Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, speaks at the BEAR Walk Community Fair.

BEAR Walk fair builds bridges between Cornell, community

Poetry, belly dancing and bear hugs highlighted the BEAR Walk Community Fair, Sept. 5 in Collegetown, an event that encouraged Cornell students to engage with their adopted home, be good neighbors and support local businesses.

Students speak with representatives of local organizations at the fair.

“We co-occupy the space around here, and it’s so critically important that we realize the impact that we have on each other, and that we really build community across our different spaces and roles,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life.

Lombardi spoke at the evening event, where nearly two dozen community and student organizations offered information on health and safety resources and other services, along with an assortment of swag, from stickers to stress balls. “BEAR” stands for Being Engaged and Responsible.

The Big Red Bear, Cornell’s mascot, mingled and posed for photos, and a trio of students from the Teszia Belly Dance Troupe performed.

Held on the Frank E. Gannett Plaza in front of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, the festival was the first of two events this week promoting closer ties between students and the Ithaca community.

On Sept. 7, students can continue to explore the city at the CU Downtown event, scheduled for 1-5 p.m. on the Ithaca Commons. CU Downtown will feature performances by the Big Red Marching Band and Cornell Pep Band, a scavenger hunt and activities at retail stores and restaurants.

Lamin Johnson ’21 opened Thursday’s program with a poem about striving to see the good in a troubled world, inspired by his native Chicago.

“They say they see demons in my city … they say they see bullies,” he said. “I look around and I see angels. I see angels in school hallways, see angels in parking lots and bus stops. Yo, I see angels all day.”

Lombardi said the poem resonated with his own appeal for the start the school year: to treat others with love and respect, and to spend less time looking at phones and more time connecting directly with classmates and neighbors.

“Say hello, acknowledge other humans,” he said. “A simple gesture, a simple looking deep into someone’s eyes or a smile could change their entire day, could change the entire way things are going [for them].”

Jesus Ruiz ’20, president of the senior class and Class Council, said he understood the feeling of not belonging somewhere, having grown up moving between Mexico and the United States. Many college students, he said, similarly feel less connected to the home that they’ve left behind while not fully part of the place where they are studying.

He urged classmates to enrich their Cornell experience by venturing off campus to support businesses and artists, eat apple cider doughnuts, attend a concert or festival, or volunteer with nonprofits in and around Ithaca.

“Cornell cannot exist without Ithaca,” he said. “I invite you all to take some time out of your already busy schedule to create a community, where we take Ithaca as it stands but we incorporate Cornell as an active member of the community.”

Marty Johnson, owner of Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office on Dryden Road, echoed the importance of patronizing local businesses, most of which are not chains.

“When you’re ‘shopping small’ and you’re supporting a local business, you’re putting food on the table for a local family, not buying another yacht for a CEO,” said Johnson, a co-founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance.

Home to thousands of students, Collegetown is in transition and experiencing “growing pains,” Johnson said, with multiple new developments planned and work crews digging up College Avenue for a sewer replacement project.

But when the dust settles, he said, students and residents will enjoy nicer buildings and new trees, benches, bike racks, trash cans and artistic light pole banners – designed by Sheri Guo ’22 – that will beautify the neighborhood and help establish its identity.

“It’s going to be even more of a vibrant place coming up soon,” Johnson said.

The community fair was sponsored by the City of Ithaca as well as the Division of Student and Campus Life, the Office of Community Relations, the class councils and the Big Red women’s ice hockey team.

The fair followed an Aug. 27 community walk during which volunteers knocked on Collegetown doors and distributed pamphlets including information on laws related to noise and parties and “Nine Steps to Becoming a Good Neighbor.”

“I know Ithaca is the kind of community where we can do this and where we can achieve this,” said Lombardi. “Let’s have an incredible year, and a year filled with lots and lots of love.”

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Abby Butler