Directed by Tayo Giwa
Writer/Produced by Cynthia Gordy Giwa
The Sun Rises in The East chronicles the birth, rise and legacy of The East, a pan-African cultural organization founded in 1969 by teens and young adults in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Led by educator and activist Jitu Weusi, The East embodied Black self-determination, building more than a dozen institutions, including its own African-centered school, food co-op, newsmagazine, publisher, record label, restaurant, clothing shop and bookstore. The organization hosted world-famous jazz musicians and poets at its highly sought-after performance venue, and it served as an epicenter for political contemporaries such as the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords and the Congress of Afrikan People, as well as comrades across Africa and the Caribbean.
In effect, The East built an independent Black nation in the heart of Central Brooklyn.
The Sun Rises in The East is the first feature-length documentary to explore this inspiring story. The film also examines challenges that led to the organization’s eventual dissolution, including its gender politics, financial struggles and government surveillance. Featuring interviews with leaders of The East, historians and people who grew up in the organization as children, The Sun Rises in The East delivers an exhilarating and compelling vision, showing just how much is possible.
Director Biography - Tayo Giwa
Tayo Giwa is a filmmaker and co-creator of Black-Owned Brooklyn, a publication and Instagram account documenting local Black business, history and culture. His first film, the 2020 documentary short Soul Summit: Doin’ It in the Park, examined Soul Summit, a beloved open-air house music party based in Fort Greene Park. He lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
In my home of Central Brooklyn, the legacy of The East is everywhere. But the pan-African cultural organization, which operated in Bedford-Stuyvesant from 1969 to 1986, doesn’t get talked about enough.
Notwithstanding the rapid march of gentrification, you can see The East’s influence in the numerous Black-owned businesses that grace our community (one of the highest concentrations of Black enterprises in the United States). It’s in the constant flashes of red, black and green: wrapped around trees, displayed in flags flying from brownstones, painted on neighborhood playgrounds and fire hydrants. Even the African-centered preschool that my daughter attends, designed to instill her with a positive self-identity, has roots in The East.
The organization arose from New York City’s 1968 community control experiment, in which members of the predominantly Black Central Brooklyn neighborhoods of Ocean Hill-Brownsville were given decision-making power in their children’s education, from school curriculum to the hiring of teachers. For decades, the Ocean Hill-Brownsville movement, with a narrative driven by a largely white teachers union and their campaign of fear, has been framed as a cautionary tale. Black parents and communities seeking a quality education for their children were cast as militant; the fight for community control mischaracterized as antisemitic.
When the experiment was subsequently dismantled, a group of young Black teachers and recent high school graduates formed The East to create their own institutions outside of the system. The Sun Rises in The East was made, in part, to help correct the record.
Through building not only its own school but more than a dozen institutions and businesses, including a food co-op, newspaper, publishing company, jazz cultural center, restaurant, clothing shop and even a farm in Guyana, The East provided an inspiring model for Black self-determination. Their activism was ahead of its time, providing an inspiring model for how ordinary people working together can build longstanding institutions and community for themselves. Their legacy reverberates in present-day Bed-Stuy through the neighborhood’s strong sense of community, unabashed love for our cultures, and Black joy that nourishes me on a daily basis.
As the leaders of The East, along with others from the Civil Rights and Black Power era, grow further into their senior years, there’s an urgency to illuminate all that they created. For The Sun Rises in The East, I sought to capture this story in the voices of the people who lived it. Theirs is a history worthy of reverence and a powerful legacy that should be known far and wide.