Sunday, 01 April 2012 17:32
Community - Community Projects
By Zuri Sabir
Once in a while you meet a person who contains so much of a sense of purpose — palpable and kinetic — you feel the change they seek happening during your conversation with them. Kirtrina Baxter is such a personality. She radiates an active and deliberate positivity. While she's intelligently probing any situation, you can watch her eyes searching faces, the room, and the Earth for places to plant love. Kirtrina is plenty live.
I'm not surprised when Kirtrina tells me she has been working in human services in varying ways for twelve years. To me, it seems a person with her disposition belongs in a place where she can rub off on others. She tells me that because of her father, a pastor, she has always been in a position of service to nurture a community.
"Service is a part of my life. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, when I evaluated the things that make me happy, what came up most was service to others," says Kirtrina, after she has ushered me to the front of Gimme! Coffee to buy me a cup of tea. "I realized I wouldn't be happy in a job just to make money for myself and my family, so I've always positioned myself in places that pay spiritually," she adds.
Kirtrina moved to upstate New York from Philadelphia with her young daughter hoping to find a marriage of nature and African-American influence. Oneonta, her initial landing zone, was full of nature and severely lacking in a well-established black community. As her daughter grew older, Kirtrina intuitively began her search for another place to live, knowing that beautiful black young women need to be around others like them. She fell in love with Ithaca's Southside Community Center, with its rich history, as a haven for unity within the black community. When the opportunity arose for her to work as General Program Director there, she jumped. The results have been serendipitous. "I realized once I was in position at Southside that I was primed for the responsibility of helping to build community because of the way I was raised. The environment is very similar to the black church — you come for community, young people have programs that bring them together, elders are teaching younger people — and that is in Southside's structure, without the involvement of religion."
Since becoming Program Director, Kirtrina has very much held to the Center's mission statement to "affirm, empower, and foster the development of self pride among the African-American citizens of greater Ithaca." Every afternoon, the center is full of life and learning, with an afterschool program that hires local instructors to teach elementary-age kids a variety of skills and a cook to prepare wholesome dinners. Children play basketball both indoors and out, as a computer or DJing class is being held upstairs. The well-coordinated effort to provide a haven for developing and increasingly displaced black young people has been executed with an undertone of warmth that only comes from good intent and patience.
In addition to her work at Southside, Kirtrina has served as the Program Director for GreenStar's non-profit affiliate, GreenStar Community Projects, since December 2010. In her work to support food justice, she has worked extensively to bring equal access to fresh, locally grown foods and the knowledge of how they are grown. "I find a lot of value in what I've done in the community since I've been here," says Kirtrina, "and in sharing the connection and healing that comes from the earth with the young people I was able to work with in gardening through Gardens 4 Humanity and the Youth Farm Project. That was incredible for all of us involved."
When asked what she feels her overall contribution to the Ithaca community has been, Kirtrina points to "the concept of what it is to be in relation to each other. When I'm dealing with racism, when I'm dealing with inclusion and diversity and advocacy for people of color, underlying all of that is the understanding that as human beings we are responsible for each other. I have also been able to share that the positive things people admire about my personality and work come through a recognition of Spirit. Through Spirit I am able to connect to myself, allowing me to release unconditional love, kindness and compassion. And to allow people to experience beauty."
As Kirtrina prepares for her departure back to Philadelphia, those she has worked with and influenced in Ithaca are taking stock of the work she has done in order to keep up her momentum.
One of her fellow food activists expressed the collective sentiments nicely, saying that "Kirtrina is like an oracle. She knows exactly what she is doing and has a huge store of wisdom that she readily shares, telling you exactly what you need to hear. I see her as moving like a torrential downpour through communities. It's the water that makes seeds grow. Sometimes it hurts coming down — like a force of nature — but you will be stronger for it. It's the rain that brings the coming of spring."