Executive Director's State of the Corridor
As we prepare to embark on our fifth year together, I reflect on the many milestones we’ve checked-off in articulating the vision toward the revitalization of our beloved Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor. I thoroughly appreciate the continued opportunity to serve you in my capacity and am so lucky to work with a dedicated group of staff, consultants and supporting funders as well as very passionate stakeholders and community leaders like yourselves, truly committed to our mission and core values.
In drafting my State of Our Heritage Corridor, I thought about the fantastic opportunity I, along with a small contingent of your fellow Board members enjoyed this past June when we visited Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia at the invite of its CEO & President, Cliff Fleet. Despite being blown away by the sheer vastness of that great destination, by Mr. Fleet’s senior management team, and with the events and programmatic activities they presently are implementing or were planning, I was struck learning that Mr. Fleet and his team faces many of the same challenges a smaller destination like ours face. That trip served to remind me why celebrating our heritage, our history, or promoting heritage corridors such as ours are so important.
With that said, I am happy to report that the State of our Heritage Corridor is very good! As an organization, collectively working together, we are in a strong place and only getting stronger.
Our funding partners have been nothing less than sterling. They all continue to step- up in providing funding for our operations, capacity-building and special projects. The University at Buffalo Regional Institute, and East Side Avenues, continues to provide us with the capacity and technical assistance to ensure our continued success and momentum.
We continue to firm up old friendships and create new ones. Many organizations around the Buffalo-Niagara Region reach out to us every day seeking partnerships or collaborations. With the assistance of our marketing consultant, we have developed a strong and exciting brand to be proud of. The numbers of individuals going to our webpage or looking us up on Facebook and other social media platforms continue to increase every month. Organizations and worksites actively seek us out for pertinent speakers, and tours.
Our programming has been outstanding despite the challenges presented with our four historic Cultural Anchor sites under different levels of capital improvement construction. In early January, we hosted the Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service kick-off at the Michigan Street Baptist Church, which included a celebration of the Church’s completion of its first phase stabilization project and a Community Blanket Drive for those in need of help after the tragic blizzard the month before.
As part of Black History Month activities in February, we hosted our inaugural Black History Through Art Pop Up program at the nearby Nash Lofts, highlighting local artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. In February, we again presented Black History Talks, a series of pertinent presentations featuring the stories associated with our four Anchors at the Frank Merriweather Library.
March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, we partnered with other local groups to present the Mary Talbert Brunch at the Buffalo History Museum. In July, the Martin House invited us to co-host the Conquer the Soil: An Evening of Stories with Abra Lee, with a focus on the important history associated with gardening in the African American community. Regarding gardening, we launched our weekly Farmers Market at our headquarters’ parking lot which will soon end in October. The market has seen steady growth each week and we look forward to bigger things with it next year.
With great anticipation, other programming we will promote this year includes an upcoming archeological dig at the site where the home of Mary Talbert once stood near the Church, Soulful Christmas activities in December, and our second annual Soul Ball Gala, this year at Templeton’s Landing!
We are working our Strategic Action Plan! The purpose of the plan, developed through extensive community engagement and presented to the community last year serves as our roadmap in guiding the redevelopment of the Corridor. Again, the goals outlined in the plan includes identifying short-, medium- and long-term actions that will work to create a unified tourism destination; strengthen the Corridor’s cultural assets and the surrounding neighborhood; support the sustainability; and further develop assets to facilitate increased visitorship and additional private investment. One of the boxes listed in the plan we were proud to check-off was the purchase and opening of our new Heritage Corridor Headquarters and Visitors Hub this past May.
Together, we still have some work to do, ranging from developing and implementing a collective scorecard outlining shared goals and objectives, the expansion of our Board membership and getting revved-up several of our committees that will be important to our strategic and economic development activities, to investigating funding opportunities and fundraising best practices that could help lead to long-term sustainability of the Corridor and our Cultural Anchors.
I look forward to an even more exciting and purposeful 2024!
Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission