Fantasy Theatre Factory’s 3rd Annual Sandrell Rivers Day
Fantasy Theatre Factory at the Sandrell Rivers Theater announced their 3rd annual Sandrell Rivers Day! Experience the fun with an impressive lineup of artists and entertainers of color on August 29th virtually.
Among the festivities will be the bestowing of this year’s Sandrell Rivers Humanitarian Award to Dr. Larry R. Handfield, Esq., of The Handfield Firm. Serving as Emcee will be renown singer and entertainer Brenda Alford. Among the close to two dozen talented South Florida performing artists and entertainers scheduled to appear are jazz saxophonist Melton Mustafa, Jr., dancer Randolph Ward, magician Billy Byron, aerialist Luckner “Lucky” Bruno, and much more.
“This is one of our most popular events at Sandrell Rivers Theater, drawing more than 300 attendees from all over South Florida but particularly from around Liberty City, where Chief Rivers focused her efforts in promoting the arts,” said FTF CEO/Executive Artistic Director Larry Fields. “With South Florida currently experiencing record numbers of COVID-19 cases, however, we have not been able to open our doors to the public. So we’ve decided to make this year’s event virtual.”
“While a virtual event will be a little different, it will still allow us to celebrate the life and legacy of our theater’s namesake,” continued Fields. “In fact, we hope this will encourage anyone who knew, loved and admired Chief Rivers, including the many people outside of our community who knew her, to tune in and participate, as her reach in her advocacy of the arts extended well beyond South Florida.”
What is Sandrell Rivers Day?
Sandrell Rivers Day celebrates not only Rivers’ birthday (August 10, 1947, in Miami) but also her tireless efforts in bringing the arts to her hometown — most notably to the black communities that, through systemic racism and oppression, were often denied exposure to the arts. She did this primarily through her role as arts administrator for Miami-Dade County’s Parks and Recreation Department, a position she held from 1988 to 2009. But she also did this through her lifelong dedication to the arts, having studied, taught and practiced acting, dancing, singing and directing in theater, film, television and radio.
Through her efforts and her many powerful connections, Rivers brought such acts as Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Hugh Masekela, Isaac Hayes and many others to the Joseph Caleb Center for the Arts in Miami. And in her many travels to Europe, the Caribbean and Africa, she worked hard to support the African Diaspora in South Florida. In fact, because of her work in supporting and promoting African arts and heritage, she was conferred as a Chief by a Nigerian dignitary in 2004. Although she died on January 1, 2010, of ovarian cancer — one day after retiring from the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department — Rivers’ legacy continues.
“She had a passion for the Miami community as a whole, but particularly for reconnecting African Americans with their African history and pride,” said Fields. “At Sandrell Rivers Theater, we are committed to carrying on in her legacy.”
One way in which the theater does this is by throwing a party every year for Rivers’ birthday, a tradition that was initiated by FTF Technical Director and Miami native Kenyatta DeShazior.
“I am a product of Chief Rivers’ efforts in promoting the arts in black communities,” said DeShazior, who grew up in Liberty City and who briefly met Rivers when he worked at the Joseph Caleb Center several years ago. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, working in the theater arts, if it weren’t for Chief Rivers, so I see it as my responsibility to make sure her work is continued. Locally, nationally and even internationally, she is recognized for bringing people together to celebrate the arts. I wanted to continue that legacy.”
Sandrell Rivers Award
Each year, as part of Sandrell Rivers Day, FTF selects a community leader upon which to bestow the Sandrell Rivers Humanitarian Award. This year’s winner is Dr. Larry R. Handfield, Esq., of The Handfield Firm. In 2019, the winner was Leroy Jones, an executive member of the Circle of Brotherhood; and in 2018, the winner was Marshall L. Davis, Sr., managing director of the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.
“When we look for a person in our community to receive this award, we look for individuals who embody that same spirit of dedication to the community, whether in the arts or in other important areas of civic life,” said FTF’s Fields. “As a criminal defense attorney, Larry Handfield embodies the American ideal that all people are innocent until proven guilty and that everyone deserves the right to a fair trial. His record of success in defending members of the community is impressive, and just as impressive is the amount of money he’s turned around and reinvested in the community.”
Every May for the past 10 years, for example, Dr. Handfield has sponsored 100 inner-city children to visit Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant on South Beach, sending them in a limousine with a police escort. His reason for doing this is to reward the children for staying out of trouble as well as to instill in them hope and inspiration. He has said that, as an inner-city child himself, “I want to remind these children that their history should not define their destiny.” He has also often said that he lives by the motto that “Service is the price we pay for the space we occupy on this earth.”
A trailblazer in the South Florida community, Handfield has also led a life of “firsts,” noted Fields. Among his many “firsts,” Handfield was the first Black person appointed by Florida Governor Lawton Chiles to oversee the statewide Sentencing Commission; he was the first Black person to be appointed as chairperson over the Jackson Hospital Health System, where he oversaw a yearly budget of $2.5 billion dollars; and he was the first person of any race to be appointed as Chairman of the City of Miami Police Oversight Panel.“We are very proud to recognize Mr. Handfield with the Sandrell Rivers Humanitarian Award,” said Fields.