When I was a girl, and my family and I moved from Brooklyn to the Bronx in 1985, my mom found Mind-Builders, a Black run community creative arts center which at the time held it’s classes in local Bronx Public Schools near 216th and later in Evander Childs. She enrolled my brother and I in drama, art and African Drums classes. I also took African Dance Classes there. Several years after they took over a large building just across the street and down the block from where we lived on Olinville Ave and that became the center for the Mind-Builders Creative arts Program. There, I took more classes in drama, art and dance as well as attending a Summer at the children’s Day Camp. I remember coming home for lunch in the middle of the day because I didn’t eat the lunch they served there and mom made lunch for me. My brother was in the Positive Youth Troupe for theater and music there, a group that thrived successfully and turned out several successful Black performers.
I worked there as well in my twenties with a group of youth who met weekly to learn about and create presentations on all kinds of historical Black Pioneers. We had elders, community leaders and entrepreneurs come through to make presentations and lectures on self starting businesses, crafts, theater, dance history and more. We took the kids on field trips to the Museum of Native American Art (when it was still open), The Museo Del Bario and to performances by various African dance troupes.
It’s been a while since I thought about Mind-Builders but this morning I was on the train to work thinking, this is Black History Month and aside from posting and reposting articles on Facebook, I haven’t written anything here with regard to it. And then all these memories came flooding back into my mind about a time when I was deeply involved on a regular basis with a community organization which is Black owned and Black run and dedicated to the education and transformation of young Black lives through the arts.
Like many of the cultural events, programs, classes and rituals my mom enrolled my brother and I in, I probably took a lot of it for granted at the time. But now I see it as a badge of honor and pride to have been apart of something that was and is intended to uplift pride and self knowledge and confidence in Black youth. How could I only be remembering all that just now? I was part of the Mind-Builders family for years, from before they were even fully independent. I was so happy to google them just now and see that they are still going strong. I may even plan a visit out there one day soon to see what changes and developments have been made, and see if there are still any veteran directors around. I see that at least three of the original matriarchs I knew when they was just getting started, Madaha Kinsey-Lamb, Melveda Hughes and Egeria Bennett, are still listed under Staff and Board. That is so fantastic.
This week at my job there will a Brown Bag lunch organized by one of our newest employees of color for Black History Month. We have all been asked to contribute something and for my part I will be reciting a poem by Thomas Sayers Ellis who I discovered online looking for contemporary Black poets. I didn’t find anything by him at the local Barnes and Noble poetry section (only two books on the shelf were by a Black poet, Nikki Giovanni) but I ordered one yesterday because I really like his work. I will also more than likely be attending Open Expression in Harlem this Thursday where one of my favorite spoken word poets, Ed Toney will be the feature. There will be plenty of odes and expression of Black History in the space that night. So if you’re in NYC, come out and support Black History Month and Black Expression. Bring your friends, bring a poem, bring your own form of Black Pride.
I’ll see you there.