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A Round Up: How the JCC Movement Celebrated Black History Month This Year

With Black History Month recently concluded, JCC Association of North America is pleased to share some of the creative and innovative ways the JCC Movement honored, commemorated, and celebrated Black individuals, culture, and community in 2023.

  • The JCC of Central NJ in Scotch Plains, N.J., partnered with numerous community organizations to host historian and author Ethel Washington, who spoke about her book, “Union County Black Americans.” The conversation was moderated by John Prescott, the history programs coordinator of the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.
  • The Joan and Alan Bernikow JCC of Staten Island in New York offered a series of programs this year, including a Black business expo that featured vendors, networking opportunities, entertainment, and an awards presentation. The JCC’s Beacon program at I.S. 49, where students celebrated Black history through music, dance, and film, also was part of the series.
  • At the JCC MetroWest in West Orange, N.J., a recent staff read was Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s book, “The Trials of Phillis Wheatley,” and after reading it, the staff learned about Wheatley, the first African American author of a published book of poetry.
  • At the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC in Houston, Tex., toddlers learned about Alma Thomas, an African American artist whose mosaics inspired the young learners. The children were introduced to her through books and photos and then they talked about color, shape, form, and feelings. With help from their teachers, each class created a replica of one of her works of art.
  • The Gordon Center for Performing Arts at the JCC of Greater Baltimore in Md., in partnership with the Baltimore Black Dance Collective, hosted a month-long celebration of Black Dance in America. In addition to workshops and classes, three live performances graced the Gordon stage, including CELEBRATION: Uplifting and Honoring the Culture and History of Black Dance.
  • In Tenafly, N.J., the Kaplan JCC on the Palisades continued its annual tradition of sharing educational posters during February. This year’s digital posters featured some lesser-known Black inventors, including. Sarah E. Goode, Thomas L. Jennings, Otis Frank Boykin, and George Speck, among others.
  • The Friedman JCC in Kingston, Pa., invited officers from the local NAACP chapter to speak with the JCC’s Men’s Club and welcomed three guests who spoke about their personal experiences at a lunch program open to the wider community.
  • The Arthur M. Glick JCC in Indianapolis, Ind., installed “The Afro-Jewish Intersection: Revealing Our Connections” that featured two local artists: Kassa Bekele, an Ethiopian American painter, and William Rasdell, a photographer who has searched for Jewish enclaves in Africa. Together, their works provide an experience that helps connect thousands of years of common history and belief.
  • The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island in Providence held a book program that featured “Diary of a Black Jewish Messiah: The Sixteenth-Century Journey of David Reubeni through Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.” Alan Verskin, associate professor of Jewish and Islamic history at the University of Rhode Island led a conversation about the story is of a Black Jewish figure whom many thought of as a messiah 600 years ago.
  • In addition to a series of events with its community schools and after school programs, Commonpoint Queens in Queens, N.Y., asked staff and program participants to share their favorite Black artists, musicians, authors, and Black-owned businesses, among other categories.

May these creative programs, initiatives, and events inspire your JCC to celebrate honor, and commemorate the Black individuals, culture, and community that are integral to the fabric of our society, not only during Black History Month but in every month throughout the year.

Photo: Evelyn Rubenstein JCC, Houston, Tex.

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