Bandele Tyehimba, who, with his wife Akwete, owned Pan African Connection, a 23-year-old South Dallas art gallery and meeting space, died in his sleep Wednesday night. He was 58 years old.
We wrote about Tyehimba and Pan African just a month ago; at that time, the Tyehimbas were recovering from a recent brush with eviction. When we spoke, he said they were determined to stay open and continue serving the South Dallas community. "I'm at war with bad ideas," he told us. "Like Malcolm X said, the enemy took the chains off our feet and placed them on our minds. We have to free people through their ideas. We have to use economics and politics to try to move humanity forward."
Tyehimba was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He followed his two sisters to Dallas some 32 years ago. With Akwete, he built Pan African, which became a meeting place for a variety of progressive organizations in the city, as well as a renowned home for African art. Bandele went to Africa several times a year on buying trips.
One of the many organizations the Tyehimbas lent their support to was Pastors For Peace, specifically a program that helped to send students from underprivileged backgrounds to medical school in Cuba. He told us proudly about students from South Dallas (and one "white boy from McKinney," as he put it) who were training to become doctors, with the goal of serving the poorest communities in Latin America and the U.S.
According to an email from family friend Thomas Muhammad, president of the Dallas chapter of the National Black United Front, Bandele became tired and went to rest Wednesday evening. When Akwete came to join him, she found him unresponsive. She dialed 911, but paramedics were unable to revive him. The family doesn't yet know the cause of death.
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In addition to Awkete, Tyehimba is survived by the couple's three children: Adjwoa, Bambata and Sekou. Last night, Pan African's parking lot was full and cars lined the street as close family and friends led a celebration of his life with drumming and dancing in the store's upstairs meeting space. I spoke to the couple's eldest daughter Adjwoa by phone this morning; she says the family has no plans to close Pan African.
Tyehimba's wake will be held in the upstairs meeting room from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. The funeral will be Wednesday at St. Luke's Community United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. Both events are open to the public.
Tyehimba also spoke to us last month about the transformative power of art in his life, as he sat surrounded by the pieces he'd painstakingly brought back from Africa over the years.
"When you get powerful objects around you, that makes you powerful," he said. "Sometimes I have difficulties. But I come by and look at these pieces, and I say, 'Let me solve these. Let me go forward.'"