always been supportive, embracing and a trendsetter for culture and art from practically everything, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Barbara Ann Teer and so many others, as well as the institutions.  Harlem is comfortable, and allows you to just be and express what's honestly in your heart, and that's probably why it's practically universally known.  I really hope that the generations of families that have called this community home for decades will be respected as it inevitably changes, as they are partly responsible for that culture and art, that are so widely known.

To read more about Anthony, click here. Also check out this video clip below of his documentary.

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