Jerome "Brud" Holland

An image of Jerome “Brud” Holland from his Cornell playing days.

Southside Community Center is honoring a Cornell icon this week as it re-dedicates its gym.

A ceremony to re-dedicate the Southside Community Center gym to Jerome “Brud” Holland, the first African American, All-American football player at Cornell University, class of 1939, will take place at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15.

While there are indications that the gym was previously dedicated to Holland, who actively worked with youth at the Southside Community Center during his time at Cornell, there is no plaque or obvious demonstration of the installation. With renovations being made to the gym, the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Walkway Committee decided it was a fitting time to re-dedicate the gym to Holland.

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, chair of the Freedom Walkway Committee, said the re-dedication is one of the many smaller pieces the committee has been trying to put into place in addition to the walkway itself.

“This re-dedication of the Southside Community Center gym is a multi-installation in our walkway project,” said McBean-Clairborne. “Brud Holland, whose history is great in the City of Ithaca and Cornell University, is not really well known. He was class of 1939 at Cornell University and he was very actively involved with the Southside Community Center. Mr. Holland spent a lot of time at the Southside while he was here at Cornell University, mentoring young males of color — particularly young black males at the center — and doing a lot of service work at the community center.”

According to McBean-Clairborne, it’s said Cornell’s athletic department and other leadership groups at the university amassed funds to aid in the “sprucing up” of the gym upon Holland’s graduation and dedicating it in his honor.

“We don’t know if there was ever a plaque installed or anything to that nature, and it was just in more recent years that I actually got that history, that that had occurred,” said McBean-Clairborne. “We wanted to revive that history and make sure this new generation knew that history of Mr. Holland — his involvement with the community center, his positivity, the fact that he was a scholar who went on to represent the United States as an ambassador to Sweden — who went on to be president of Delaware State College and just did amazing, amazing work that we wish all our young men in this community can emulate. With all the things that have been going on in our recent history with many of our young men in the Southside and just throughout the community, especially our young black males, feeling so despondent and the lack of jobs and so many other things. We felt it was only fitting to do this at this point to show them that there was someone who came, who walked through the doors of Southside, who dwelled on the Southside, who by faith, by his strength, who overcame all kinds of odds — because an African American in those days, we all know that it was not just smooth sailing — and did what he had to do to elevate himself and elevate men of color. We wanted to make sure that history is alive, that they know about it, that the community remembers it and remembers the good work of Jerome Holland.”

The renovations to the gym include the installation of an air conditioning system and a mural inside the gymnasium through Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency grant funding. The mural, titled “Southside Pride,” is being done by youth participants and muralist Jay Stooks.

“The mural is designed to maintain and strengthen the pride that community members have in the Center, its history and current contributions to community members throughout the city and from neighborhoods throughout Tompkins County,” said Nia Nunn Makepeace, executive director for SSCC. “The idea behind the mural illustrates an Afrocentric-base with an emphasis on collective responsibility and action. Illustrations of our 75-year-old history (Francis Harper Women's Club, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit, Girl Scouts, Medical Support) and current activities/initiatives (Food Justice- healthy food initiatives, pet clinic, computer/studio production education, youth programs & educational enrichment, recreation, performing arts education, recycling Ithaca's Bikes, cultural events & forums, etc.) will cross the mural.”

Improvements to strengthen acoustics in the gym to enhance future events that will take place there also are planned for the future.

Holland’s sons, Jerry and Joseph Holland, will be present at the re-dedication ceremony, speaking on behalf of the family.

McBean-Clairborne said a film made about Holland at the American Red Cross will be shown along with clips and photos of him in action. County historian Carol Kammen also will speak at the event to give the history of Holland’s involvement in the community.

“We’ll have us a nice ceremony befitting of this gentlemen and the things he did for our community even when he left the community,” said McBean-Clairborne, who added that the committee wanted to make sure the re-dedication was done during Black History Month.

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