Nydia Boyd always knew her time at Southside Community Center would be temporary, but she wanted to work somewhere she could have an impact on her native neighborhood. Now, Boyd has decided to turn her attention to… well, she’s not sure yet. She said she likes that aspect of it. There’s plenty of formulations the rest of her life could take, particularly with photography that has gotten her freelance work in national publications. She said she feels good about the position Southside is in now, which has comforted her as she prepares to leave, though she will still be there for several months as they search for and train a new executive director. The Ithaca Times sat down with Boyd to talk about her experience at Southside and its importance in Ithaca’s black community.
Ithaca Times: You’re deeply involved in art, is that what’s next for you?
Nydia Boyd: When I first agreed to be acting executive director and then full time executive director, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it, but [only] if I can maintain my art career at the same time.” So, being in this position was never something that was going to be super long-term. But I knew that if I could make both of those work, then I could be here. I think I did that successfully, but I think also that at times I had to choose doing things for Southside over doing things for the art career. So, since that’s what I’ve been dedicated to and what I’ve been studying this whole time, I’d really like to immerse myself fully in that art world.
IT: What is your proudest moment at Southside?
NB: There have been a lot, but I think one of the moments that I’m most excited about was the Juneteenth festival this year. I remember going to Juneteenth as a child [...] It was so cool because Juneteenth felt like an old Juneteenth from when I was a kid. It was really nice to have that excitement in the community and have so many people here, and we had a great list of performers, and so that was really exciting to feel the energy and to feel people coming out. It’s taken a bit of time to get people reinvested in Southside, and that, to me, was a big sign of that.
IT: What is your biggest regret, something you haven’t been able to accomplish since you got here?
NB: I wish that I could have been present in programming more. There would’ve been much more stuff that I would’ve wanted to do around photography and stuff, even just myself. There are things that I am specifically interested in teaching, and sharing with people. This summer I got to teach a class for Ithaca College’s MFA program, so I mixed their MFA students with kids from the center, and so we had a really great class.
IT: In terms of stuff you would pass on to the next executive director, what is the most significant thing they need to know about Southside?
NB: I’ve spent a great deal of time figuring out [how] a community center is relevant and stays relevant—a community center that has historically been here to serve the needs of black folks in Ithaca. So, how do we stay relevant in 2018 and 2019, especially in Ithaca and especially in a world that is becoming a bit more color blind each day? So, how do we speak to the importance of a specific space, while also changing with the neighborhood and changing with the times? So, speaking back to things that are going on in Ithaca—gentrification, issues with jobs and employment, issues with food justice—being here and knowing that we serve some of Ithaca’s most underserved people.
IT: Nia Nunn said a year ago one of the missions for you all at the time was “reminding the public of Southside’s worth.” Do you think you’ve made progress on that?
NB: I think we have. That’s what I was speaking to with Juneteenth, was the reinvestment of the people in Southside—that’s what is most important. I think that we definitely do get a bit of recognition that we didn’t even get last year. In a funny way, I always say that I think people have “put some respect on our name” [channeling Birdman’s infamous quote], which was what we were looking for. We knew there was so much life here, and so much history here, and we just wanted to breathe into that. I think we’ve done that.
IT: This is probably the most prominent black institution in Ithaca. How much pressure does that put on you guys, that you are the main resource for black people who feel forgotten in such a white place?
NB: It’s tough, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. There’s a lot of things to consider. One of the big ones is the gentrification of this neighborhood: black people and non-white people have been pushed to the West End, to multiple housing complexes in the outskirts of town. So the interaction with Southside and even the [St. James] AME Zion church becomes different because you’re not just walking outside of your house and coming here. You’re having to travel here. So when I say, “Be relevant,” we have to have things that get you here [...] I think that puts a bit of pressure in that sense, to actually still pull in people from the population that we’ve historically served, being interesting to them, and them believing in us that we have the resources here, and that there’s this sense of family. In the community at large, there’s some pressure on us too, because in a predominantly white space, when people want to access or provide programming for or want black people included, they come here. Sometimes they think that we have all those answers, and oftentimes we don’t. We’re trying to figure it out like everyone else.
IT: Do you think it’s possible that being outside of the organizational system by leaving Southside will help you fight for social justice more effectively?
NB: Well, I worked at Southside before I got my MFA, too. I was working with a group of teen girls in a girl empowerment program, which is actually where the work that I’m most known for, called ‘The Girl Who Spun Gold,’ originated from. I felt so guilty leaving these girls. I felt so selfish [...] But then, when that work started to get out into the world, [with] the response that I got from so many people in terms of seeing themselves in the work, the work resonating with them and the work being powerful them as black girls and women, I realized that making photography and making art has the ability to touch so many people. So, that’s the kind of thing that I’m trying to work with in my head. My work revolves around issues around social justice, race, gender, class and sexuality. I’m working on the outside in something that seems personal, but something that touches so many people. So, I’ve been trying to stick with that, to negate any feelings that I’m leaving the community. Because, that was my goal, to come and work in the community I was raised. Now, it’s just time to move on. And if I’m not in Ithaca, I’ll always come back to the Southside.