Florida International University

It was a family affair Friday when well-known alumni of the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center returned for a fundraising event intended to help the facility recover from Miami-Dade County budget cuts that slashed nearly a third of its funding, about $300,000.

Marshall Davis Jr., a renowned tap dancer who performs with legendary tapper Savion Glover, joined his brother, comedian Marcellus "Chello" Davis, who’s worked with the likes of comics Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey, performed  on the stage where they got their start in an effort to help the center out of financial difficulties.

The brothers are the sons of Marshall Davis Sr., the long-time executive director of the center, a Liberty City institution that offers after-school and summer arts and theater programs to neighborhood youth.

Singer “Natural,” also a center alumna, and spoken word artist “Butterfly” also performed.

“The cultural arts center is one of the main reasons I’m able to do these things,” said Marshall Davis Jr.  “This is where I got my start, so I want to give back to show my appreciation.”

The center, at 6161 NW 22nd Ave., part of the county’s parks department, was opened in 1975 as a place to nurture theatrical and artistic talent and to provide a haven for neighborhood youth who otherwise might be on the streets.

It offers year-round programs in subjects such as band, drama, art, chorus, music theatre, ceramics and photography, primarily aimed at young people but also available to the general community.

The center was first on the chopping block in 2009, when the proposed county budget would have closed its doors. Community pressure then kept it open.

This year, the county cut the center’s budget by nearly a third, from about $967,000 to about $670,000, a 31 percent cut totaling about $297,000 that forced the elimination of five full-time positions and reduced the number of dance, music and arts & craft programs.

That, said Marshall Davis Sr. would have a significant impact.

“We‘ve got to find ways to help kids have the chances that Marshall had,” Davis Sr. said of his son.  

Friday’s fundraiser brought in only about $3,500 but, said one center supporter, it’s a start.

"When children are being affected, the community needs to step in and make sure these kids have the opportunity to express themselves," said Charlayne Thompkins, treasurer of the center support organization African Heritage Cultural Arts Center Inc.

Among other plans to get the center back on its feet:

*Asking the county to explain the center’s budget cuts compared to cuts at other community centers.

*More fundraisers featuring nationally known performers with connections to the center or who are center alumni.

Giovanna Maselli may be reached at gmase001@fiu.edu.