Urban Souls and Hobby Center Shine a Light on Black History

Written by on February 19, 2024

In collaboration with the Hobby Center for Performing Arts, Harrison Guy and his team at Urban Souls Dance Company performed a unique dance experience called Souls of Black Houston on Saturday February 10th.

Urban Souls Performers during Colored Carnegie by Photo by Melissa Taylor Photography

In addition to the highlight of the night and arguably Guy’s greatest work, “Colored Carnegie,” the story of Houston’s first Black library, the program includes four other beautifully captivating works. “Sugar Shack,” choreographed by Walter J. Hull, draws inspiration from the evocative paintings of Ernie Barnes and “Sugar Shack” by Houstonian, Bill Perkins. Harrison Guy’s “Black Bodies in White Spaces” explores the complexities and beauty of self-acceptance and self-love. Souls of Black Houston will also feature two alumni works; “Distract me from the Mirror,” choreographed and performed by former Urban Souls Dancers Uwazi Zamani and Trent Williams Jr. and “M/W: lessons,” choreographed by former dancer Dwayne Cook, who is now a Teaching Artist at Houston Ballet.

Urban Souls Performers during Black Bodies in White Spaces by Photo by Melissa Taylor Photography

Harrison Guy is a choreographer who founded Urban Souls Dance Company. Celebrating 20 years of commitment to Community, Culture, and Creativity, Urban Souls Dance Company’s mission is to foster connection and build community through dance, education and advocacy. Urban Souls builds upon community assets to tell stories of the Black experience, prioritizing racial equity and advancing healing and justice. Given the recent book bans of diverse literature throughout schools in Texas, Guy is using performing arts to tell Black history at a time when knowledge has become a privilege. In October 2023, the American Library Association recorded 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since the organization began compiling data on the topic. Of the thousands of titles targeted for censorship, most were by or about LGBTQ+ persons and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

It’s just a great opportunity I think to use the mediums to do Black history. You don’t have to just read a book or see a traditional Black history poster. You can use music to tell a story. We can use dance.

Harrison Guy.
Urban Souls Performers during Colored Carnegie by Photo by Melissa Taylor Photography

As the show began on Wednesday morning, a performance by actor Kazi Owens silenced a loud, highly energetic crowd his antique costume and commanding stage presence as he narrated the history of Houston’s Colored Carnegie Library. Owens assumed the role of a Black educator who was denied access to an all-white Houston Public Library in 1907. He explained how this barrier was the incentive for Black leaders to raise funding, acquire land, and obtain a $15,000 grant from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie as part of his public library movement between 1883 and 1929 . With a flawless routine, beautiful movements and a stunning performance, the end of the nearly hour-long performance had the audience on their feet for a standing ovation as Guy took the stage to debrief after the show. Some audience members couldn’t help but voice their agreement as Owens spoke some powerful messages.

This restriction has only caused me direction, and it is without question that when Black educated minds come together for good, well, what happens next is destiny.

Kazi Owens, performer

After intermission, Guy mentioned he invited Houston Public Librarians to watch the show. Guy wanted to highlight how important and vital librarians are to our community. It was truly a touching and humbling moment to see so many wonderful human beings getting a standing ovation, being celebrated for their hard work and dedication.

Urban Souls Performers during Black Bodies in White Spaces by Photo by Melissa Taylor Photography

In addition to “Colored Carnegie,” Urban Souls offered two other pieces: “Black Bodies in White Spaces” and “Sugar Shack.” “Black Bodies in White Spaces,” Guy’s second work on the program, debuted at the Moody Center for the Arts as “Black Bodies in White Spaces: A Performance Ritual.” This performance symbolized the battle of being a black creative in a white dominating world, the constant push and pull of trying to fit in a world that rejects you while also not losing who you fundamentally are. Where Black Bodies in White Spaces was vulnerable and momentous, Sugar Shack was playful and full of life. Turning the stage into a live dance club, this performance invited the audience to sing and dance along side the performers, showcasing music and dance history in the black community and celebrating love and happiness.

Urban Souls Performers during Colored Carnegie by Photo by Melissa Taylor Photography

Souls of Black Houston took us through different eras, and perspectives of black history and celebrated every moment in between then and now. As the night came to an end, the audience was awestruck with pride and hope for the next generation. Every person in the crowd was on their feet cheering for everyone in involved, and every person that has pushed our world towards equality and peace. Here’s to twenty years of positive change by Harrison Guy’s Urban Souls Dance Company and The Hobby Center of Performing Arts, may we continue to inspire a equality with our art and culture. Check out more Coog Radio coverage of the Hobby Center’s events here!

  • Alina Velasquez

    I'm a Junior Graphic Design major at the University of Houston. I am also the Graphic Design Officer of BAMSA as well as a Photo Editor for Coog Radio. I enjoy art in all of its forms and love discovering new music. Photography and Design have been passions of mine for several years.

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