The site at 75 Sterling Street in Hartford, or what Kamora’s Cultural Corner founder Kamora Herrington simply calls “the land” with its labyrinth, heritage gardens and healing space, has been named a Black History and Culture Site.
The 1.7-acre sanctuary and nature preserve, just steps from several prominent Black-owned businesses on Albany Avenue, aims to be an oasis of calm amid the bustling streets of the city’s North End. The new title was bestowed by the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit centered around creating parks and preserving land to ensure more healthful and vibrant communities.
“It is humbling and beautiful,” Herrington said. “It’s a sacred space.”
The title puts the Sterling Street property in some well-known and treasured company. Other places designated with the honor include the Stonewall National Monument, Nat Turner Park, John Brown’s Fort, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park.
“Land has meaning. Historic places tell our story and connect us to the truth in tangible, relatable ways. And if we continue with business as usual, these sacred — and joyous — spaces representing the Black experience will be vulnerable and maybe even lost forever,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of Trust for Public Land in a release. “But everyone has a role to play in building a more equitable future, by celebrating, visiting, and learning from these historic and critical public lands.”
Of the 95,000 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 2% focus on the experiences of Black Americans, according to the Trust for Public Land. The Sterling Street property is one of a handful given the honor while still in the process of being completed. Just under 30 sites around the country are bestowed the title.
Herrington said envisions the space as a place of healing and contemplation centered around the idea of cultural humility through an Afrocentric Black Queer perspective. According to the National Institutes of Health, cultural humility is “a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but starts with an examination of her or his own beliefs and cultural identities.”
KCC, which Herrington founded in 2019, has operated off the land for three years, offering classes, meditation, workshops and consulting on how to set aside biases and perceptions and learn to connect with others in meaningful ways. The space also is one local artists and entrepreneurs to help inspire one another and share their works.
“The thinking is how do we continue to steward this as a Black cultural heritage site in order to further the work we’ve been doing around cultural humility? How we can all work together to get where we need to be?,” Herrington said.
As part of its focus on Black history, the space has herb gardens of 12 beds of “healing herbs,” that Black people have historically used for healing, according to Herrington. The space also has a heritage garden — known as the ‘KCC’ for kale, callaloo and collard — leafy greens historically associated with the North Atlantic Slave Trade. As part of the property’s educational experience, people can learn how the slave trade affected Black culture.
Herrington’s quest has been to ensure the space remains a place of healing forever, with the goal of turning it into a public trust. So far, $200,000 has been raised out of a $500,000 goal, with $250,000 going to environmental cleanup efforts and the other half to purchase the land. The land was previously used to park and repair trucks with oil and automotive residues seeping into the soil, according to Herrington.
Herrington had put down $20,000 to secure an option to buy the property with payment in full by July 1, but missed the deadline since since the funds have not been raised yet.
“We are currently skating under the generosity of the landlord who has extended the timeframe at the request of the Trust for Public Land,” Herrington said.
Once the money is raised, Herrington said the property would be purchased by Trust for Public Land and then be handed over to the KNOX Foundation. KNOX would hold onto it until a stewardship panel can take over the property.
“If the only thing I was doing was fundraising, I would have the money right now,” Herrington said. “But I’m running a business of cultural humility and the Sterling Street project is our learning lab. Right now there is no fundraising committee, there is only me. So the timetable depends on how much help I can get.”
Herrington said that the biggest donation so far came from a $120,000 grant from the Sony Foundation, but that fundraising has been challenging due to time constraints and receiving limited fundraising support. Most of the other money raised has been from small contributions.
“All it took was someone from the foundation to see what we were doing to get that money,” Herrington said. “The original $20,000 to start this came from a match grant program from Sustainable CT. I can definitely raise more money through them if I had more time. They keep emailing me about when I am ready for the next project. But I do not have the capacity for it, it is incredibly frustrating to see all these pockets of money I’m not getting because I have trainings or workshops I have to do. I need fundraising support.”
Herrington acknowledges that fundraising is more challenging since KCC is not a nonprofit and doesn’t benefit from any special status, but says she hopes the new designation will make it easier for people to see the significance of the Sterling Street Sanctuary and Nature Reserve.
“Nonprofits have grants and big money from outside places to do mediocre stuff. It’s this weird way of keeping everything from hitting the fan too hard. It’s about putting a little bit of money into the community so things can stay relatively the same. Then we all wonder why poverty and homelessness still exists.” Herrington said. “I am not a nonprofit doing nonprofit things. To pay for things, Kamora Herrington is paying for things.”
Thinking and Doing
“Right now we need a greenhouse built on the property,” Herrington said. “This is one of our biggest priorities.”
Herrington said that a greenhouse needs to both grow and hold vegetables and greens throughout the winter months. In addition, there will be small tobacco, cotton, and hemp teaching beds to facilitate education around the story of The Great Migration.
Herrington said she wants work to commence on a greenhouse through an Afrocentric perspective and a community work ethos, with everyone sharing their gifts.
“What we need to do is create a beautiful greenhouse and not venerate the person in charge, just because they are in charge,” Herrington said. “Cultural humility tells us do what you’re good at. So we need everyone doing what they are good at but also able to both listen to others.”
As part of keeping a focus on the community, KCC is holding a “Thinking and Doing Day” on Oct. 14, to allow people to come and help out on the property.
Stephen Underwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org