ITHACA, N.Y. – Amidst the Juneteenth Festival activities celebrating the abolition of slavery at Southside Community Center this weekend, one particular collaborative project was unveiled during the festival on Saturday afternoon.

A mural decorating the front of the community center was revealed to the public, representing five members of the community center. The mural, which a group from Southside began nearly a year ago in July, is a celebration of ‘black girl alchemists’ – a term conceived by Dr. Nia Nunn, president of the Southside board and Nydia Boyd, Southside’s former executive director.

“The concept of black girl magic is to celebrate our beauty, power and resilience,” Nunn said.

Black girl alchemists, similarly, demand space for visibility through their artwork, she said.  

“We talk about self-love and collective pride being absolutely revolutionary – this work recognizes that when the community prioritizes the voices of black girls and black women, everybody benefits,” Nunn said.

Related: Southside Community Center celebrates 85 years of empowering black girls

Related: Mama Scott’s abolitionist teaching lives on at Juneteenth Festival

Nunn said she has worked with many of the girls involved in the project since childhood. With a grant from the NoVo Foundation, money was allocated to enhance artistic work with young black girls, Nunn said. When the idea of the mural came up, Nunn said a group of about 12 girls ranging from college students to girls still in middle school studied each of their faces in the mirror for about 15 minutes. 

“We spent some time with our features and our skin, our complexion and our facial structures,” Nunn said.

After conceptualizing the ideas for the mural, local artist Annemarie Zwack stepped in to help with the drawing and sculpting part of building the mural.

Made primarily from clay, the mural is scattered with bits of glass and other colorful fragments pieced together to create an elaborate portrait of five girls.

“I’m so honored to get to be a part of it because it was really an intimate space,” Zwack said. “We talked about the things that came up following the mirror exercise, how we felt about our faces, our bodies and all these different aspects – that was the kickoff of the self-portrait idea.”

Nunn said not only was the mural a way to encourage artistic work at the community center but also to help members of the community express themselves more deeply.

“It’s a way for us to define ourselves in a major major way and encourage other people to help see the way we define ourselves,” she said.

See more photos from the festival below.

Alyvia Covert

Alyvia is a Crime Reporter with The Ithaca Voice. She graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Journalism and Photography.