Al Bright, Painter and Founder of Africana Studies at YSU, Dies

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Alfred Bright, the first full-time African-American faculty member at Youngstown State University and the founder of its Africana studies program, has died. He was 79.

He graduated from YSU in 1964 with an art education degree and a year later earned his master’s in painting from Kent State University. In 1970, he helped establish the Africana studies program, one of the first of its kind in Ohio. 

During his 18 years leading the program, Bright brought several African-American leaders to Youngstown and the university, including “Roots” author Alex Haley, Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou and Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president.

“They interacted with the whole community and that information helped change perceptions,” Bright told The Business Journal in 2016. “They opened up a dialogue over 18 years and made it so people were discussing the issues.”

The creation of the program, said Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, “paved the way for African Americans such as myself” to become leaders in community.

“It’s a sad day for a great individual like him. He was definitely a great ambassador for the arts for this community,” Brown continued. “I don’t think we’ll see talent like that again. His breadth and his depth of art was just beyond measure, and our condolences go out to his family.”

Outside of his work as an educator, he also worked as a painter. His works were featured in solo exhibits nationwide, including at Stanford University, Kent State and the Canton Art Institute. 

His works are part of the permanent collection at The Butler Institute of American Art, the Kent State University Gallery, the Harmon and Harriet Kelly Collection of African-American Art and the Canton Museum of Art.

“Professor Al Bright was truly special. He, of course was a wonderful and talented artist and teacher, but was so much more to those of us who knew him well. He was a friend, a confidant, and mentor. He was always present to offer support and encouragement, to offer help or provide a pat on the back,” said Lou Zona, director and chief curator of The Butler. “In his youth, Al  experienced the pain of prejudice but would not let negativity affect his character. He was proud of his students and warmly applauded their accomplishments as they followed the dreams that were so often shared with Al. I will never forget his many kindnesses and his devotion to our valley. He was a great artist and a greater man.”

Among the awards Bright has been honored with are the Distinguished Teaching Award from YSU in 2006 and Phi Kappa Phi’s National Artist Award nomination in 2001.

“We are all saddened here at YSU to hear of the passing of Al Bright,” said Youngstown State President Jim Tressel in a statement, “Professor Bright’s legacy at YSU is large, as both a graduate, as the university’s first African American full-service faculty member, as the founder of the Black Studies/Africana Studies program and, of course, his artwork, which was featured in more than 100 solo exhibits. He was a tireless advocate for YSU, for our students and for the entire Mahoning Valley region.”

Pictured: Alfred Bright in 2016.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.