John Watusi Branch
Afrikan Poetry Theater Inc.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: John Watusi Branch is the co-founder of the Afrikan Poetry Theater, which is celebrating 36 years this fall. The Theater is not just poetry. It has readings and workshops as well as children’s workshops, storytelling, drum making, mask making, and a weekly jazz series. The third Friday of every month there is an African film series. Tuesdays are for African drumming classes which are free to the public as are various classes throughout the year.
Every Thanksgiving the organization has local teenage volunteers feed the homeless and provide them with donated clothing.
“We open doors for organizations that are doing community work,” said Branch.
It is also involved with the Summer Youth Employment Program that provides workshops and places local youth in jobs.
For the past eight years Branch has been organizing group trips to Africa. He recently took part in a three-week trip to Ghana where his group was involved with work projects and stayed with local residents.
“It was an expansion of what we do here,” said Branch. “Some kids don’t travel outside of New York City and here they are traveling all the way across the sea.”
PERSONAL: Branch has published four volumes of poetry. His latest book is entitled Journey to the Motherland. Branch, 69, is a grandfather with five children. He lives with his wife, Safiya, in Jamaica. Born In Charleston, Branch and his family moved to Brooklyn when he was six years old and to Jamaica in 1961 when he was 18 years old.
INSPIRATION: Branch gets inspiration from serving the community and from seeing the work that others have done over the years.
“The youth inspire me because they are yearning to learn.”
The Theater is looking towards the renovation of the building in the upcoming months, and Branch is inspired by the way that the youth are interested in the creation of a full community center.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “The biggest challenge is always funding with community-based organizations,” said Branch. He thinks that the city could see better results if funding was given to organizations that were more in touch with the community.
FAVORITE MEMORY: In 1997 Branch and the Afrikan Poetry Theater hosted a humongous Kwanzaa celebration at the York College performing arts center. Two thousand people were in attendance to see African dance groups, poets, speakers and more.