(*This column has been updated to accurately identify the organization Young Professionals of Color. It was misidentified in an earlier version.)
By Anwar Curtis
February is Black History Month. I won’t bore you with the back and forth text expressing my thoughts on why black history is much more than a 28-day celebration.
Yet I would like to take the time to share what Harrisburg has offered thus far thanks to the local organization, *Young Professionals of Color. It is a reiteration of similar organizations, and “its purpose is to create community for the black and brown professional collective in the Capital Region” co-founder Kaye Georeen said.
To start off the first quarter of 2019 YPOC once again put together its “Black in the Burg” experience.
“Black in the Burg” is a week full of stimulating social gatherings tailored towards Black History Month. I was made aware of YPOC and Black in the Burg last year right when the number one movie for at least five consecutive weeks, Black Panther, hit the theaters.
Although I wasn’t able to participate in the showing of Black Panther with YPOC, I have been able to keep up with their contributions in the area.
During this year’s Black in the Burg YPOC orchestrated a week full of memorable events, creating a stream for insightful dialogue to take place.
On Feb. 11, YPOC member and creative behind the company Black Mermaids; Julia Mallory hosted “Capes into Pillows.”
That superwoman power mind-state rolled right into Monday’s dialogue, which centered on African-Americans who are always working to avoid looked at as lazy.
Something even more powerful occurred during the all women’s group, which wasn’t planned but probably needed. The women who attended Monday’s session were able to be vulnerable, rescinding all negative vibes and created a space for women to encourage other women why protecting their space and not be overworked both at work and at home is so vital.
On Tuesday YPOC held its weekly kickback with “Topixx Tuesday,” a “Black in the Burg” event focusing on famous African-Americans who were known for breaking the rules and not asking permission.
Names like Rosa Parks, Madame CJ Walker, Dr. May Edward Chin, Marcus Garvey, among others were discussed. There was also a conversation on black/minority tax, which entailed “whether black figures who were considered rebellious were subjected to the black tax and respectability politics” Georeen explained.
There, I was reminded by Harrisburg School Board President Jennifer Smallwood how vibrant the city of Harrisburg once was, and how African-Americans, as a community, thrived. An interactive discussion “We Been There” homed in on local contributions to black history.
The panel consisted of Smallwood; Harrisburg Councilman Kelly Summerford; Singers’ Lounger founder Airis Smallwood; filmmaker Bryan Wade and Korean War veteran Calobe Jackson Jr.
Airis Smallwood started off by talking about Tanner’s Alley which was an Underground Railroad station right here in Harrisburg. That was followed up with panelist sharing how pulsating, Uptown Harrisburg was with businesses like the Lawsons, F & W Fish House, Martha’s Turntable, VIP which stood on the second floor inside Strawberry Square, and even a gas station.
Summerford remembers there being more than 30 black-owned businesses that stood tall right here in Harrisburg. Like most major cities, Harrisburg was the city jazz musicians had to travel through, not around, in order to be verified the same way New York or even Philadelphia is today.
At the end of this discussion, Summerford’s exhortation that “if it did then, we can again” struck a chord with me.
Airis Smallwood expressed a need to focus more on black history on a local level, and I believe everyone left District inspired and educated.
On Friday, Feb. 15, YPOC will be showing “The Last Dragon.” And Saturday will consist of board games and brunch. On Sunday The Singers Lounge turns three.
Don’t miss out.
Capital-Star Opinion contributor Anwar Curtis, of Harrisburg, tells the stories of the people of Pennsylvania’s capital city. His work appears biweekly. Email him at [email protected].