ITHACA, N.Y. –– On Friday, representatives from the Children’s Reading Connection (CRC), Black Students United at Cornell and other community leaders came together in front of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) to celebrate the launch of a new educational pilot “The ABCs of Black History: Lift Up and Learn Together.” The initiative looks to weave education about race and Black history into local children’s lives and the community as a whole while inspiring kids to love reading.

As part of Lift Up and Learn Together, more than 1,000 children from Beverly J. Martin School, GIAC, the Downtown Ithaca Children’s Center (DICC) and Southside’s Community Unity Music and Education Program (CUMEP) are receiving the book to own in addition to classrooms in the Ithaca City School District all receiving copies. The book is a New York Times bestseller by poet and first-time author, Rio Cortez, and illustrated by Lauren Semmer. It goes through the alphabet highlighting big ideas and big moments in Black history.

“A is for anthem, a banner of song” an excerpt from “The ABC’s of Black History” (Anna Lamb/The Ithaca Voice)

“‘The ABCs of Black History’ is a love letter to Black children that every child benefits from,” Nia Nunn, Southside Community Center Board of Directors president said.  

However, the initiative and event at GIAC bring the book and its message out from behind the confines of its covers. The first installment of “Stories in the Streets” (a simultaneous initiative by CRC) the pages of “ABC’s of Black History” have been blown up and hung on the fence at GIAC for all passerbys to see. On Friday, volunteers including government officials Anna Kelles and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Cornell students and ICSD students each took turns doing a read-along, with everyone taking a panel.

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne reading “The ABC’s of Black History” (Photo courtesy of Simon Wheeler Photography/CRC)

According to Brigid Hubberman, CRC president and CEO, the aim of displaying literature in this way is ensure the message and lessons are, “woven through the culture of Ithaca and Tompkins County” and are, “accessible to all as together we lift-up, shine light on, and share Black History with children and everyone in Ithaca and Tompkins County.”

Hubberman added that not only do stories integrated into day to day life reinforce messages of community, Black pride and acceptance, but they also foster literacy and a love of reading.

 “How does everything change when a community says, ‘we have to help children fall in love with words,'” she said. “Putting words and stories out in the community in this way feels like a really special way to do that.”

Hubberman also hopes this type of reading and values promotion can spread. Not only to everywhere in Tompkins, but also hopefully to other parts of the country. She said she thinks this could happen with help from Black Students United at Cornell, who have shown immense interest in carrying on the model once they graduate and move on from Ithaca in a few weeks. The students involved, JT Baker and Aminah Taariq Sidible, are also raising funds for the purchasing of “The ABC’s of Black History” copies as a parting gift.

Sidible and Baker at the “ABC’s of Black History” event (Photo courtesy of Simon Wheeler Photography/CRC)

“Black Student United’s mission has always been to serve students of the African diaspora and enrich our community with diversity. Considering the greater Ithaca area is our community too, it is vital that we take an opportunity such as this one to interact with and enrich the experience of local youth,” Sidible said.

Baker said as an endorsement of the initiative, “there is no American History without Black History. Every person, whether young or old, should read this book.”

Those interested in supporting their efforts can donate to the students’ campaign here.  Learn more about the Lift Up and Learn Initiative at the CRC website here.

“The ABCs of Black History” book will also be available to borrow from any public library or school library in Ithaca and Tompkins County. Books will also be available for purchase from Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca’s community-owned independent bookseller. 

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com