For Tamica Barnett, it all began at the Boys and Girls Club on 2100 East Fayette Street in Syracuse. She attended their after-school program as a child because she grew up right across the street. It’s what made her believe in the power of mentorship to change people’s lives and inspired her to be passionate about paying it forward to the next generation of youth.
When Barnett started her community involvement as an adult, her journey began at the Boys & Girls Club. She started by just helping out where she could, but over time it grew into organizing and coaching an annual winter basketball league and helping parents and students navigate through the education system. . Over the years and through encouragement from other community members, she ran for school board in the City of Syracuse and now serves as the commissioner for education and vice president of the board. “Each level of involvement led me to the next level,” Barnett said, “It’s like the community was really providing a path forward for me.”
Beyond her love of the community, Barnett also loves food, specifically BBQ. “I always look for things that unite people and BBQ is one of those things,” Barnett says. It’s what prompted her to create Who Wants Smoke? – BBQ & catering. Business has really taken off and the pop-up events she hosts usually sell out very quickly.
Barnett loves it when her love for the community, youth, and food are able to come together. And that’s exactly what she inspired in February for Black History Month. The idea was in two parts:
While the idea was Barnett’s, she credits the inner-city high schoolers from the Boys & Girls Club, the Syracuse City School District, and the Dunbar Association with its success. “The group came up with a list of community people, researched them, interviewed them, and wrote the paragraphs. Then, in partnership with Diversify New York, the student’s work got it published in Diversify’s magazine,” Barnett said. And that was just for starters. The students also researched each dish, learned how to make it, and helped assemble the dish on the day of the drive. It was all worth it when the event came together on February 21st.
Now, the students are inspired to do something like this again in the community. For Barnett, that makes all of this worth it.
Tamica Barnett is a firefighter for the City of Syracuse and Commissioner of Education for the Syracuse City School District. Her and the ten students that worked on the Black History Month Soul food event are now embarking on a project surrounding Juneteenth and father’s day.