Black History Month: We Can Still Celebrate Virtually

This month marks the 106th year since Dr. Carter G. Woodson & Jesse E Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History (now the Assoc. for the Study of African American Life & History) to promote studying black history as a discipline and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans.  What began as Negro History Week in 1926 shifted to Black History Month in 1976 by President Gerald Ford when he called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.

While 2021 BHM celebrations may look different than years prior due to the pandemic, it can be argued that commemorating contributions and recognizing the adversity the African American community endured is more important now than ever.  “While there is no denying 2020 was difficult, there’s a silver lining” says Abigail Lewis, Executive Director of Bethany Arts Community. “Our shift to virtual programming, with our first ever virtual residency and our public programs, helped us lower the barriers to access to art and artists” she says.

We spoke with members of our local arts community to understand the ways in which they’re honoring, virtually, the rich influence the African American community had in shaping our local landscape this Black History Month.

“Black History is American History, but this month gives us the specific opportunity to present programs that integrate the themes of our exhibitions and collections with the culture, history, and concerns of the African American community today, from vibrant art forms, to access to the landscape and nature, to the contributions of scientists and inventors that have heretofore been overlooked” says Saralinda Lichtblau, Hudson River Museum’s Assistant Director of Education.

Joyce Sharrock Cole, Ossining’s Village Historian and board member of The Bethany Art Community, curated their February’s exhibition, Ossining Black History & Culture: RESILIENCE. DEDICATION. EXCELLENCE. Using a series of photographs, ephemera and live performances, Cole hopes the exhibition will give people a sense of empathy and understanding. “We have the opportunity to amplify all the voices of the community” and bring awareness to “ordinary people doing extraordinary things that influence the community we live in” says Cole.

In keeping with Ford’s call to honor the accomplishments of black Americans in every endeavor of history, we created a local line-up of exhibits, lectures and presentations for Black History Month celebrating the African American community’s contribution to society.

ART & MUSIC

  • Artist Marcus John Spoken Word (Bethany Art Community)

    Bethany Art Community, Ossining Black History & Culture: RESILIENCE. DEDICATION. EXCELLENCE. This exhibit reveals an unseen glimpse into local black culture. Through their drive, resilience, and perseverance, the black community has been an integral component of the growth and prosperity of Ossining, laying foundations that we still benefit from today. Highlighting and amplifying their contributions (spanning two centuries), this exhibit will acknowledge the challenges they faced, celebrate their triumphs, and recognize their commitment to the Ossining community. Thought-provoking, eye-opening, and inspirational, Ossining Black History & Culture is an effort to connect, empathize, and honor the generations of black citizens that broke through barriers to benefit the community of Ossining as a whole. An exhibition through a series of photographs, ephemera and live performances running February 6th through March 5th.  Both in person and virtual viewings available.  Registration on BAC website: bethanyarts.org

    • February 13: Talk -Table Wizard Spinny Spin and the Separate 5 Mcs:The Untold Story of the beginning of Ossining Hip Hop Culture with Spencer Thomas
    • February 20: An Evening of Music and Talk with Ted Daniels
    • February 27: An Evening of Music with KJ Denhert
    • February 19: Talk – Harlem Renaissance: A Golden Age (7:30pm)
  • Hudson River Museum, Mashed up Maps. In this virtual program, three artists perform visual, verbal, and musical mash-ups in reaction to the landscapes on view in Landscape Art and Virtual Travel, unearthing the multi-sensory and multi-layered responses we have, conscious and subliminal, to the views we encounter in the world. Artist and rapper Umar Rashid, aka Frohawk Two Feathers, spoken word poet Marcus John, and vocalist Kaira Hassell travel together through the exhibition extemporizing on individual and combinations of works in a multi-media medley. February 28th, 1:30pm. Registration on HRM website: www.hrm.org
  • Jacob Burns Film Center, REMIX: The Black Experience in Film Media & Art. A virtual panel discussion with film producer, writer & associate professor of media studies & film at The New School Michelle Materre and Louise Greaves, film-maker, director, producer centered around 1972’s political documentary, NATIONTIME, directed by Greaves’ widow, William Greaves. This 1972 documentary captures the National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana-a historical evebt that gathered black voices from across political spectrum, narrated by Sidney Poitier. Registration on JBFC website: www.burnsfilmcenter.org
  • Melanin Magic! A Celebration of Black Excellence and Artistry. Performance Date: February 20 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM. Performances will be Live on Facebook and Instagram. Written by Jodi Fernandez.
    In the Fall of 2020 NECS embarked on a journey to educate, empower, and build community through learning about history. In a time of racial unrest, strength and resilience comes from knowing our history. NECS students have engaged in the exploration of African and African-American history, anthropology, and sociology over the past few months. Melanin Magic! focuses on educating and uplifting students through song, dance, and spoken word.The production will highlight the survival and resilience of people of color and celebrate our common humanity. In this production, NECS artists showcase their knowledge of our history through song, dance, drama and spoken word as we celebrate Black Artistry and Excellence during Black History Month. Performances will include: A short skit, a spoken word performance, a rendition of the Black National Anthem, and a musical/dance number that pays tribute to the African Diaspora in Latin America and Caribbean. The production will conclude with a talkback session led by NECS youth artists. The event is FREE! Donations are welcome. People can register to attend at http://bit.ly/melanin_magic_022021 to receive the link and updates leading to the event.

SCIENCE

  • Virtual Star Show PC NASA David C Bowman (Hudson River Museum)

    Hudson River Museum, Virtual Planetarium Show. For this Black History Month, our tour of the sky will include a look at the contributions and discoveries of Black Americans — astronomers, mathematicians, engineers, and old-fashioned rocket scientists. Monday to Friday, Feb. 15-19, 12:30pm. hrm.org

ENVIORNMENT

  • The Field Library, Peekskill: James F. Brown, Cultivating Freedom: From Slave to Citizen. The Field Library of Peekskill joins with the Mount Gulian Historic Site, Beacon for a virtual presentation about the amazing life of James F. Brown, a runaway slave who went on to become a noteworthy Hudson Valley resident. February 9th, via zoom. Registration on Field Library’s website, peekskill.org
  • Hudson River Museum, Talking with: Author, Activist, & Artist about Access. In celebration of Black History Month, we have invited Dr. Carolyn Finney, author of the book, “Black Faces, White Spaces,” and a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont; Jose Gonzalez, Founder and Former Executive Director for Latino Outdoors, currently a partner at Avarna; and Jeremy Dennis, an artist of Shinnecock origin, who has loaned photographs from his series On This Site, that document ancient, sacred tribal lands, to the exhibition, to share their unique and representative perspectives on these questions, and their implications for racial and environmental justice, in a virtual conversation inspired by “Landscape Art and Virtual Travel”. February 13th, 2:00pm. Register on hrm.org

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About the Author: Angela Bosco