Southside Community Center is NOT Closing!

A Letter from Dr. Nia Nunn- Southside Community Center Board of Directors Chair

I’m writing in response to the extraordinary public outcry surrounding the brief PAUSING of Southside Community Center’s programs and operations.

Let me clarify. Southside is NOT closing. We are on PAUSE. We are not in an extreme fiscal crisis—any more so than any other nonprofit organization or small business trying to understand how to operate during these extraordinary times.

As an organization, and a Board, we realize that extraordinary times call for new and extraordinary thinking. We are taking the time that is required as a Board to do that thinking, to understand how the current pandemic affects our operations, how our community’s needs have shifted and how to reopen with safe operational systems and innovative programming in place. This is the same work that many White-led organizations in Ithaca are undergoing with much less or no scrutiny.

What other organization has had to publicly explain the details of their intimate process while in the middle of the process of their pandemic circumstances – like we the Southside Community Center are currently being called to do?

There are many reasons why now is the best time for us to PAUSE.  First, and most importantly we are undergoing a leadership transition, now is hardly the time to run official programs without strong oversight. Second, the pandemic has radically changed the needs of our organization, and our operating protocols. Implementing new COVID-conscious protocols without strong leadership in place is impossible. We made the decision to pause until we have had the time to assess our needs, develop these protocols, delegate roles as ‘all-hands on deck’ working board members, and put in place interim leadership. We are also seeking new board members with legal, financial, fundraising, and human resource expertise.

Third, our current staff has been without enough work in the building to fill their time since the shutdown. We have tried as we can to keep as many of them as possible on a Shared Work plan. Like so many organizations, who have made the same decision, this is no longer sustainable. Unlike many organizations whose work can more easily shift to remote, ours cannot. While we have sponsored many powerful initiatives and organizations (Community Unity Music Education Program; Black Hands Universal) and many of us have worked diligently volunteering our time throughout the summer to try and reach and learn about community needs in innovative ways, we are primarily a physical space, location and a facilitator of in-person interaction and community needs.

We will reassess our staffing needs in light of our internal assessment and what programs we deem safe to reopen.   Throughout October, we are planning to gradually reopen a few programs beginning with Food Pantry, led by Charles Rhody (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94UT61JzJ5E&feature=youtu.be), on Saturday, October 3rd (12-2PM), with all of the necessary protocols in place. We also look forward to welcoming community members and aligning organizations to utilize the gymnasium in particular this fall.  As we offer virtual (e.g. Black Townhall Meetings) and physically distanced programming (voter registration tables @ Food Pantry), people can also expect excitement coming out of Southside Community Center regarding voter registration and consciousness, as we will serve as a polling site for the first time ever!!!

I’d also like to publicly address and call out Ithaca’s good ‘ole regular racism inherent in the current public controversy and response from too many people surrounding Southside’s PAUSE.

I will reiterate:

Southside Community Center is NOT closing!

And, further… 

Southside Community Center is NOT for sale!

Southside Community Center is NOT on the auction block!

Put some RESPECT on Southside Community Center’s NAME! History! Present! AND Future!

With regards to the specific controversy around RIBS: RIBS historically has ALWAYS been a program of the Southside Community Center. With the recent backlash and community responses- including aggressive and demanding phone calls, arrogant and misinformed Facebook posts,  and letters filling my email inbox from mostly angry White Men in support of RIBS- there is also a familiar striking tone of dismissiveness reiterating the challenges for many people of the White and/or male cis-gendered dominated culture to respond to Black Female leadership.  While we recognize some missteps in the early part of the process, these circumstances have been dealt with, but this does not excuse the downright disrespectful communication and behavior demonstrated by several people in an effort to support RIBS. Unacceptable!

At Southside, we have recognized that RIBS is a place that caters to a largely a White and male demographic of Ithaca and their role within our Black-affirming and Black-Led organization must be reassessed along with many other aspects of our work together. Working with our current RIBS team and in collaboration with other local organizations like the Village at Ithaca, we’d like to reinvent and return RIBS back into a space where Black and Brown youth feel welcome to engage, lead, and create. We need our youth to know that RIBS was originally designed with them in mind and it belongs to them too.  It currently is not an environment where many Black and Brown youth, in particular, express a sense of belonging, and with recent processing during this PAUSE, we are working with the RIBS team to drastically change that dynamic and will reopen once that plan is in place.  Stay tuned in to our website (sspride.org), Facebook, and Instagram throughout October 2020 for updates.

Finally, with regards to recent media coverage. Ithaca has a long history of rushed, lazy journalism and a very limited moral compass. We know the anti-Black racism and sexism imbedded in the fabric of our local media and known journalism practices.  Including the recent Ithaca Voice Article by Matt Butler, and the unnecessary outcry around the temporary suspension of the RIBS program. Committed to the unbroken promise of maintaining White supremacy and toxic masculine patriarchy, our options for genuine journalism with any form of Black &/or Femme consciousness is extremely limited.

Black people are dying from both COVID and police disproportionately and daily throughout the country. On our very own streets of Ithaca (MLK/State St. in particular) we have many of our local citizens and homegrown Ithacans suffering from addiction, many of whom are Black. Catering to this unnecessary outcry around the temporary suspension of the RIBS program is an irresponsible and racist use of journalistic power.

We see Black Lives Matter signs ALL OVER Ithaca! What was Ithaca doing to uplift Black people before COVID & George Floyd’s murder? What is Ithaca doing to uplift Black people right now? What is Ithaca committed to doing to uplift Black people even if/when Black lives are no longer widely centered like they are right now? Instead of focusing on defaming our local Black-led organizations, we invite the local media to, consider the significant disproportionality across the country, and how and why COVID might hit Ithaca’s Black community of people differently. What work have Ithacan’s been doing to invest in Black consciousness without apology in Ithaca?  Bottom-line, we need our own journal because our voices and stories are rarely safe with these local media outlets.  We need our own journal because our similar and different truths must be told… Not only are our Black bodies not disposable, our almost 100-year-old Black agencies are not disposable either!!!

Please know that the Board of Directors of Southside Community Center, requires the time, space, and courtesy, afforded to every other organization locally to shore up our processes, systems, and reinvent ourselves during this difficult time. We expect that the Ithaca community will give us the same respect as it affords our White-led counterparts.

~Dr. Nia Nunn

September 28, 2020