Black History Month celebration kicks off February with art and poetry

The event saw collaboration between Black artists and organizations to commemorate Black love

In Gainesville, Black love doesn’t have one definition. Spoken word artists have given it several.

The City of Gainesville, in partnership with the Bailey Learning and Arts Collective (BLAAC), kicked off its Black History Month schedule with a celebration of Black love, poetry and arts at the Historic Thomas Center Friday night. The event marked the third time the city and BLAAC have come together to voice Black artists through their spoken words and paintings, according to BLAAC founder Terri Bailey.

As a poet herself, Bailey created BLAAC as a grassroots nonprofit organization to not only promote the arts, but to empower historically Black communities in Gainesville with newfound knowledge. For example, the organization has led workshops on building generational wealth through the values of heirs and wells;  Bailey also leads the Queen’s Room, a women’s empowerment group that emphasizes facets of health such as self-care and safe sex practices.

The event first served up music from DJ Double A and food with help from BLAAC members such as intern Janet Ali. Ali, a University of Florida sociology senior, joined the nonprofit this year through the Active Learning Program which pairs students with community-based programs for a semester.

“As a student you live in your little UF bubble and you don’t really have much awareness of what goes on around you,” she said. “Working with Ms. Bailey has given me the insight on the local community and what they need.”

Terri Bailey, the founder of the Bailey Learning and Arts Collective, reads her poetry. “I’m going to continue to do events like this to make sure we are celebrated, that we celebrate ourselves and that we love upon ourselves,” she said. (Manny Rea/WUFT News)

One of those needs is financial support for Gainesville artists — a gap Bailey sought to fill with BLAAC. The organization fundraises to pay for expenses as well as compensation for local activists and artists who participate in events. Bailey, and her husband, muralist Turbado Marabou, understand the struggles artists go through.

“People tend to think that all we need is exposure, but we can’t pay rent with exposure,” Bailey said.

The celebration featured painted works for sale from artists Kenneth Keith and Alyne Harris, a Gainesville folk artist in attendance.

Bailey kicked off the night with a reaffirmation of the celebration’s purpose; she would recount current events that have troubled the Black community such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ disavowment of “wokeness” in state education which recently included the rejection of an Advanced Placement African American studies course for high schoolers.

“I’m going to continue to do events like this to make sure we are celebrated, that we celebrate ourselves and that we love upon ourselves,” she said.

Bailey and Marabou exchanged poetry about familial love followed by Ray Ali, a UF psychology senior and the president of the UF Living Poets Society, who performed her poem about her work with afterschool programs in Duvall. The poem reflected her adoration for the students she watches over. It also conveyed the concern she feels for these young Black children who are pitted against a system of racism highlighted most recently by the killing of Tyre Nichols.

Ali took her first poetry workshop her first semester of college and has since sustained the passion.

“Poetry is just one way for us to connect to each other and share a wide variety of emotions,” Ali added.

Other poems expressed feelings of positivity through Black love. 20-year-old Daniel White took the open mic opportunity to share his poem, “Formula” and its messages on success, unity and love.

“A lot of people separate themselves based off how they grew up, their surroundings,” he said. “I would love to see more people share that love that Black people have for each other with everybody.”

White began writing down his own poems about two years ago and finds fulfillment through his creative process and that of others. He hosts the “Lettuce Get Creative” podcast where he reaches out to other artists about their processes.

“Whenever you’re doing something you really enjoy, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from you,” White said. “It feels like it’s coming from a place of experience.”

Friday’s celebration is just the start for Black History Month in Gainesville, according to Carol Richardson, the acting cultural affairs manager for the City of Gainesville Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

“It is always important to honor Black voices,” Richardson said. “But [this month] particularly gives our neighbors an opportunity to come together, who normally may not, to learn and listen and hear from another and share the culture.”

Carol Richardson, the acting cultural affairs manager for the City of Gainesville Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, thanks the turnout of community members for supporting the arts. “It is always important to honor Black voices,” she said. (Manny Rea/WUFT News)

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