Staff Spotlight for Black History Month

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For Black History Month, we worked alongside some of our staff members to showcase what they love most about Black culture, their experience learning about Black history and traditions their families celebrate. We thank Tiffany, Kayla, David, Shannon, Anasa, La-Meek and Jesenia for sharing and for the important work they do each day with us Keeping Families Together.

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Tiffany Boykin

I have three different titles here at ICAN:

Family Engagement Specialist for the Oneida County Probation Department (Juvenile Unit)

Family Advisor for Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center (Pinefield) 

Credentialed Family Peer Advocate

Tiffany 

What do you love most about Black culture?
What I love most about my culture is the music, the fashion, the food, how versatile we can be with our hair, and our strength because despite everything we’ve endured over the years and continue to, we still manage to shine! 

How do you/your family commemorate Black History Month?
Every month is Black History month for me and my family, we celebrate all year round. I’m a single mother raising four black males, so it’s important for them to know their history, especially with so much going on in the world around us. We support Black owned businesses (especially the small ones), we donate to non-for-profit Black organizations and charities, we watch documentaries and I’ve even went as far as to do book reports on documentaries we’ve watched (which was a struggle lol). 

Walk us through your experience of learning about Black History.
Elementary school maybe around 5th or 6th grade is when I really started to actually engage in learning about Black History. I recall reading small units on slavery, civil rights movements and its leaders, Black inventors, etc.… Once we would finish I can remember feeling a bunch of different emotions. I felt sad, angry, proud, inspired, confused at times. I can also remember feeling that I wanted to know more. I looked forward to going to the library as a special so that I could take out books on all of these interesting people and moments in history. As the years went on I realized we were being educated on only a fragment of our history. I take pride in filling in the gaps for my kids now!

Who is a Black pioneer, advocate, role model, mentor, etc. that you would like to thank or showcase?
Inez Beverly Prosser. She's often regarded as the first African American woman to receive a PH.D in psychology. She focused on educational psychology and the effects of racism. She attended Anderson High school, the University of Cincinnati, University of Colorado Boulder, Prairie View of A&M University, and Huston-Tilloston University. Inez Beverly Prosser spent the last seven years teaching at historical Black colleges.

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Kayla Hajdasz, LMSW

Clinical Care Coordinator

Kayla

What do you love most about Black culture?
The diversity and the food!

How do you/your family commemorate Black History Month?
Me and my family commemorate Black History Month by learning more about it and supporting local Black business owners. I have younger kids so I also like to make sure we are doing Black History Month crafts throughout the month as well. 

Walk us through your experience of learning about Black History.
Although I have a Black mother, I was not taught much about our culture. At one point I was almost afraid to learn about our history because I knew portions of it were heartbreaking. As I got older and had my mixed children, I realized just how important it was for not only me to know about our history, but also for my sons. To understand where we came from, to know the bad but also the good, how many Black inventors and entrepreneurs there were, how proud they should be of their culture, and to have the confidence to do these things for themselves as they get older. Learning about my history has pushed me to finish school, become a social worker and hopefully start my own practice in the future. 

Do you/your family have any traditions that you’d like to share?
Traditionally we just like to spend time with our family and make some traditional dishes. Food and family time is the core to everything in my home. 

Who is a Black pioneer, advocate, role model, mentor, etc. that you would like to thank or showcase this?
As of lately I have been very impressed by our local Black youth, men and women. I have seen more people following their dreams, advocating for their community, starting their own business and supporting each other rather than tearing each other down. I have many names but as a whole I am moved by our community and want to thank everyone that continuously proves that Black people are capable of accomplishing any goal.

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David LaGuerre

Adult Care Coordinator

 David

What do you love most about Black culture?
How inspirational the culture is as a whole. Many people love the show FRIENDS but before FRIENDS, in Black Culture we had a show called Living Single. If you look around the different regions in the United States you can see how influential the culture is. In the South, specifically Louisiana, everyone's big thing is wanting to attend Mardi Gras and hearing the live jazz sound like performances, in addition to eating gumbo. 

How do you/your family commemorate Black History Month?
Usually we love to watch Blackexploitation movies from the 1970s that inspired the movies that you see on TV as well as movie screens today. We also try to eat more soul food that month and sponsor Black business given the opportunity. 

Walk us through your experience of learning about Black History.
The way I learned about Black History started in elementary school. We learned the basics of "this is MLK", "this is Malcolm X", Rosa Parks and such. Continuing my education through public schools I learned a little more here and there. It wasn't until college when I started doing research reading different topics on message boards about who this African American was and their significance/contribution to history. Even about 3 to 4 years ago at the Albany Museum I was still learning about different figures in African American History as well as the impact they had. 

Who is a Black pioneer, advocate, role model, mentor, etc. that you would like to thank or showcase?
Besides the usual MLK Jr./Malcolm X answers, one that sticks out to me is Barack Obama. Look at the obstacles he had to go through to become and during his presidency. Another one - Sean "Jay Z" Carter. Sean taught me that there is always a way to get your voice out.

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Shannon Patterson

Family Service Coordinator 

Shannon

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What do you love most about Black culture?
What I love most about our culture is our food, our music, our resiliency. I love our ability to walk with the weight of inequality but still rise above all.

How do you/your family commemorate Black History Month?
We cook! LOL That’s what I love about Black culture, because although our ancestral lineage has been lost or erased we still cook dishes/recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. 

Walk us through your experience of learning about Black History.
Learning Black history was something I had to pretty much do on my own. In school they teach us about slavery (which interrupted our history), Rosa Parks and Dr. King. They don’t teach about the other great people and events that paved the way for us today. I teach my daughter all of the facts about our history that I was not taught in school. 

Do you/your family have any traditions that you’d like to share?
We celebrate Juneteenth (June 19th) which is now a federal holiday but it represents the emancipation of African American slaves.

Who is a Black pioneer, advocate, role model, mentor, etc. that you would like to thank or showcase? 
I think it’s important to surround yourself with those who inspire you and I can say that I have several inspirational and strong Black women in my life who have motivated me in so many different ways. 

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Anasa D. Sinegal

Director of Diversity and Engagement

Anasa

What do you love most about Black culture?
I love everything about us: our creativity, innovation, language. 

How do you/your family commemorate Black History Month?
Now that I'm a parent, my son really guides the way we do Black History. He likes learning Black History facts daily and searching the terms Black History on apps like Disney+, Hulu and Netflix. 

Walk us through your experience of learning about Black History.
My mom is a retired reference librarian who majored in what they used to call Afro-American history as an undergrad. There has never been a moment in my life where I didn't regularly learn about the Black experience. What I didn't learn in school, I got in abundance at home.

Do you/your family have any traditions that you’d like to share?
When we're not in a pandemic we go to Black History programs and parades to celebrate this time. Outside of Black History Month, gathering with my extended family for family dinners is our biggest tradition. 

Who is a Black pioneer, advocate, role model, mentor, etc. that you would like to thank or showcase this month?
Right now, 12-year-old swimmer Leidy Gallona of Duluth, Minnesota is on my mind. I'm a swimmer and was excited to see her proudly wear a Black Lives Matter swimsuit in her meet this month. She's bold and courageous and I celebrate her. 

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La-Meek White

IT Coordinator

LaMeek

What do you love most about Black culture?
I love everything about Black culture but mostly the music and the food. Music in general makes me feel every emotion in the book but the swag and soul of it just takes me to another level and speaks to the innermost parts of me. And there's nothing like the comfort a good plate of soul food can give!

How do you/your family commemorate Black History Month?
I don't really do anything special during Black History Month because my history isn't just limited to February. I try to live it every day and put on for my people and who knows one day I'll be remembered with the greats.

Walk us through your experience of learning about Black History.
It all started when I was a younger kid haha. My grandmother would buy calendars that showcased a different Black Pioneer every month. Each month by the end of the month I had to write a 2-3 page paper on the person of the month and present it to her and whichever family member happened to stop by that day. As I got older, members of my church would give me books to read on the events of our history and the people who sacrificed so that I can have the opportunities I have today.

Do you/your family have any traditions that you’d like to share?
Not so much anymore but when I was living at home my grandmother would sit us down every Sunday in February and tell us stories about how she grew up. She's from the South so she would tell us about how scared she would be to see "Whites Only" signs and to be referred to the way she was. But she would always end each story with how she continued to press on no matter what.

Who is a Black pioneer, advocate, role model, mentor, etc. that you would like to thank or showcase this month?
I would like to thank my seventh grade math teacher Ms. Porter. She doesn't know it, but she was one of my very first role models. She was the first black teacher I had growing up and it was so refreshing to see someone like me in a place of power that was attainable. She had a group of students that she favored and I was one of them and the wisdom and advice she gave me even at a young age helped spearhead me to becoming the person I am today. So thank you Ms. Porter. You are a treasure!

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Jesenia Wright, LMSW

Clinical Supervisor
 Jesenia

What do you love most about Black culture?
I love the music, the dance, the hairstyles, the skin tones, the ability to persevere and our ability to set trends.

How do you/your family commemorate Black History Month?
We celebrate Black History in many ways. Our most common way to celebrate is by researching different folks that have made a difference in the Black community. We love to learn about folks before us that created opportunities for us to be where we are today.

Walk us through your experience of learning about Black History.
To be honest, I have learned more about Black History as an adult through my own research. As as a child, we didn't discuss Black History or anything black related at all. Weird, right? I believe it's because I grew up with my Puerto Rican family and the culture was traditionally Spanish.

Do you/your family have any traditions that you’d like to share?
We love spending time together and supporting Black businesses. 

Who is a Black pioneer, advocate, role model, mentor, etc. that you would like to thank or showcase?
I would love to showcase Cymil Hamilton. Cymil Hamilton is my best friend, a mother, and Utica native. More importantly, she is an African American mogul, the CEO/Founder of SoEventful and Creative Colure. She also is the STEP Program Coordinator at Mohawk Valley Community College. Cymil constantly pours into others and always tries to find a way to open doors for others as well. She has held many events in the community to give back that range from Thanksgiving drives to Women Empowerment events. When you see her on the big screen - just know I told you about her first!