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Harlem Festival of Culture Launches First Major Juneteenth Event With The Inaugural Black Independence Presented By Uber

Harlem Festival of Culture Launches First Major Juneteenth Event With The Inaugural Black Independence Presented By Uber


As part of Juneteenth celebrations, the Harlem Festival of Culture (HFC) — the modern-day reimagining of the groundbreaking Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 — hosted its first major event with the 1st Annual Black Independence Awards presented by Uber on Saturday, June 18th at Harlem Parish. Committed to showcasing the vibrancy and creative energy of today’s Harlem, HFC designed the Awards to recognize the best of Harlem through the outstanding leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, and creators whose contributions have proven to be cultural, social, and economic drivers for the Harlem community.

Hosted by hip-hop icon and Harlem native Doug E. Fresh, the Black Independence Awards inaugural class of honorees includes Special Awards recipients: TV personality, author, and actress Bevy Smith (The Vanguard Award); legendary fashion designer Dapper Dan (The Icon Award) and Renowned Restaurateur and Founder of Melba’s Restaurant Melba Wilson (The Champion Award). Presenters included: Creative and entrepreneur CJ South and Ms. Smith’s niece Domonique Smith — Long presenting to Bevy Smith; Harlem Fashion Row Founder and CEO Brandice Daniel presenting to Dapper Dan; Doug E. Fresh presenting to Melba Wilson. The evening also held a special surprise for the show’s host Doug E. Fresh who was bestowed with the Legacy Leadership Award presented to him by HFC Co-Founder and Technical & Talent Producer Yvonne McNair.


In addition to the Special Awards honorees, winners were selected across five additional categories by the Harlem community through a voting process conducted on HFC’s website. Winners of the Black Independence Awards 2022 by category were:

Social Impact Award: Carmen Neely
Cultural Heritage Award: Harlem Haberdashery
Maverick Award: Harlem Fashion Week
Visionary Award: Sekou Luke
Entrepreneurial Spirit Award: Make My Cake


The Black carpet event began with a cocktail pre-reception followed by an elegant sit down dinner catered by Melba’s Restaurant and the awards presentation. The evening featured several buzzworthy moments and highlights including legendary R&B Group Brownstone wowing the audience with a rousing rendition of classic hits like “Grapvyne” and “If You Love Me.” Additional attendees included: Estelle, Ro James, Ty Hunter and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. Harlem Festival Of Culture Juneteenth


Speaking on the prestigious event, HFC Co-Founder and Community Liason Officer, Musa Jackson said: “The inaugural Back Independence Awards was an epic celebration of the people, the creatives, and the businesses who continue to keep Harlem vibrant and alive with their contributions and achievements. We wanted to recognize the people who are the very heartbeat of our community and shine a light on them these passionate and inspirational folks who are invaluable to our hamlet of Harlem.” 

“One of the core tenants of the Harlem Festival of Culture is to be supportive of the local businesses and creators that comprise Harlem’s ecosystem through our platform and our work,” said HFC Co-Founder and Strategy & Business Development Officer, Nikoa Evans. “We are at the beginning of this journey and as we continue to grow the brand, it is imperative that we continue to foster and build with our businesses and the stakeholders in our community.”

“The Black Independence Awards marks the first major event under the HFC umbrella and I am so incredibly proud of the evening we put together. It was a joyful celebration of Black excellence, innovation and resiliency appropriately held during a weekend when the country commemorated Juneteenth,” said McNair. “In envisioning this Awards, we wanted to create an opportunity to not only honor those whose work has had real impact on the Harlem community but to create an elevated experience for people who are not always recognized and to let them know that we see them. This is for them. And as we lead up to the big festival next year, we want to use event opportunities like the Black Independence Awards to continually reinforce that message.”

The Black Independence Awards is part of the Harlem Festival of Culture, which is now in its first year. HFC’s first annual celebration will consist of a series of live entertainment event experiences and social and economic development programming, culminating with a multiday outdoor music festival to be held in Summer, 2023 in homage to the original event.



Champion Award: Awarded to a person or company that has been a champion in ensuring greater diversity, inclusivity and equitable economic opportunities within their industry.
Honoree: Melba Wilson – Renowned Restaurateur and Founder of Melba’s Restaurant

Icon Award: Awarded to a person or company whose contributions have made a notable impact on the world.
Honoree: Dapper Dan – Legendary Fashion Designer

Vanguard Award: Awarded to a person or company whose leadership and innovation has helped shape the future of their industry.
Honoree: Bevy Smith – TV personality, author, and actress


Social Impact Award: Awarded to a person, group or company who has advocated to ensure equity, wellbeing, access, and quality of life for the Harlem community.
Syderia Asberry-Chresfield – Greater Harlem Coalition, Quality of Life Advocacy, Social Justice
Carmen Neely – Harlem Pride, LGBTQ
Silicon Harlem – Technology Access for Harlem
Valerie Jo Bradley – Marcus Garvey Park Alliance
Billy Council – Community Activist, General Manager, Cove Lounge

Cultural Heritage Award: Awarded to a person, group or company whose contributions provide a platform to preserve and/or elevate black culture and its influence on culture/arts, music, film, design, or commerce.
Ty Jones – Classical Theatre of Harlem, Uptown Shakespeare Festival
Neal Shoemaker – Harlem Heritage Tours
Vy Higginsen,- Mama Foundation for the Arts, Sing Harlem
Shay and Guy Woods – Harlem Haberdashery
Sister’s Uptown Bookstore

Maverick Award: Awarded to a person, group or company that has “disrupted” their industry or the marketplace by creating a new space for commerce and representation for the Black community.

Karl Franz Williams – Mixologist; Owner, 67 Orange Street; Uncle Waithley’s Vincy Brew
Harlem Tech Fund
Milton Washington – Cannibas Speakeasy, Rokmill Fitness
Tandra Birkett and Yvonne Jewnell – Harlem Fashion Week


Visionary Award: Awarded to a Black creative who has celebrated and/or elevated the Black cultural experience through music, art, photography, film, literature or design.

Sekou Luke – Producer, Filmmaker, Photographer
Dianne Smith – Visual Artist
J’Nai Bridges – Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano
Flo N’Gala – Photo Journalist, Portrait Photographer
Rakiem Walker – The Rakiem Walker Project
27 Delly – Music Artist, Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurial Spirit Award: Awarded to a person, group or company that exemplifies excellence and innovation in entrepreneurship.
NiLu Gift Store
Harlem Cycle
Make My Cake, I Like It Black, Ma Smith’s Dessert Cafe
Lambda Lounge
Charles Pan Fried Chicken

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About The Harlem Festival of Culture

Harlem Festival of Culture is the celebration of Black culture through cultural & economic development programming delivered at the nexus of live music and entertainment, a vibrant cultural destination, and innovative social impact. Harlem Festival Of Culture Juneteenth

Photos: Johnny Nunez via Nina Flowers PR

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