Sharing the Legacy of Black Art and Music with Humboldt Youth

Sep 27, 2021
When Valetta Molofsky (‘20, MSW) first moved to Humboldt to attend Humboldt State University, she noticed one thing right away: Few looked like her and her children.

When Valetta Molofsky (‘20, MSW) first moved to Humboldt to attend Humboldt State University, she noticed one thing right away: Few looked like her and her children. When she did meet other bi-racial families in the community, they often spoke of the same sense of disconnection that affected Molofsky.

“People of color, especially youth, need a cultural connection to their ancestors to find reconciliation,” says Molofsky, a 2020 graduate of HSU’s Master of Social Work program.

The daughter of a Texas minister, Molofsky started singing traditional Black gospel music at age three and was directing her first choir by 12. Blending her cultural heritage, love of music, and call to serve the community, Molofsky brought her talents to the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir (AIGC) as a graduate student. As part of her master’s thesis, she organized the first ever Harvest Event in 2019, a community celebration of gospel music. Molofsky went on to become AIGC’s choir director, helping to educate the community about Black heritage through music. 

“My professor at HSU explained that the main goal in the MSW program that year was to leave a legacy in the community,” says Molofsky. “So that’s what I did.”

Amidst the social unrest of 2020, Molofsky felt called to do even more for her community. Merging her graduate research on “cultural starvation” and community activism, Molofsky helped give birth to a new home for underrepresented youth through the HC Black Music & Arts Association (HCBMAA). 

“I know how it feels to be culturally starved for connection,” explains Molofsky, who teaches cultural engagement workshops in local schools focused on mental health disparities, learning disorders, and cultural identity. 

“Cultural starvation means the absence of people who look like you, of culturally appropriate food, healing modalities, and spiritual outlets,” she says.

“When I created HCBMAA, I found a lot of people like me in Humboldt who have struggled in the same way. And not just people who identified as Black or African-American but also as Brown, Indigenous, and Latinx.”

A nonprofit organization supported by the Ink People, HCBMAA leads a variety of culturally rich programs and events for local youth. Molofsky explains that many schools lack the cultural competence and contextual language to serve and connect with struggling youth. That’s where HCBMAA comes in. 

Unique elements of HCBMMA’s approach include the Glen Kuumba Literacy Program, which promotes somatic movement and Afrocentric traditions, such as the art of storytelling, to expand cultural knowledge and decolonize literacy. Every Saturday, children and adults of all backgrounds are invited to the Kuumba storytelling hour on the Arcata Plaza. Literacy coordinator Andrea Jones, a student in HSU’s Social Work program, and other diverse members of the community read stories like The Egyptian Cinderella, followed by a group reflection.

“Our goal is to empower youth to understand the language and teach them the history that comes from Black-lived experiences,” says Molofsky. 

Additional outreach efforts include The Sistahood, a peer woman-to-woman support group that meets on Zoom to lift up diverse female voices. Several annual cultural events include the Kente Donning Ceremony, where graduates with African roots honor themselves and their families by donning their graduation robes with a Ghanian Kente cloth. 

“We are a village for a village,” says Molofsky.

To learn more about the HCBMMA, visit HC Black Music & Arts Associate on Facebook.