By Sammi Cohen
February is Black History Month, and this year’s celebration is a special one for Rochester residents in particular. That’s because February 2019 is also the bicentennial anniversary of famed abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass, who later made his home in the Flower City. Not only is Douglass immortalized throughout Rochester in the form of statues for all to see throughout the year, but the University of Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies will partner with the school’s Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation library facility to showcase Douglass’s work and life.
Of course, this is not the only way Rochesterians are celebrating. Mayor Lovely A. Warren and Rochester’s Black Heritage Committee are hosting a month-long events program to pay tribute to our country’s proud black heritage. The City Hall Link Gallery hosted a special event to kick off the month with flair. Live jazz music by the Art Beaty Band could be heard as guests appreciated the artwork of 25 local African American youth and adult artists. Attendees also had the chance to sample a variety of specialty African American foods. Considering that an estimated 65% of American consumers purchased specialty foods in 2017, it’s likely the crowd left the event satisfied on several levels. The event may have passed, but the artwork will remain on display through the middle of March.
City Hall isn’t the only place you can experience incredible works of art, either. The Memorial Art Gallery also hosted a Black History Month event that included live jazz performances, art activities for children, storytelling, and even a Frederick Douglass impersonator. During February break, kids can also receive free admission to the museum with the purchase of an adult ticket. Since studies have shown that seeing a beautiful painting can increase the blood flow to the “joy response” part of the brain by 10% (the same effect you experience when you look at a loved one), this can be a wonderful cultural experience for families.
If art isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate Black History Month in Rochester. There are several gospel concerts planned throughout the month, including one that will take place in the City Hall Atrium on February 27 during the lunch hour. The U of R’s Tournees Film Festival features several selections for Black History Month, as well. The celebrations put on by the city actually continues into March, with the 16th Annual Black Heritage Gala on March 9 and the Community and College Gospel Explosion on March 30. The Memorial Art Gallery will also host a multi-screen film and video installation called Lessons of the Hour, which is inspired in part by Frederick Douglass, from March through May. Residents can also do their part to support black-owned businesses during this month by checking out Embellish Boutique, Simply Simone Naturals, the Arnett Cafe, and more. Black-Owned Business Rochester is an excellent resource to learn about other establishments in the area. Should you feel like staying home and tuning into some local programming instead, WXXI will broadcast television and radio programs throughout the month that feature influential black men and women.
Clearly, there are countless ways to celebrate Black History Month in Rochester, thanks to the city’s diversity and commitment to cultural appreciation and understanding. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn more about the iconic figures that have shaped the black experience, both past and present.