Karamu House celebrates black history and looks ahead to the next 100 years

Posted at 5:41 AM, Feb 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-08 06:54:18-05

A staple in the community is now looking to switch gears.

When Jonathon L. Jackson walks on stage, he's reminded of the greats that have come before him.

Actors and writers like Langston Hughes, Ruby Dee and Bill Cobbs have all passed through or gotten their start at the Karamu House on East 89th Street in Cleveland.

"We are a treasure and have many treasures," said Tony Sias, President & CEO of the Karamu House.

And the tradition continues, with actors from today.

"Such as James Pickens Jr. from Grey's Anatomy, or Imani Hakiem from Everybody Hates Chris. All of those artists have come through this institution," Sias said.

All have made their stop at the oldest multicultural theatre in the nation. And for 102 years, the Karamu House has been the launching pad for hundreds of African American thespians.

"Karamu will stay a constant, so I just kind of want to be the next one in line," said actor Johnathan L. Jackson, as he prepped for another show at the classic theater house.

"Karamu was one of those kinds of places that people came to have a place other than home, to call home," said Sias.

That includes people like Carl Stokes, Muhammad Ali and Martin Lurther King, who signed a guest book back in 1963 that's now on display all this month.

"Everyday here at Karamu is a part of black history and American history. Karamu is and was the heartbeat of the community," Sias said.

But now with 100 years under their belt, they say it's time for a little change.

"We're excited about the renovation project, new seats, new elevations in the place."

To complement the exterior facelift, he said the cast will get one as well, focusing their line ups more on growing diversity.

"Our vision for the future is really taking a piece of the past, so it's as much about creating the art as it is about social awareness, and understanding of those who look different from us," Sias said.

The renovations to the theaters are set to be completed by October. Their first production embracing their new motto of diversity starts this spring with, "You Can't Take it with You."