Why this matters: ASC recognizes that creative individuals and teachers enrich the cultural lives of everyone in our region and beyond through their work.
By Michael Solender
Tyrone Jefferson likes to quote civil rights activist Marcus M. Garvey who said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
The quest for ancestral knowledge is not only Jefferson’s lifelong passion, but part of the mission of A Sign of The Times, the nonprofit community service organization he founded in 2006.
Through music, dance and spoken word, A Sign of the Times develops community programming connecting people with history, heritage and traditions of the African Diaspora.
Seeds for the organization were sewn when Jefferson visited Kenya, Africa, in 1978. The experience became a turning point in his life.
“I went to Mombasa as a tourist,” recalled Jefferson. “Some locals saw me in the hotel and thought I worked there. When they realized I was American they wanted to take me into the bush, to their homes. It immediately reminded me of my grandmother’s neighborhood when I was a kid. The sense of community I felt connected me back to East Liddell Street in Charlotte. I saw where I came from.”
Jefferson believes historical contributions of his forbearers inspire people to see possibilities and realize dreams thought beyond reach.
“Discovering pre-slavery black history and the contributions we’ve made in engineering, science, medicine and beyond has changed my life. Once I know who I am and where I came from, I have no room in my heart to hate anybody.”
A renaissance man with a trail of success in a number of pursuits, Jefferson is well known for his musical career as a jazz trombonist, composer and musical arranger.
He enjoyed nearly three decades working as a trombonist and musical director with the legendary James Brown. He’s also had a distinguished recording career, collaborating with a diverse group of artists including soul-man Pee Wee Ellis, jazz pianist Alex Bugnon, rapper LL Cool J and hip hop pioneers Public Enemy.
A Sign of The Times touches the community in positive ways from scholarship offerings to jazz workshops and educational programming.
Bridging Musical Worlds is an annual collaborative program with the Charlotte Symphony and UNC Charlotte in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Held at Charlotte’s historic Excelsior Club, the program is a celebration of African-American musical forms such as jazz, blues and gospel.
Diggin’ History Through Music and Dance takes African-American history out of the classroom, using music, dance and spoken word to enlighten participants.
For his contributions to the community, Jefferson was recognized in 2013 by the Harvey B. Gantt Center with its Artist Spirit Award.
“Now is always the right time to learn about our culture,” said Jefferson. “It’s a sign of the times.”