Organizing the Neighborhood for Justice: Black History Projects That Honor the Past

Every day since the June 25th murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, demonstrators around the world have been taking to the streets to demand that Black Lives Matter. (Recent studies say that the movement may be the largest ever in US history!) The protests are reigniting a long-overdue reckoning with anti-black racism, and we’re heartened to see so many neighbors across the country showing up. 

We know that fighting for Black lives is an ongoing, multifaceted process. Each and every step we take is important, but our work isn’t done when our projects are complete. Instead, we need to be committed to a continuous, systemic approach to our fight for racial justice. Anti-racism is not a moment; it’s a movement.

So today, we’re sharing the first in a three-part blog series to offer a few examples of what a fight for Black lives might look like in your community. We pulled together powerful examples of Black-led projects on ioby that are, in their own way, fighting for a world where Black Lives Matter. 

In this post, we’ll talk about honoring the past through celebrations of Black history. Next time, we’ll talk about how to sustain the fight in the present, and in the final installment, we’ll take a look at how to build a racially just future. 

Honoring Black History in the Present

At ioby, we know a big part of our commitment to dismantling white supremacy has to involve acknowledging a reckoning with history. A key undercurrent in the Black Lives Matter movement is a call to remind folks that racism, and white supremacy, isn’t new. Black leaders in the movement, and everyday people, have been noticing and calling attention to it for decades. The fact is, there’s a direct line between the injustices of today, and the injustices of decades, even centuries ago.

But the resistance and the battle against anti-Black racism isn’t new, either. From that history, we can also glean stories of courage, strength, and power. Honoring that history and celebrating it ensures that history isn’t lost—as it so often is—and it can help kindle the flame of today’s movement for Black lives. Take it from the young leaders at Youth in Charge: “People gain strength and affirmation from knowing the history of their culture’s contributions to society.”

Organizing or supporting a project that celebrates Black history can be a powerful way to open a dialogue about what racial justice looks like in your neighborhood. So we’ve rounded up a few projects that have crowdfunded to celebrate Black lives, and we invite you to learn more about how these changemakers are honoring the past to build a more just future for us all.

The Cozad-Bates House, believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad in Cleveland.

Finding Lucy Bagby

In the years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, many enslaved Black Americans sought freedom by way of the Underground Railroad. Cleveland was a major stop on the way to Canada, and as a result was nicknamed “Hope.” 

Restore Cleveland Hope is an organizaton dedicated to researching Cleveland’s anti-slavery past, and lifting it up in the present. “[Underground Railroad] operatives helped hundreds of freedom seekers escape to Canada in spite of the potential consequences. This history has not been told. We are in the process of restoring it,” says their Vice President, Jeanne V. They crowdfunded their project, Finding Lucy Bagby, to honor Lucy Bagby who was the last enslaved freedom-seeker to seek shelter in Cleveland

The leaders of Restore Cleveland Hope are on a mission to make sure the memory of the Underground Raliroad, in the face of vitheir city’s anti-racist history is not forgotten. “We share these and other stories to carry us into the future, being proud of what we have learned…about the strength and power of those who escaped and those who helped them.” Through their efforts, Lucy’s story (and the stories of others like her) will rightfully be acknowledged and celebrated.

Station Hope 2015

Another Cleveland-based project, Station Hope, also fundraised to celebrate the city’s important role in the Underground Railroad. As an active church in the network of safe havens, St. John’s Episcopal Church (or Station Hope, as it was known at the time) was a last stop for freedom-seekers before they crossed the waters of Lake Erie. “Its steeple acted as a beacon of freedom,” says Caitie H, their leader. 

Their project featured a free community event at the church, in which attendees were immersed in a celebration of Black history and culture. In the years since their 2015 ioby crowdfunding campaign, Station Hope has continued to be a powerful annual celebration of Northern Ohio’s rich antislavery history. “Station Hope is a true gathering of community and demonstrates how transformative…an arts experience can be, and its potential to change the fabric of our society,” says Hon. Joe Cimperman, former Councilman from Cleveland’s Ward 13. 

(By the way, while in person events might be a no-go for now, there are lots of ways to safely honor history and place together from afar. Need some help thinking up some ideas? Share your ideas with us, and we’d be happy to lend a hand!)

Save The Historic Dox Thrash House

In the first half of the 20th century, Philadelphia’s Sharswood neighborhood was a thriving hub for Black culture and activism. Many well-known Black artists and musicians performed in its cafes, and some of the most famous anti-racists of the Civil Rights era organized for change along its streets. 

Dox Thrash, a printmaker whose work honored everyday moments in Black life, became a well-known resident of the area. His house was located in the heart of Sharswood’s once-booming commercial corridor, but now, in 2020, it sits vacant. 

Wanting to preserve and celebrate the rich history of Sharswood and Thrash’s legacy, ioby Leader Dana R is currently fundraising to restore the house and re-establish it as the artistic and economic anchor of the community. “The project will mitigate the years of disinvestment into this community by the city and revive the cultural life in this section of [Philadelphia]. The house…is poised to become a public cultural amenity that invigorates the block with new activity and sets a standard for future equitable development in Sharswood,” she says.

Youth in Charge: Black History Month Campaign

Our neighbors at Youth In Charge are working to make sure Black history and Black culture remain alive in rapidly-gentrifying Central Brooklyn. As a youth-led organization, they’re focused on finding solutions to issues of importance to young people of color in their neighborhood. 

Their leaders know just how important it is for young people to be invested in their communities. This year, they crowdfunded with ioby for their Black History Month Campaign, during which they raised awareness about their neighbhorhood’s Black culture, community, and history. “When we are not shown the full range of accomplishments of Black people historically and today, we may not realize the strength and power that is within us,” their leaders say. Through efforts like these, they hope to empower other young people to unite in solidarity and celebrate their culture’s contributions to society. 

Inspired by these neighbor leaders? Whether you’re looking to give to a Black-led project that’s already in motion or you’re ready to start your own project, we’re here to help! Drop us a line and let us know how we can support you in your fight for racial justice.