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A Syracuse firefighter and students teamed up to mark Black history month

 Tamica Barnett (front right) working on her magazine with students from local school districts in the city of Syracuse.
Jalen Wade
Jalen Wade
Tamica Barnett (front right) worked with students to create a magazine issue that highlights Black members of the community.

A new magazine created by local youth is highlighting the community contributions of African American residents. The publication by Syracuse middle and high school students is the second annual issue to mark Black History month.

Tamica Barnett, Syracuse’s first Black female fire fighter to hold the rank of lieutenant, led the effort to engage the students in a positive experience.

"There's a lot facing our youth right now, there's the way they're highlighted in the media, the mental health piece, the pandemic. This is a way to bring everyone together," Barnett said.

Contributor Star Ruffin, a middle school student in the East Syracuse Minoa Central School District, said she participated because she wanted to highlight the work of Black leaders in Syracuse.

“I feel like Black history month is all about the culture, helping others and supporting the community. I wanted to talk about how great these people are.”

The final product features officials and advocates, including Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson and Al-Amin Muhammad, founder of the nonprofit We Rise Above The Streets, which conducts homeless outreach.

Barnett and the students distributed the booklet at an event that combined the fire fighter's passion for service and love of food. Barnett owners the barbecue eatery and catering business Who Want Smoke. She and the students on Wednesday handed out the magazines with alongside free boxed meals of soul food classics: fried chicken, ribs, and collard greens.

“It's a comfort food. It's a love food," Barnett said.

She said the cuisine is her way of bringing people together.

"The history of Black people and food is that they gather over meals, they cope—that's how they come together as a family and that's how they bond,” she said.

The Central New York Community Foundation funded the project. Darrell Buckingham, the foundation's program officer, helped Barnett get the grant.

“I think it shows that there's businesses out here that are sometimes for-profit but in this situation using their time, skill and talent to give back to the community. That, in essence, is the excellence of who we are," Buckingham said.

Barnet said she has high hopes to grow the project. She said she's already tossing around ideas on how to expand the distribution event beyond boxed lunches.

“This was planned this way specifically because of Covid, and when things open back up and the world returns to semi-normalcy this, can be bigger. This could be a whole dinner party event with African dancers and sponsorships, but still make it so it's for the people," she said.

Remaining copies are available at Barnett's storefront on North Salina Street.