African Cultural Center celebrates anniversary

Posted 8/29/23

Prayerful and reverent song and dance, handcrafted items and clothing from local vendors and varying patterns of Kente cloth and other hand woven garments were on full display as part of the fourth …

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African Cultural Center celebrates anniversary


Prayerful and reverent song and dance, handcrafted items and clothing from local vendors and varying patterns of Kente cloth and other hand woven garments were on full display as part of the fourth anniversary of the African Cultural Center of the Greater Hudson Valley. The celebration took place on Saturday, August 19.

The center, a former dance school, is located at 108 Old South Plank Road in the Town of Newburgh. The center is owned by Terrence Verette and his wife Pamela, who also reside in the town. Prior to owning the center, Verette was a New York Police Department Lieutenant prior to his retirement over a decade ago and also served as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force.

The center today serves as a reception hall and a space where cultures and traditions can be studied, understood and celebrated and expands the awareness and education of Dahomey and Yoruba cultures.

Artifacts of Western Africa within the space hail from the Dahomey culture, now known as Benin, and from the Yoruba culture, which comes from Nigeria and Togo and also from Ghana. Many of the artifacts were collected by or given to Verette over the years. Inside the center is the reception hall and additional studio space while in the back is an outdoor seating area that overlooks a running stream.

In his retirement, Verette invested his time in learning more about his ancestral heritage and culture through various readings. It was then he came into contact with Babalawo Ifakunle Oluwole, who became his spiritual teacher during his studies. Verette was later bestowed the name Baba Orisagbemiada-dirre when he was initiated into the Ifa Orisa Worship. Thus, Verette is recognized as an ordained priest within Yoruba culture. Though he does have the bestowed name, he happily shared that Baba Terry is also another name that has become synonymous with him.

At the grand opening ceremony in 2019, guests of the event were able to see the display of what is known in the Yoruba language as Egungun. The egungun is a masquerade where one is draped in vibrant colored fabrics and materials, accompanied by drumming and prayers in song. The egungun serves as a physical manifestation of ancestral spirits, and the one that is draped in the egungun has their face and bodies covered. “The response from the community [in 2019] was awesome. Very diverse crowd and that’s what we expect tomorrow [August 19]. Even though we say African culture, it’s everybody’s culture,” said Verette. “You’re going to feel like you’re in that space in Africa.”

Due to the COVID pandemic that came about in 2020, the celebration at the center was put on hold for a year, but Verette sees this event as an every-year celebration for the community to enjoy.

“We’re gonna have African clothing, there’s going to be people selling jewelry and stuff like that. There’s going to be other vendors that’s not cultural vendors, but it’s a part of the community,” said Verette.

During Saturday afternoon, drums were played, vendors sold their goods and residents and visitors enjoyed their time with one another. “I feel like this is something that our town needs. And I’m just enjoying the vibe,” said Pamela. “I think it’s important that we are celebrating different cultures, because our town is made up of people from different cultures.”

Town Supervisor Gil Piaquadio, Councilman Scott Manley and Senator Rob Rolison also joined the celebration and mingled with guests and town residents. “I’m glad to be here. I know Terry, the owner, is really community minded. He really reaches out whenever he can to help the community,” said Piaquadio. “Looks like it’s going to be a great event and hopefully a reoccurring event so I want to thank Terry and everyone associated with it.” “Different cultures and different backgrounds and different beliefs is what we’re made of. And the ability to experience it, I’m very grateful to do it,” said Rolison.

In the later part of the afternoon, the beating of drums filled the air as the egungun began and Babalawo Ifakunle Oluwole led the gathered group in a series of prayers and offered a libation. “We give praise to God, the owner of today, the owner of yesterday, the owner of all days to come. We give praise to our divine ancestors. We know that they were the ones that allowed us to be here today,” said Oluwole. “We give praise to the spirit of goodness, the spirit of happiness, the spirit of content.”

The afternoon continued with more drum beating, prayer and camaraderie, thus celebrating another year of the center present and active in the community. For those interested in learning more about the center, residents and visitors can call 845-565-4957 for more information and visit