February 19, 2012

City Leaders Honor Black History Month

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African-American community leaders, drawing from their own life experiences, spoke about the importance of leadership in honor of Black History Month at the Tompkins County Public Library on Saturday.

Susan Currie, director of the Tompkins County Public Library, said that the talk was “our celebration of Black History Month.”

The panel consisted of four leaders from the Ithaca community: Mayor Svante Myrick ’09; Millicent Clark-Maynard III, a teacher at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School; Marcia J. Fort, the executive director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center; and Aloja Airewele, a trained physician who works as a case manager for the American Red Cross.

Myrick shared personal anecdotes, often to boisterous applause.

Myrick referenced his life story, noting that he grew up homeless, and said this was the reason he pursued a career in government.

Myrick said that neither he nor his siblings would be “the contributing members of society that they are now” without government programs, and that  the “little bit of investment that was made in our family was exactly that, an investment, not a sunk cost, but a gain.”

Additionally, Myrick said that serving others goes beyond repaying a debt and that through serving others, “not only would I be making up what I owe, but I would be making a larger difference than I ever could by seeking just to enrich myself.”

Other speakers also talked about how to help youth in the community.

Airewele, the trained physician who works for the American Red Cross, said that sometimes help can be provided by saying “come with me, I’ll show you how it’s done.” Prompted by an audience question, Myrick added that, to keep youths from following “bad leaders,” they have to “feel comfortable enough not to follow without constant approval.”

The talk then moved from a discussion of leadership to a discussion of race in the Ithaca community.

Airewele asked the other panelists if they “ever felt like a minority in this community,” to which they all responded “yes.” While Myrick said that he perceived that “people in our generation” have a “greater opportunity to define outside of race,” he added, “you really are how you are seen … until you have an opportunity to define yourself.”

For instance, Fort said she often felt like a minority because she was typically the only black member of an organization.

Although Clark-Maynard, the teacher at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School, said that “racism is not going to go away,” she expressed hope that the community “can get to a point where we are aware that we are doing this and correct it.”

Attendees said that the event was a success, with Myrick noting that it was “very well-attended” considering that the chili cook-off was happening at the same time across the street.

Currie, the director of the Tompkins County Public Library, said the event affirmed that the Tompkins County Public Library is “a place for community connection.”

Original Author: Wesley Rogers