ITHACA, N.Y. –– As the coronavirus pandemic continues to redefine normal, Ithaca’s youth programs are creating innovative experiences to celebrate Black History Month.

One of those groups helping to celebrate Black History Month despite the ongoing pandemic is the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC). While this year’s celebration looks different than normal years, Brandon Blas, the Pre-K through fifth grade coordinator, and his colleagues at GIAC said they are determined to continue educating about and celebrating Black lives. According to Blas, this year’s focus is on history being made now and accomplishments of Black people as they “change the narrative (that Black) history is all in the past,” and instead celebrate Black leaders in today’s world.

As part of this endeavor, the halls of GIAC are decorated with information and pictures about Black people throughout history. Large, decorated cardboard cutouts of the letters B, H and M, for Black History Month, stand alongside cardboard cutouts of Vice President Kamala Harris and  Tompkins County Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, who’s also GIAC’s director. The gymnasium, which is welcoming kids at a smaller capacity for programming, is filled with hands-on activities that teach students about the accomplishments and history of Black innovators. 

In addition to their in-person celebration, GIAC is posting “28 Days of Black History Month” on their Facebook, sharing images and information about that day in Black history. Their annual Black History Month Community Talent Show will be held virtually this year, allowing them to entertain and educate a larger audience. Local artists in the area will be presenting a visual art piece alongside other community members at the show. Those interested in participating can check out GIAC’s Facebook page for more information.

The Ithaca Youth Bureau (IYB) is also focusing on recent Black history and things that Black trailblazers are doing now. This year, the Paul Schreurs Memorial Program (PSMP) within IYB –– a program which is specifically geared towards working with youth members of color and low-income members –– will be watching movies virtually with their community members and having online discussions. Similarly to GIAC, PSMP and other groups within IYB are posting about Black History Month on social media, sharing Black history and accomplishments. In addition, PSMP will be gathering safely with their students to make art about Black history.

Johara Malcolm, the coordinator of PSMP explains that “it’s really cool to have things in the Youth Bureau that participants (…) can see themselves (in).” Different programs within IYB have worked collaboratively to “make the building celebratory for Black History Month,” said Malcolm, thus creating a space for students to celebrate Black lives.

Along with current Black history, IYB is celebrating Black youth. “We’d like to celebrate Black youth and things they did when they were young to give our kids of color the knowledge of things they can do even as a young person,” Malcolm said. To find out more or get involved, check out IYB’s Facebook page.

In addition to GIAC and IYB, which are doing some hybrid virtual and in-person programming to celebrate Black History Month, Ithaca’s Southside Community Center (SCC) has taken to social media to advertise both virtual Black History Month lessons and events as well as promote their new community grant program that launched in mid-February. 

In celebration of Black History Month, SCC is funding initiatives that align with its mission through mini-grants. These grants range from $500 to $1,000 and will be awarded to five to 10 projects in March. In addition, they’re continuing to post their monthly Black Town Halls and personal stories from members of Ithaca’s Black community on their Facebook page.

Dr. Nia Nunn, SCC’s Board of Directors president added that the Community Unity Music and Education Program (CUMEP) out of SCC will also keep their “7 days of Kwanzaa” videos up on their page focusing on “Black consciousness work.”

The coronavirus pandemic may have changed what Black History Month looks like this year, but that hasn’t stopped local youth organizations from creating innovative and fun ways for their students to celebrate Black lives all February long.

If there’s a group we left out please email or to let us know how you’re celebrating Black History Month.