Day trips, guest speakers, even crossword puzzles

At Project Renewal, honoring Black History Month Takes on Many Forms.

 An Underground Railroad themed Papier-mâché community “quilt” assembled from individual panels created by staff and residents of Geffner House to celebrate Black History Month.

An Underground Railroad themed Papier-mâché community “quilt” assembled from individual panels created by staff and residents of Geffner House to celebrate Black History Month.

Most of the people that Project Renewal serves are engaged in putting the pieces back together and moving on to renewed lives.  It can entail daily--sometimes even hour by hour-- focus and struggle. Yet even so, staff and residents alike throughout our 16 sites and numerous programs are finding time and ways, this month, to honor, recognize, observe and celebrate black history.

In some cases, like at Renewal House, our transitional housing program for men recovering from substance abuse, observance is a grassroots thing, initiated by the residents themselves. “We noticed that a lot of our people were very interested in it this year,” reports Renewal House Assistant Director Monica Diaz. In response, she hung posters and biographies of notable African Americans from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X on the walls, and added  black history as a running theme in the four group discussions staff and residents engage in each month. 

Residents at our Third Street Men’s Shelter enjoyed the holiday celebrations so much that Assistant Shelter Director Aluta Khanyile’s continued a seasonal theme by highlighting Black History Month. “The response to all the activities and events we had over the holidays was so positive,” he explains, “that we thought, why not have another celebration, centered on Black History Month, this time?”  Posting them in the common areas of the 200-bed facility, Aluta intends that even in passing the images of--and quotations from--notable Black Americans will raise staff and residents’ awareness, as well as open the door to further cultural exchange. “Next,” he declares, “we need to recognize and celebrate the Hispanic people’s heritage.”

The most elaborate observance of Black History at Project Renewal this year has is in our 200-bed Fort Washington Men’s Shelter for men diagnosed with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues.  Here, Recreation Therapist Joseph White has cooked up a month-long string of related activities and events, including special crossword puzzles, trivia matches, field trips and guest speakers, all centered on Black History Month and culminating in a grand, evening-long talent show featuring staff and resident actors, singers, and musicians, in performance.  It is a tradition White has cultivated over the years.

 The Afrikana Madonna, also known as Barbara Bethea

The Afrikana Madonna, also known as Barbara Bethea

Likewise, when the Geffner House Recreation Director Ellis Eisner was first hired eight years ago, she decided to invite a guest speaker to the 20-story, 307-unit building for formerly homeless men and women.  “I grew up during the movement,” confides Ellis who upholds this tradition February. “I was eight years old when they assassinated Martin Luther King.  So this is an important holiday to me.” This month’s activities include a group day trip to Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture,  a visit from poetess/therapist Barbara Bethea, better known to her fans as the “Afrikana Madonna,” and, new this year, construction of a black-themed Papier-mâché community “quilt” assembled from individual panels created by staff and residents.