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5 Projects Preserving Black History and Envisioning Black Futures

Happy Black History Month, LP fam. This month, we’ve compiled a (non-exhaustive!) list of some creative projects and community-building initiatives that preserve and celebrate Black history, or envision and build Black futures throughout New York City. Let these Create & Connect projects expand your imagination, and see how creativity is a tool in the practice of self-determination.

1. United Order of Tents, Eastern District #3

If you’ve ever taken a walk through Bed-Stuy, perhaps you’ve come upon 87 MacDonough Street, a mansion with a sign posted above the doorway reading: Eastern District Grand Tent #3, Grand United Order of Tents of BKLYN.

Established in secrecy in the 1800s, the United Order of Tents is a Black womens’ benevolent society: an abolitionist mutual aid group that initially provided aid to those escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad.

Their Eastern District headquarters in Bed-Stuy has come out of secrecy to better solve local issues and serve the community, especially elderly neighbors, through the bonds of sisterhood. The Tents Eastern District #3 was awarded our Bed-Stuy Create & Connect Fund grant to host an event in May 2022. The event will bring together Bed-Stuy neighbors to participate in a community art project documenting stories of mutual aid for future generations. 

2. Meditating for Black Lives

“We breathe now, because they could not.” This sentiment grounds the work of Meditating for Black Lives, a group founded by Bed-Stuy resident Brittany Micek that leads community meditation sessions in public spaces throughout Brooklyn.

Building on the principles and practices of various meditation traditions, their sessions support healing from racial and systemic oppressions. Through guided contemplative practice, community members are provided space to process absorbed traumas and channel the energy of their breath into a future of healing for Black people, Brown and Indigenous people, and the world at large.

Photo credit: Naeem Douglas

3. The Garden

The creators of The Garden know that if a community can celebrate, read, and learn together, they can organize for liberation together.

The Garden is a Black, Bed-Stuy-based, pop-up abolitionist bookstore and community space. Their mission is to reignite and nurture collective imagination in service of Black Liberation. Their lending library distributes books on abolition and Black activism, both historical and contemporary, to help resource the local Black community for a future of liberation.

In addition to the library, The Garden produces their own accessible educational material about abolition, hosts reading and writing circles, participates in mutual aid projects, and celebrates Black joy and stories through community-led events.

Follow them on Instagram at @abolitionisagarden to tune in to their work, catch their next pop-up, or get involved. Photo credit: Aaron Ni’jai.

4. The Mutual Aid Society

The concept of mutual aid entered many of our vocabularies during the beginning of the pandemic, as we saw everyday people start free fridges, fund drives, and food shares across NYC. Mutual aid is about interdependence, and putting the power in our own hands to care for one another in situations where local or federal governments fall short. 

Working in the spirit of preservation is artist and Create Change alum Selamawit Worku. Her project, The Mutual Aid Society, is an audio storytelling archive and limited series podcast documenting stories of innovative mutual aid amongst Black, Indigenous, and POC communities.

Mutual Aid Society creates a record of care-work happening today whose legacy we can look back on in the future. Each episode of the show touches on a different theme as the guests share personal stories, current offerings and ethos, and speculative discussion on regeneration and healing.

Take a listen to hear from many LP family artists like Kendra J. Ross, Aisha Shillingford, and Ogemdi Ude. Support the podcast by subscribing, reviewing, and rating it on any streaming platform, and keep up with it on Instagram at @mmutualaidsociety. Artwork by Anum Ranjhaa; produced by Nykeba Sonubi; musical score by Jason C. Smith.

5. Mu-Te-Or of the National Association of Negro Musicians

Image credit: ​​National Association of Negro Musicians board members, 1941 © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive. Description: Black and white photo of three pairs of Black musicians in formal dress, seated in front of a tall lace curtain. Each pair is looking at a page of sheet music.

What can Black cultural preservation look like? Formed in Bed-Stuy in 1931, The Musicians-Teachers-Organists Branch (Mu-Te-Or) of the larger National Association of Negro Musicians is preserving “America’s original music: the Negro Spiritual, Jazz, and Blues.” The group also promotes youth, college musicians, and emerging musicians of color. 

With support from the Create & Connect Fund, the branch is currently preparing a panel of musical historians and performers to learn how Bedford-Stuyvesant churches and choirs helped these original genres flourish. The event will bring together a multi-generational audience to connect with the music of the ancestors, and hear about how the strategic and creative use of language in song transcends time, generations, and genres, to express struggle, protest, resilience, and joy.

Image credit: ​​National Association of Negro Musicians board members, 1941 © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive.

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