Big Apple Jazz -- New York's Jazz Club AuthorityAutopsy by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple JazzRedemption  by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple JazzBlack Modonna  by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple JazzAutopsy by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple JazzThe Neutralization of the Black Power Movement  by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple JazzRedemption  by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple Jazz

Art against domestic abuse

Harlem artist helps battered women get
free reconstructive surgery

Harlem artist, Jeremiah Drake, at EZ's Woodshed Gallery. photo credit Gordon PolatnickIt was a frightening sight last March in the pages of the Daily News: Roshauna Tate's beautiful features atrociously disfigured by a scar.

Her husband sliced her face open, grabbed the couple's baby and drowned himself in New York Harbor. Fortunately, a cop saved the baby's life.

Jeremiah Kyle Drake, haunted by the violence he witnessed during his childhood, decided he had to do something. The artist, who teaches theater at Harlem's Riverside Church, contacted the 29-year-old Staten Island mother of four and took her to see Dr. Minas Constantinides at New York University.

Constantinides is a participant in the Virginia-based organization Face to Face, run by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which provides free cosmetic surgery for battered women.

Today, Tate is receiving treatments prior to the operation that will make her recover her glow. Drake said she is doing well and living in Brooklyn.

Drake learned about Face to Face after he helped another battered woman get the same procedure.

"The art made it happen," says Drake, 48, in a commanding baritone and with expressive gestures that attest to his background: a former Army paratrooper and trained opera singer.

At his apartment in Harlem, he points at one of his art pieces, eerily similar to Tate after the slashing: an old Billie Holiday poster with a superimposed scar searing her face from eye to mouth. "This happens in the African-American community quite often," he says.

"It's called 'Buck 50' — it's from a Tupac Shakur song. You slash the person, preferably in the face," he explains. "It's called like that because it takes 50 or more stitches to repair the injury".

"Men, in lieu of killing a woman, take away from them their physical appearance. When you do that, you bring her down," he says. "There are women stabbed in the stomach while they are pregnant."

Drake learned about this common practice among street gangs when he was attacked by a group of kids in Harlem in 1989 and himself almost got a "Buck 50."

"If you were going to 125th any afternoon, I guarantee you will see people come by with scars."

One day he decided to make an artistic statement about it: "Take an icon, a revered image, and put a 'Buck 50' on it using my staple gun."

That's how his "Slashing of the African-American Icons" series started. It features figures as respected as Langston Hughes, Charlie Parker, Malcolm X, Bob Marley and Holiday.

Then he found himself wanting to do more to raise awareness about this problem. "Art is about making things happen," he says. So he thought of the next step: "Restoring the icons."

Last February, he took the scarred Billie Holiday image to Harlem Hospital with a proposal that they start providing free reconstructive surgery to battered women.

"I thought they were going to think that I'm crazy, like a lot of people do," he remembers.

But somebody heeded the call.

"I signed on immediately because I think it is a remarkable thing what he's doing," says Dr. Ferdinand Ofodile, 65, who has three of Drake's works displayed in his office.

"The pain in the faces of these icons, and the cry for help that was depicted in these images" moved him, he says. "And when you know that they started as a reflection on what some people have gone through themselves, it is very touching."

Ofodile performed free plastic surgery on a girl named Sharon whose husband splashed lye in her face. "Her skin was deformed because black skin forms keloid scars [that grows abnormally]," he says.

Now, the plastic surgeon offers this service free to every woman in the same situation. "We promised Jeremiah that we would give him top priority," he says.

But Drake not only wants to keep publicizing the work of organizations like Face to Face, Harlem Hospital, Safe Horizons and Women of Greenhope Services, where he also volunteers.

"My goal is to influence Medicaid so that they provide free reconstructive surgery for women disfigured in these situations," he says.

Born in Akron, Ohio, and raised in Syracuse, he was 4 years old when he witnessed his father brutally abusing his mother. "One time I heard a commotion in the kitchen. My father was beating my mother in the face. Boom! Boom! And then he goes: 'Give me a knife! I'm gonna cut this bitch's face!' yelling at me," he remembers.

"My father would beat her whether he was sober or drunk. He was raised that way," he says. "My grandfather brought him up as a batterer. He always said it's important to beat your woman to control her. 'You gotta dust her up sometimes,' he would say."

A year later, Drake's mother grabbed her eight children and ran away.

After high school, Drake joined the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. "I know how they push your buttons to make you violent," he says. He protected women in the Army from other soldiers.

"I've stopped gang rapes," he says. "I told them, look she's a fellow soldier!"

After his military service he went on to study classical singing and acting in Los Angeles. In 1989, after living in Chicago and Atlanta, he moved to New York and soon settled in Harlem.

"It was the first time I was in a community that was all black. I was like, 'Wow, I am just a person.' I was not just 'the black guy' anymore."

He established himself as an artist here. His works, displayed at Riverside Church and the Big Apple Jazz Gallery ( , are made of objects found on the streets of Harlem. "If I am in the Bronx or down in Manhattan and I see something, I won't use it!" he says.

The fact that his art pieces and community work are so reminiscent of what he witnessed in that kitchen 40 years ago doesn't strike him as accidental.

"In a way, I am exorcising the demon," he says. "And it's healing."


For more information on free cosmetic surgery programs for battered women, visit, call Jeremiah Drake at (212) 870-6700, or Harlem Hospital at (212) 939-8990. 


For inquiries regarding Mr. Drake's art
please call Big Apple Jazz: 212 283-5299


Do you know a New Yorker who makes a difference? E-mail us at

Originally published on November 22, 2006

JEREMIAH DRAKE'S Art is available at Big Apple Jazz / EZ's Woodshed
2236 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (AKA 7th Ave. 131st / 132nd Street)
212 283-JAZZ (5299)

Autopsy by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple Jazz
Autopsy by Jeremiah Drake

Billie (Slashing of the Icon series)

Black Modonna  by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple Jazz
Black Madonna by Jeremiah Drake

The Neutralization of the Black Power Movement  by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple Jazz
The Neutralization of the Black Power Movement by Jeremiah Drake

Redemption  by Jeremiah Drake exhibited at Big Apple Jazz
Redemption by Jeremiah Drake


Community Artist Partners with Columbia to Aid Victims of Domestic Violence

With help from Columbia University dentists, local artist and activist Jeremiah Kyle Drake is helping to bring back smiles to victims of domestic violence in New York.

Artist Jeremiah Kyle Drake, left, and Dr. Ronnie Myers, associate dean for clinical affairs, at the College of Dental Medicine
After meeting a woman whose jaw and teeth were damaged by her abusive husband, Drake began to think about the dental aspect of domestic violence and began to examine ways in which he could help provide restorative dentistry to these victims. An artist at Riverside Theatre in Morningside Heights, Drake, who grew up in an abusive family, immediately looked to neighboring Columbia for help.

“Columbia was just as excited as I was about this idea,” said Drake. “They really brought the needed life blood to this project.”

Through the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, resident dentists will see up to 40 patients per year and provide them with dental treatment that will include restoring their teeth to form and function. In some cases, this could also include greater and extended treatment.

Related Links

• Harlem Artist Helps Battered Women Get Free Reconstructive Surgery, New York Daily News
• Face to Face cosmetic surgery program (in which Drake is involved)

Over the years, the college has reached out to those in need through community programs in the school system and geriatric centers, as well as with its mobile dental van. The college also operates the Community DentCare program, which provides comprehensive dental care for children, adults and senior citizens in Washington Heights, Inwood and Harlem.

“We have a strong commitment to helping those in need of oral health care,” said Dr. Ronnie Myers, associate dean for clinical affairs at Columbia. “If we can be of help to those individuals who have been victims of domestic violence in any way, we will have fulfilled one of our major missions of patient care.”

In this new initiative, Columbia has partnered with three community organizations—Safe Horizon, the Dove Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the Washington Heights/Inwood Coalition Against Domestic Violence—that are charged with referring qualified patients to the program.

Raising awareness and finding support for victims of domestic violence has been a personal mission for Drake fueled by his own traumatic memories of family abuse. As a young boy growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., Drake witnessed firsthand his father’s repeated physical abuse of his mother.

“He brutalized her,” he said. “I’ve carried these memories with me, but helping others who are suffering helps me deal with my own traumatic memories.”

Drake, who joined Riverside Theatre in 2000, began using art as a way to raise awareness for victims of domestic violence. His project, Restoring the Icon evolved from an earlier visual art series. The Slashing of the Icon featured images of African American icons such as Billie Holiday which were slashed as an artistic statement on women in domestic violence situations. Drake has also forged a partnership with Harlem Hospital and inspired the creation of a bill that would amend the social services law to provide medical assistance to needy persons for the care and treatment of scarring resulting from domestic abuse.

– Written by Melanie Farmer.
– Photograph by David Wentworth.

Published: Aug. 7, 2007

































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