If you tend to think of Black History Month as window-dressing, an excuse to compartmentalize or throw a sop to the legacy of African-Americans instead of incorporating it as an essential component of education in general, maybe it’s time to think about that some more. Communities are upping their game these days, in terms of sponsoring February events that seriously raise consciousness, along with promoting pride and unity and dialogue.
This year is an especially meaningful one, marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to be sold into bondage in North America, at Jamestown. That’s four centuries of harm to be acknowledged and, wherever possible, expiated: a daunting-but-necessary task. The 400 Years of Inequality coalition is leading the way with a campaign to get long-established institutions, such as newspapers, universities and businesses, to admit to the racist practices in their own pasts, and then implement policies for the future that expunge whatever vestiges of them still remain.
The City of Kingston is one community that is taking the need to tell stores of oppression and resistance seriously. Its monthlong schedule of Black History events is brimming with lectures and panel discussions and sharings of oral history that sound as if they’d be fascinating for anyone of any color, but especially meaningful for the local African-American community. There’s plentiful upbeat celebration of black culture going on as well, of course. Here’s just a weekend’s worth of examples – this coming weekend, to be precise:
The Ulster Performing Arts Center eases things off on Friday evening, February 15, with a screening of Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz (1978). This reworking of the stage musical based on The Wizard of Oz, with musical direction by Quincy Jones, stars Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, and features Lena Horne as Glinda and Richard Pryor as the Wiz. It starts at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free. Afterwards, if you’ve still got some energy, put the kids to bed and come out to the Celebration of Black Music Dance Party at Alebrijes Restaurant at 237 Forest Hill Drive. Running from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., it’s geared toward “grown and mature” partiers, and will feature music from the 1970s to the present. Radio Kingston’s Hip Hop 101 Radio Show will be doing a special live broadcast. Admission costs $10, but ladies get in free until 11 p.m.
Once you’ve danced away Friday night, Saturday starts offering some opportunities to ponder deeper issues. From 7 to 9 p.m. at Pointe of Praise Church at 243 Hurley Avenue – a vital inspirational and organizational nexus of Kingston’s African-American community – the TMI Project will present what it calls its “first-ever intergenerational performance,” featuring “radically candid true stories from local people of color, from high school students to respected elders and many in between.” This evening of memoir is called “Black Stories Matter,” and it’s aimed at a mixed audience: People of color will hear their own truths told, and white listeners will learn things they need to know if America is to change for the better. RSVP at www.blackstoriesmatter.eventbrite.com if you plan to attend, or organize a viewing party as the event is livestreamed at www.facebook.com/tmiproject or at www.tmiproject.org/blackstoriesmatter.
Sunday brings in a potentially game-changing discussion about land access and economic development strategies in black communities, titled “The Possibility of Land in Black Hands.” Four speakers – Ed Whitfield of the Fund for Democratic Communities, Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm, Çaca Yvaire of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust and Jalal Sabur of the Freedom Food Alliance and WILDSEED – will impart their experiences, challenges and victories in creating black-owned food/agricultural cooperatives and black-led community land trusts. In an America where farmers are expected to be white people and black urban neighborhoods are the likeliest to be “food deserts,” what could be more revolutionary, on a basic, survival-driven level, than the idea of black people going back to the land, or turning blighted blocks into community gardens? It’s an idea that puts the root (radix) in radical. If you’re intrigued by the concept, come hear what some pioneers of this movement have to say from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Church House, located at 355 Hasbrouck Avenue.
The Kingston Land Trust, the Hudson Valley Farm Hub and Scenic Hudson are co-sponsors of this free event. RSVP at http://bit.ly/landinblackhands. Note that on-street parking is limited, so plan to carpool if possible. There is a municipal parking lot at the corner of Delaware and Hasbrouck Avenues.
Black History Month events in Kingston continue throughout February. On Monday, February 18 from 5 to 7 p.m., the Uptown brewpub/bookstore Rough Draft will host the next in a series of informational and fundraising events devoted to the current campaign by the Kingston Land Trust and Harambee to purchase, preserve and restore the Pine Street African Burial Ground. Organizers seek to raise $200,000 to keep the parcel, currently in pre-foreclosure, from being put up for auction and possibly developed. The Kingston Land Trust has already committed $40,000; donors can pledge their support at https://bit.ly/2E8sXFv. Or just show up at 82 John Street and enjoy a beer while learning more about the project; Rough Draft is donating a portion of the day’s sales to the cause.
For more details and the full schedule of 2019 Black History Month events in Kingston, visit www.blackhistorymonthkingston.org.