Nydia Boyd knew that Southside Community Center, an institution created by and for the African American citizens of Ithaca, is where she wanted to work after she finished her MFA in Fine Arts at the Syracuse University. Now, after two years as the center’s Executive Director, she’s ready to step down and focus on her family and her art.
Boyd will stay on as executive director until the end of May and after that, she’s not sure where she’ll end up. But she knows she wants to jump back into her photography and focus on her family. She got married this past summer and is looking forward to spending more time with her husband and children. “I’m kind of open to what’s next,” Boyd said. “I knew that my time at Southside wasn’t going to be super long in duration.”
It’s time for her to take the next step in her career and dedicate herself to what she has spent years in school for, her photography. Already an acclaimed artist with several notable projects, Boyd’s goal is to be able to have more time to focus on her art and hopefully begin to share her art internationally. She’s also excited to be able to explore more of the world outside of Ithaca and the Finger Lakes area.
Boyd has been a lifelong resident of the Ithaca area and often came to the community center as a resident while growing up here. Her first job at Southside was as a youth program leader where she started the Girl Empowerment group. This group led to a series of photographs that she said she is most known for, “The Girls Who Spun Gold.” After graduating from Syracuse, she came right back to Southside. After the sudden passing of the previous executive director, Boyd held the position of acting executive director until she was named executive director in January of 2018.
“I think this has been a really important part in my life where I can give back directly to the community that I grew up in, which has always been important to me” Boyd said, and while she knows there is a lot more she could do at the center, she’s made a lot of progress in the vision she had for Southside and is ready to see someone with a new vision take over.
As an artist, part of her vision at Southside has been to work on the branding and aesthetics of the center to create more energy and make people feel more welcome and excited. Making the center feel like an inviting place to be for residents of all backgrounds was important to her and with a new art room that doubles as a teen space, a library, and a recording studio, Boyd has helped to bring that vision to life.
Her advice for whoever takes over as executive director boils down to two things: keeping the mission of the center alive (through funding growth and connections to the community) and understanding how Ithaca, a predominantly white city, operates. Boyd said she has spent a lot of time thinking about the gentrification of the Southside neighborhood, a historically black neighborhood. It’s an issue that affects the center directly but doesn’t get much attention.
“I think Ithaca has this notion that we are exempt from the problems of the world,” Boyd said. “We are 10 square miles surrounded by reality, as the bumper sticker says. But I think that we have to take those blinders off and realize that we are not exempt but face the exact same problems as everywhere else, and I think we need to get serious and real about that and think about how some of the things that are taking place directly affect community and the people that live here.”
Boyd said that because Southside serves some of the most underserved people in Ithaca, as gentrification pushes them further from the center, the services that Southside offers to them become harder to access.
As a behind-the-scenes kind of person, Boyd found the “face of the organization” aspect of being executive director a part of the job she wasn’t used to. But, it’s something she hopes the next director can embrace.
“Being a director is a bit of a selfless job, in the most exciting way,” Boyd said. “It’s balancing a lot of things at once, but the reward is always in the people, in our afterschool children and the people that we serve with our programs and events.”
Bringing back the Juneteenth and Kwanzaa celebrations to Southside with great success is one of the things she’s really proud of. She’s also proud of the connections that the center has made with the local colleges, bringing in more active youth from the area. Like the art she has created, Boyd was excited to bring more focus to programs for black girls and women and helping to empower local youth to use their voices. But she wants people to know she didn’t do it all alone. She has had a dedicated staff and board of directors that have helped her further her vision.
Boyd notes that her time at Southside has also helped empower her to use her own voice and speak out about what the community needs. She’s learned a lot about herself these past two years, but it’s time to move onto something new. Boyd is excited to see what the next director will bring to the job and create at the community center.
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