Black History Month In Cleveland
Local ways to honor, celebrate, and support BHM
Written by Abigail Jarvis
Black History month is a time for reflecting, learning and fighting white supremacy. It is also a time to celebrate beautiful cultures and monumental figures, as well as uplift members of the community. Here are a few ways to honor and celebrate Black History Month in Cleveland.
Honor & Learn About History:
Visit the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS)
According to the institution’s website, the “Western Reserve Historical Society is Cleveland’s oldest existing cultural institution.” It was founded in May of 1867 and features many exhibits showcasing the history and culture of Northeast Ohio, including numerous resources and exhibits on African American history.
The WRHS also hosts events and posts special content to celebrate Black History Month. For an extensive list of information, resources and exhibits please, visit wrhs.org.
Visit the Icabod Flewellen Collection at the East Cleveland Public Library
Icabod Flewellen was a Cleveland-based scholar, historian, activist and veteran who worked to preserve the experiences of African Americans in history. In his schooling, Flewellen was never taught about the history or lives of his ancestors — but he wanted to give an opportunity for others in his community to do so. Flewellen created the first independent nonprofit African American Museum in the United States, with his archival work that began when he was only 13 years old. Most of Flewellen’s work was donated to the East Cleveland Public Library and is available to visit today.
For more information on visiting the Icabod Flewellen Collection at the East Cleveland Public Library, check out eastpubliclibrary.org.
Engage & Celebrate Culture:
Visit the Cleveland Art Museum (CMA)
The Cleveland Art Museum has a large collection of African art pieces, dating from the 600s to today. The museum is free to visit and most of its exhibits do not require purchased tickets.
On the first Tuesday of each month CMA experts, curators and other employees from the museum give lessons and host events on current art displays. This month, Kristen Windmuller-Luna, the curator of African Art at CMA, will speak on “objects whose presentations benefited from recent collaborations with CMA conservators and mount makers, a contemporary Nigerian artist, and a bird expert.” Tickets for that lecture are on sale at clevelandart.org.
This past December, the museum opened the gallery Arts of Africa in their rotating galleries. It holds 17 rarely-seen and newly-acquired works, including the museum's first inclusion of a northern African artist in the galleries. This gallery “support[s] continuing efforts to broaden the scope of African arts on view at the CMA.”
To learn more about the Arts of Africa gallery, visit the CMA or clevelandart.org.
Attend a performance of Karamu House’s “Red Summer”
Performances are Feb. 24 - Mar. 5, 2023 at The Cleveland Foundation Jelliffe Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.
Karamu House is the oldest surviving permanent Black theater in the United States — and it's here in Cleveland! According to their website, "Karamu House stands tall in our nation's history as an inclusive institution that served as a common ground for Clevelanders of different races, religions, and social and economic backgrounds, as well as trusted community resource for local families."
Synopsis: The summer of 1919 was coined “Red Summer” by poet, civil rights activist, and Field Secretary for the NAACP, Mr. James Weldon Johnson. After the Great Migration and WWII there was a harrowing rise of violence against Black Americans who had recently moved from the South to the North. White servicemen found their jobs filled by African Americans and new immigrants, while Black servicemen were continually being denied their rights. “Featuring music, dance, poetry, and artists and collaborators from the artistic community of Cleveland, Red Summer will excavate many of the unheard stories of that summer and explore what we as a nation have learned since.”
For more information, an in-depth synopsis and tickets, visit karamuhouse.org.
Attend a Blakk Jakk Dance Collective (BJDC) Performance
Blakk Jakk Dance Collective is a recent addition to the Cleveland arts community. Founded in the summer of 2020 as a pandemic project centered on community, BJDC has already staged many energetic performances in Cleveland.
“Blakk Jakk Dance Collective’s vision is to preserve, transform and unify our communities with the arts with a focus on dance in the African diaspora. To be rooted in the advancement of cultural awareness, social mindfulness, and self-empowerment. We hope to protect our culture, challenge social norms, and validate our experiences by extending, exploring, and investigating the Black narrative through dance.”
For information on upcoming performances, please check out blakkjakkdanceco.org.
Donate & Give Back to the Community:
Donate to Literacy In The H.O.O.D. (Helping Out Our Disenfranchised)
Literacy In The H.O.O.D. works to combat the school-to-prison pipeline and raise the literacy rates in low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland through community outreach, events and book donations. According to their website, “To date Literacy In The H.O.O.D has distributed over 100,000 books to those in need.”
To learn more or donate, visit literacyinthehood.com.
Donate to the Black Environmental Leaders
The Black Environmental Leaders are a network of Black, Indigenous and people of color who have a mission to advocate, incubate, and inform. All together, this means being a voice that rises against environmental injustices, and highlighting how those injustices affect BIPOC communities. The Black Environmental Leaders “Foster education regarding the natural and built environment for BIPOC Communities.”
To learn how to donate or volunteer, visit blackenvironmentalleaders.org.
Donate to the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland
This fund financially aids local grassroots agencies and organizations that support African Americans and impoverished neighborhoods in the Greater Cleveland area. Online, this organization says, “We fund over 80 nonprofit agencies annually, and these agencies serve thousands of children, families and seniors.”
To learn how support their mission, visit unitedblackfund.org.