Year three of Black History Month Kingston continues crucial conversation

A scene from last February’s Sojourner Truth Life Walk. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Three years ago, Frank Waters organized the first citywide Black History Month. Since then, the celebration has taken off, with performances, film screenings, lectures, kids’ events, meet-ups, craft workshops, story-telling and more.

This year, BHMK is offering more than 60 events, representing more than 30 organizations, including 10 new partners. (Waters, founder and former director of Mykingstonkids, is now director of Kingston Midtown Rising; co-organizer Tyrone Wilson, who was executive director of Harambee, has recently been appointed as the county’s Human Rights commissioner.)

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Many BHMK events are free, others have a suggested donation, a few require tickets. They give city residents and others a chance to more deeply understand and appreciate the history and cultural achievements of African-Americans, both locally and nationally.

“The importance of Black History Month Kingston cannot be overstated,” noted Mayor Steve Noble in an email. “These events shed light on our past and educate our community on how to heal and move forward to a brighter future. Seeing our neighbors come together for a month-long series of events is heartening, but it’s also necessary to build a stronger community where all are valued and heard.”

Community participation was up 30 percent at last year’s celebration, and Waters expects a similar increase this year. Ulster Savings Bank, Radio Kingston, Rupco, The Farm Hub, Kingston Midtown Rising, Seasoned Gives, and HealthAlliance are leading sponsors, and the venues stretch from Ponckhockie to Frank Sottile Boulevard to Hurley Avenue.

In addition, BHMK’s relationship with community churches has been expanded to include the Kingston Interfaith Council, which is marketing the event.

The month officially launches with a breakfast mixer at City Hall this Friday, Jan. 31 featuring organizers Waters and Wilson and Mayor Noble. That evening, a free community dinner will be held at the YMCA featuring local produce and dishes cooked up by local chefs. The next afternoon, Feb. 1, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan will introduce BHMK’s Kick-Off Event, with dancing by the CCE and MyKingstonKids, singing, poetry, a fashion show and various vendors. It’ll be followed that evening by the First Saturday gallery openings, of which a highlight will be “The Source of Self-Regard,” a show featuring visual and performance artists who are women of color at the Idea Gallery; hosted by FreedomWalker Dickerson, the multi-disciplinary exhibition is inspired by Toni Morrison’s essays and meditations belong to the book of the same name. Participating artists include AJ Aremu, Sadee Brathwaite, Andie Clarkson, IONE, and Cynthia Tibbs.

There are more than a dozen cultural events: “Pottery and Poetry,” in which Kingston Ceramics Studio presents the story of Dave The Potter, an enslaved artist profiled in a book that will be distributed, and encourages participants to make their own pots inscribed with secret messages, at the Shirt Factory on Feb. 2 and 16; a morning performance and workshop with African drummer Amadou Diallo at the Kingston Library, ending with a group drumming session, and a live afternoon HD performance of the Met Opera’s new production of Porgy and Bess at UPAC, both on Feb. 8; Sip N’ Paint, in which participants will imbibe and paint, at the Creative Center for Education, on Feb. 9; screenings of scenes related to black history from lesser-known feature films curated by Stephen Blauweiss at the Idea Garden on Feb 11; “Sankofa: A Day of Traditional Arts,” workshops on weaving, quilting and natural cloth dyeing sponsored by the Circle Creative Collective at the Clinton Avenue Church on Feb. 15, which will include a presentation on the Gullah people and a demonstration by a fifth-generation sweetgrass basket weaver from South Carolina, the sewing of a community quilt incorporating quilt codes from the Underground Railroad, and P.O.O.K. performances and drumming; TMI Project’s Black Stories Matter, featuring storytellers from The Nubian Café and Circle of Brothers, at the Clinton Avenue Church on Feb. 15; a “Brown Mural Tour” hosted by O+ and a screening of the classic action film The Last Dragon at UPAC on Feb. 16; a presentation by Stephen Blauweiss featuring short films and rare photographs related to the black cultural history of Ulster County at New Progressive Baptist Church on Feb. 24; and a “Maple Moon Festival & Pancake” at Seed Song Farm & Center on Feb. 19, which besides servings of pancakes and maple syrup will feature a presentation on maple sugaring and the abolitionist movement by the Victory Bus Project.

Events geared to kids include not only the Kingston Ceramics Studio pottery, Amadou Diallo drumming and Sankofa traditional crafts workshops, but also teen workshops offered by the Youth Design Team, which is working on the Pine Street African Burial Ground, at the YMCA on Feb. 6,13, and 20; a family yoga session at The Yoga House on Feb. 16; “The Rose Mansion Experience” at the Lace Mill on Feb. 19, in which teens can explore four interactive rooms themed around history and fashion, food and music and dance; the annual carnival at the Rondout Neighborhood Center, with education sessions on black history Feb. 20 and musicand games on Feb. 21; and a youth celebration at the Everette Hodge Center, focusing on Hodge’s life and legacy, on Feb. 28.

To commemorate famous orator, abolitionist and suffrage rights advocate Sojourner Truth, who was born and raised a slave in Town of Esopus and successfully tried her case against a Southerner who had kidnapped her son at Ulster County Courthouse, BHM Kis hosting its second annual Sojourner Truth Life Walk on Feb. 22. A trolley shuttle will take participants from Dietz Stadium to the Esopus Town Hall, where the tour will begin; stops include the Pine Street African Burial Ground and the Ulster County Courthouse.  It will end at Old Dutch Church with a reenactment of Truth’s famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech by Deborah Zuill, followed by a presentation by Meredith Bergmann and Vinnie Bagwell, who’ve both been commissioned to create sculptures of Truth (Bergmann’s will be installed in Central Park and Bagwell’s at the entrance to Walkway Over the Hudson in Highland).

BHMK abounds with informational sessions and meet-ups: a discussion on critical community issues, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, at the African Roots Library on Feb. 1; a session on strategies of building wealth and managing credit at the Clinton Avenue Church on Feb. 4; a session on minority home ownership at Clinton Avenue Church on Feb. 6; a business mixer sponsored by Black Women at Work, including information on the Upstate Black Chamber of Commerce, on Feb. 5;  a talk featuring nonprofits at the Lace Mill on Feb. 7; a Nubian Café open to all women featuring five African-American women discussing timely issues at the Greenhouse, 65 St. James, on Feb. 12; a screening of Land in Black Hands followed by a talk on black land access and economic development at the Clinton Avenue Church on Feb. 21; a session on wills and trusts hosted by Credit Lounge of America’s founder Dr. Henry Nelson at Clinton Avenue Church on Feb. 27; and “Circulation of the Dollar,” a session on ownership presented by a panel of professionals at Courtyard by Marriott on Feb. 28.

Finally, BHMK is hosting a series of parties and meals, culminating in the Gala. A comedy show, dinner, and dance party to music spun by DJ Hassboogie is on the menu for the Valentine’s Day Love and Laugh Get Down, Feb. 14 at the VFW on East Chester Street. Pointe of Praise Church will be hosting its annual soul lunch and dinner series on Feb. 21, 22, and 28. A free Unity in the Community Dinner will be held at Kingston High School on Feb. 26, which will include performances by students. Harambee’s Third Annual BHM Kingston Gala will be held at La Mirage Restaurant & Catering, in Ulster Park, on Feb. 29; tickets are $100, which will support the second annual African-American Festival, to be held in August. Participants are advised to wear costumes or accessories related to ancient Egypt, and there will be dancing, food, a silent auction and the presentation of two awards, the Community Arts Award to Drew Bryant and the first Esther Taylor-Evans Community Engagement Award to Pastor Modele Clarke. 

BHMK will close with an event at the Ulster County Restorative Justice Center on the evening of March 1, which will feature music, food and art displays. For details, including times, locations, and the suggested fee or ticket cost, visit blackhistorymonthkingston.org.

The higher purpose of all the fun, networking, noshing, and learning is to bring people together and foster pride and understanding of the black experience, Waters said. To have a truly equal society, “people have to be able to listen and understand different perspectives. You have to step out of yourself and look at someone else’s challenges, then you have to speak up and take action. You can vote, protest or create a new conversation … the beautiful thing about these events is that they are opening conversations the majority of folks aren’t talking about.

“The biggest issue for black America is you have to stop constantly leaving us out of the conversation,” he concluded. “We don’t want to survive, we want to live.” 

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