By: Kyle Robertson
On Feb. 15, community members packed the gymnasium at the Southside Community Center on Plain St. to remember a man who was both a local hero and a national leader.
Officiated by community leader Leslyn McBean Clairborne, the ceremony rededicated the gymnasium to Dr. Jerome ‘Brud’ Holland and added it as a stop on the City’s MLK Freedom Walk in honor of Black History Month.
Tompkins County historian Carol Kammen provided background on Holland’s life and relationship to the local area, as well as a short documentary film on Holland, made by the American Red Cross.
Born in Auburn in 1916, Holland attended Cornell University as the first African American to play on the school’s football team and spent much of his free time as a student mentoring other young men at the Community Center. For his skill as a player and contributions to the spirit of the game, Holland was inducted into the college Hall of Fame in 1965. After graduation, Holland’s love for business, politics and community service led him to become the head of the Red Cross and the ambassador to Sweden by President Richard Nixon. He was also a member of the Board of Directors for several major corporate entities, including the New York Stock Exchange.
Clairborne said initially, she had no idea of Holland’s legacy in Ithaca until Kammen mentioned it to her.
“I’ve been studying history in Ithaca since I got here 20 years ago,” she said. “I never heard that name. This is one of those small but giant steps that we needed to take to honor Dr. Holland and to make sure that the younger generation knows who he was and his contribution to the City of Ithaca, to Tompkins County, to Cornell University, to human beings in this community.”
When Holland passed away in 1985, Cornell donated the Jerome Holland Interational Living Center, a program house that gives students the opportunity to learn about other cultures around the world, in his honor.
In general 60 percent of its students are international and 40 percent are American, reflecting Holland’s dedication to diversity, cooperation and community.
Several guest speakers at the event spoke highly of Holland’s work.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick commended Holland for his service to the community and for being an exceptional role model.
“Having young men like this having come down into the city is a benefit to us all,” Myrick said. “Not just the young folks who benefit from his company or from his mentorship, and hopefully from Mr. Holland himself. The way that Mr. Holland carried himself, from the football field to the classroom to all of the organizations he was a part of, can’t help but inspire other people and it reminds me that folks are watching. Every moment that you can succeed or exceed their expectations is a moment that you must do that.”
Joe Holland, the younger of Holland’s two sons, spoke about the pride his father took about helping those in need.
“My father had a life dedicated to community service and then public service and then national service on a very high level,” he said. “I would venture to say that he was here today, that with all the accolades that’s received and buildings and stadiums and other things in his name after him, that this distinction, having this place named and dedicated in his honor, would mean the most.”
The Southside Community Center now marks the official beginning of Ithaca’s Freedom Walk, a walking trail project that commemorates the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the fight for civil rights, as well as those local African American residents like Holland, who mirror King’s example.