Black History and Cultural Expo Underway in Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In celebration of Black History Month, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society has partnered with the Greater Mahoning Valley 1619 Committee for a Black History and Cultural Expo.

The expo is located in the Anne Kilcawley Christman Gallery on the third floor of the Tyler History Museum and is on display for three weeks. It features work by local Black artists, a display honoring the National Council of Negro Women and a tribute to local Black athletes called the “Ebony All Sports Hall of Fame.”

The expo officially opened Feb. 1 and will run through Feb. 22.

“We started in 2019, and this whole event that we are doing now yearly started off from the 1619 project,” said Helen Youngblood, Greater Mahoning Valley 1619 Committee chair.

Nikole Hannah-Jones was the author of The 1619 Project story, which Youngblood said she became very interested in.

“2019 marked 400 years of them bringing the first indentured slaves here to America,” she said. “Since they were doing it in other parts of the country, I decided to get people together and do it here in Youngstown.”

Every year in August, the committee holds a three-day event downtown, highlighting the history of African Americans in the Youngstown-Warren area. Youngblood said this is the first year they have done something in February for Black History Month.

“This is one of three here in Youngstown, and I am just amazed that all of the museums here in the Valley are having Black displays for the month of February,” she said.

Currently, the expo features work from about five or six different Black artists, Youngblood said. As the month continues, she said the expo might see even more work from local minority artists.  

“We had done a magazine regarding Black individuals that had done significant things here in the Valley,” she said. “It’s a lot of history here that I was never even aware of.” 

Work displayed at the Black History and Cultural Expo.

Youngblood said she was surprised to learn that The Rayen School was built by a Black man, as well as the courthouse. 

“You are not aware of all of those kinds of things that Black individuals have done here in the Mahoning Valley,” she said.

Youngblood said the artists were found through advertisements, work with local organizations and work with Youngstown State University.

“For 2019, we honored Black veterans, and we had an event for them,” she said. “We did a veterans display and we also honored some Black veterans from here who had Purple Hearts.”

Purple Hearts are awarded to veterans who have been wounded or killed in military combat.

“There was a couple of Black guys that live here in the Valley that have Purple Hearts, and I wasn’t even aware of that,” she said. “When you start doing this, you start finding out all kinds of information.”

The expo is important to the area because it highlights forgotten parts of history for local minorities, Youngblood said.

Ron Daniels, Sarah Brown-Clark and Al Bright used to all do different teachings in the area, Youngblood said. Once they all left, she said the area wasn’t doing much in terms of educating the Valley on Black history. 

“So now we started to do things,” she said. “Hopefully, it will grow.”

Youngblood said she worked at the welfare department for a number of years. In one of the works of art, she said the artist’s wife had breast cancer, inspiring him to create his picture in support of breast cancer awareness.

Another featured artist is Venise Harris-Abell, a Youngstown native who is affiliated with the university and is responsible for the artwork on the WRTA building and buses, also has featured photography work at the expo, Youngblood said.

Bob Thomas, a co-founder of Ebony Lifeline Support Group, has an annual sports show every year, Youngblood said. For the expo, he has displayed the Ebony All Sports Hall of Fame Exhibit, highlighting local Black notable sports players in football, boxing, baseball, softball, golf, tennis and bowling.

A table display at the Black History and Cultural Expo.

“Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s mission is to collect, preserve and teach the history of the people of the Mahoning Valley,” said Dan Pompili, communications manager at the MVHS. We achieve that mission best when we ensure that all stories are being told and all people see themselves reflected in the history displayed at our sites. So we are grateful for this collaboration with the 1619 Committee and proud to provide this space for them to tell some of the stories of Black Valley residents.”

Youngblood said she plans to continue the work for years to come, with hopes of more young people becoming involved and expanding what they are doing. The committee is currently made up of about 20 members.

For those interested in becoming a part of the committee, Youngblood said they can call New Bethel Baptist Church at 330 747 2125.

Pictured at top: Artwork is seen at the Black History and Cultural Expo in the Anne Kilcawley Christman Gallery at the Tyler History Museum in Youngstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.