22 ways to honor Black history in Muskegon this February—and throughout the year

The Sepia Club in Muskegon, as shown in the “Up From the Bottoms” documentary.

When African Americans began to move to Muskegon during the Great Migration, during which six million African Americans left the southern United States for the north, they did so in search of a better life. African Americans did, indeed, go on to build powerful lives in the Muskegon community, contributing major accomplishments in the area, from the arts to business and much more.

However, these accomplishments have come in the face of racism and adversity. Racism did not disappear once black individuals made it to the northern states; instead, African Americans here in Muskegon (and throughout the country) were barred from going into many businesses; they faced redlining (being unable to rent and purchase real estate in certain parts of the community because of race); they earned less than their white counterparts (and still do).  People of color continue to report numerous forms of racial discrimination, in Muskegon and throughout West Michigan, from the workplace to housing, and more.

Despite all of this, African American Muskegonites are, and have been, empowering the city and its residents and spearheading the charge for justice throughout the region, whether that’s working to create affordable housing, educating people about local African American history, and so much more.

This Black History Month, which is officially celebrated nationwide in February, you’ll have the chance to learn about the powerful and deeply important accomplishments of local black leaders, engage in discussions surrounding race and equity, and more. But it’s not only February that should be about black history, and there are numerous ways to continue to honor black Muskegonites’ past, present and future throughout the year. Below, we’ve detailed events that are happening in February, as well as opportunities to engage with black history during the other 11 months of the year.

1. Begin your Black History Month early: The Muskegon Museum of Art will commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 20 with free admission to the museum; screenings of “Black Man,” a documentary that explores what it means to be a black man in Muskegon and the United States today; gallery tours; and more. For all of the information about the day’s events, please click here.


2. If you haven’t seen “Black Man,” a documentary by Muskegon’s own Jon Wesley Covington, please drop everything you’re doing and go watch it. Featuring interviews with black men from Muskegon about their lives, their loves, and their losses, this documentary is a powerful look at what it means to be black in our community and our country. You can see it for free on Monday, Jan. 20 at 10am, 12pm, and 3pm at the Muskegon Museum of Art.

Then, from 2-4pm on Saturday, Feb. 29, head to Hackley Public Library to meet Jon Covington himself. Covington will join the men from the documentary at the library for a live version of “Black Man.” This event is free and open to the public. For more information about the film and to follow it on Facebook, please click here.

3. The Hideout in Muskegon Heights will hold a “In Commemoration of the Dream” dinner on Monday, Jan. 20, beginning at 4pm. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the “soul-filled dining experience” will feature food from Chef LaKisha Harris—including such entrees as Cajun shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, shrimp po boy and fries, and more. To see the entire menu, please click here.

4. We’d encourage you to visit The James Jackson Museum of African American History during Black History Month—and during the rest of the year as well. The Muskegon Heights museum is an incredible space that provides historical information about the local African American community, including stories about African American leaders who forever shaped Muskegon Heights and Muskegon. The venue too offers state and national information, events that aim to empower the local community, and more. The museum is open from 2pm-5:30pm Tuesday through Saturday; it is located at 7 E. Center St. in Muskegon Heights.

5. Watch “Up From the Bottoms: The Search for the American Dream,” a documentary that tells the story of the migration of African Americans from the south to the north during World War II and after. Actress Cicely Tyson narrates, guiding the viewer through the stories of 15 Muskegon residents who were a part of this migration. The film is a powerful look at the lives of our neighbors, of people who faced racism not just in the rural south but also in the north, including in Muskegon. To purchase the film, please click here.

6. Come hear some incredible music at the “Before the Blues” concert on Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 7-8pm at the Muskegon Area District Library’s Norton Shores site. Rev. Robert B. Jones will play guitar, harmonica, mandolin, banjo and fiddle using folk, blues, spirituals and other American Roots music to champion the history, beauty and power of our shared culture. This event is free and open to the public.

Rev. Robert B. Jones will perform a “Before the Blues” concert at the Norton Shores library on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Photo via Muskegon Area District Library

7. Hackley Public Library kicks off its extensive Black History Month programming (all of which is free and open to the public) with a night of inspirational music from the Kingdom Embassy Covenant Church Praise Team on Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 6-7pm. There will also be a special Praise Dance performed by Tiffany and Triniti Jones. The event will be held at the library. All ages are welcome, and the event is free and open to the public.

8. Test your black history knowledge at the Hackley Public Library’s sixth annual Black History Trivia Contest on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 2-3pm. Form a group with your friend (up to four people per team, and there will be six teams in total) and get ready to show off your historical know-how. Call the library at 231-722-8011 or click here to register your team. There will be prizes for first, second and third places, as well as some consolation prizes. For those not participating, you’re welcome to come and cheer on your friends and family. The event is free and open to the public.

9. Poets and poetry fans, you won’t want to miss this. Hackley Public Library will host an open mic poetry night on Monday, Feb. 3 from 6-7:30pm. During the event, you can share your own work, or your favorite Black History/black experience/African American poetry. And for those who would rather just listen, you’re welcome to attend as well. If you wish to share a poem, please register by calling 231-722-8000 or by clicking here. This event is free and open to the public.

“Fences” is one of four movies that will be shown at Muskegon Community College’s Black History Month Film Festival.

10. Attention, cinephiles: Muskegon Community College will host its first-ever Black History Month Film Festival throughout the month of February. The festival kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 5 and will continue on Feb. 12, Feb. 19, and Feb. 26. All movies will begin at 5pm in MCC’s Stevenson Center Room 1300, located on the college’s main campus. The films being shown are:

  • Feb. 5: “Imitation of Life”
  • Feb. 12: “BlackKkKlansman”
  • Feb. 19: “Fences”
  • Feb. 26: “The Hate U Give”

Each of the movies are free and open to the public and will be followed by a discussion. Free popcorn will be provided. For more information, contact Mary Tyler at (231) 777-0327.

11. Chefs, it’s your time to shine. Hackley Public Library will host its annual “Sweet Soul Food Dessert Competition” on Saturday, Feb. 8 from 2-3pm. People of all ages are invited to vye for Muskegon’s best soul food dessert. Bring enough for attendees, plus the judge, to taste. Register your dish by calling 231-722-8011 or by clicking here. Prizes will be awarded to the first, second and third place contestants in the adult category, and to the first place winner in the children’s category. If you’d rather do less cooking and more tasting, you’re invited to come watch the competition unfold. This event is free and open to the public.

12. Create your own black history bracelet at the Hackley Public Library on Monday, Feb. 10 from 6-7pm. To register, please call (231) 722-8011 or click here. This event is free and open to the public.

A previous performance of “The Meeting” by the Ebony Road Players. Photo via the Grand Rapids Public Library

13. The Ebony Road Players, a Grand Rapids-based theater company that aims to inspire, educate and engage West Michigan with productions focused on the Black experience, is coming to Muskegon to perform “The Meeting,” a play by Jeff Stetson about an imaginary meeting between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in a Harlem hotel room during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Differing in their philosophies, but alike in their mutual respect, the two men debate their varying approaches to the problems plaguing the country. “The Meeting” will be performed Saturday, Feb. 22 from 2-3pm at Hackley Public Library. All ages are welcome, and admission is free.

Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” will be discussed at Hackley Public Library. Photo via Michelle Obama

14. Dig into former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming” at the Hackley Public Library on Monday, Feb. 24 from 6-7pm. The book discussion will focus on Obama’s memoir that recounts her family’s trajectory from the Jim Crow South to Chicago’s South Side and her own journey to the White House. Copies of “Becoming” are available behind the Hackley Public Library reference desk and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Call (231) 722-8000 with any questions.

15. All are invited to read aloud and listen to selections of prose and poetry from the body of African American literature during the “African American Read-In Chain” at Muskegon Community College on Wednesday, Feb. 26 from 2:30-4pm. The event will be held in the college’s Blue and Gold Room on its main campus. The Read-In is part of a national event sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English. This is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Theresa.Kanoza@muskegoncc.edu.

16. Learn about Bernice and John Sydnor, philanthropists who have left an incredibly powerful legacy in Muskegon. After moving to Muskegon from West Virginia during the 1940s, Bernice Sydnor went on to dedicate her career to the City of Muskegon Heights, and her late husband, John, spent 38 years as an educator in the Muskegon Heights schools. To learn more about the Sydnors, please click here.

17. If you ever have the chance to spend time with Mildred Johnson, please do so. But even if you aren’t fortunate enough to have that opportunity, you can learn about Mildred’s life story by clicking here and here. Recently named Senior Volunteer of the Year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Johnson’s grandfather was a freed slave from Tennessee. Johnson spent more than three decades teaching at Muskegon Public Schools, where she launched an annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program at Marquette School. She also urged the school board to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and honor it as a holiday.

18. Muskegon Community College will close its Black History Month events with the annual Love In Action Awards Dinner on Thursday, Feb. 27 from 6-8pm at the college’s Collegiate Hall on the main campus. This event celebrates unsung community heroes who are nominated by their peers. Tickets for the banquet are $30 each or $180 for a table of six. The deadline for purchasing tickets is Thursday, Feb. 13. Registration is required to attend. For more information, contact Sche Cornelius at sche.cornelius@muskegoncc.edu or call (231) 777-0532.

19. This event is in March, but it is one you definitely don’t want to miss. Deck yourself out in African-inspired evening attire and head to Kuntry Cookin’s annual “Tux & Chucks” event at the Hilt Building in downtown Muskegon on Saturday, March 21. The festivities will feature a theme of “The Wakanda Forever Edition: Chucks vs. Jordans” and the night will include a whirlwind of live music, dancing, food from Kuntry Cookin’, and more. (For those who don’t know, Wakanda is a fictional country in Africa that is home to Marvel’s Black Panther superhero.) Tickets go on sale Monday, Jan. 20. To purchase them, please click here.

20. While this isn’t entirely about black history, the Community Gathering Initiative conversations are powerful explorations of race in Muskegon County—including how history continues to impact our present-day. The next event will be held Thursday, March 19. For more information about the event’s time and location, follow the initiative on Facebook by clicking here. All Community Gathering Initiative events are free and open to the public.

21. Community enCompass, a Muskegon-based nonprofit, sheds light on how systemic racism has affected Muskegon (and places across the United States) through redlining. The Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and around African American neighborhoodsa policy known as redlining. At that same time, the FHA was subsidizing developers who were mass-producing subdivisions for white individuals, with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African Americans. Check out this informative look at what that policy meant, and continues to mean, for Muskegon.

22. Part of black history is celebrating and supporting black future. There are many organizations working to empower Muskegon’s black residents, which hold events throughout the year, including: Muskegon Young Black Professionals, Black Women’s Political Caucus of Muskegon County, 103.7 The Beat, and the Muskegon branch of the NAACP.

Know of another Black History Month event that’s not to be missed? Let us know in the comments below, or email us at muskegontimes@gmail.com and we’ll add it to the list.

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