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Bringing light to darkness through storytelling

Posted on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 1:07 pm

BY John Harvey

For the fifth year in a row, the Town of Ashland will celebrate Black History Month with a thought-provoking talk about events that shaped our community from first-hand experiences Sunday, Feb. 11 at 4 p.m. at Patrick Henry High School.

The program, which is free and open the public, is called Untold Stories: Growing up in Ashland and Hanover, black and white experiences. Six storytellers share their experiences growing up in the area during the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s and discuss how national events affected local life.

The Hanover Arts and Activities Center collaborates with The Hanover County Black Heritage Society, The Ashland Museum and Ashland Main Street Association to sponsor a program dedicated to bringing the community together.

“We try to get people from all parts of the county,” said Sue Watson, who is part of the planning committee for the event. “We have six storytellers, three men and three women, three African-Americans and three whites. We try to get older people who can tell stories from different times in their lives. We think our program is unique.”

This year’s speakers include Norman Bowles, Loretta Ellis, Lyn Hodnett, Janipher Robinson, Harold Stills and Charles Waldrop. Here’s a breakdown on what they will speak about during the event.

Bowles – A long-time Mechanicsville resident that was involved in youth baseball and basketball programs as a player and coach in the area. He went on to play collegiality Ellis – She grew up in Hanover County and went to school at Virginia Union University to become a teacher. Following graduation, she immediately started teaching at Beaverdam Elementary School for predominately white students.

Hodnett –  She grew up in the greater Ashland area and has been an active member of Duncan Memorial Methodist Church. In addition, she has been active in several civic organizations, like the women’s club and garden club.

Robinson – A local attorney that grew up on the Rt. 1 corridor in Hanover County and has always been active in the community. She went on to law school and is an attorney with Robinson and Greene in Henrico County.

Stills – Another local educator from the Montpelier area. Stills was the supervisor for mathematics in Hanover County and worked in human resources as well. He also served in a leadership role in the school division when the area schools were first integrated.

Waldrop – An Ashland native, he and his family grew up in western Hanover County. He is part of the family that has owned Cross Brothers Grocery Store. An accomplished singer, he’s also been a regular in the Ashland Music Variety Show.

Watson said this event is an eye-opening experience for the speakers as well.

“The participants say that the challenge of preparing for their storytelling is good for them,” she explained. “We all learn from other people’s experiences and often we know people, but we do not know their stories. We can learn much about how people of different races and localities and backgrounds and experiences, experience life and often we learn how much we have in common”

“We also learn about some of the challenges and joys different people have experienced in Hanover County, in their education, careers, communities and families,” Watson continued. “We learn about human relationships and the values and changes in our Hanover world.”

Dr. Jamelle Wilson will serve as moderator for the program. Wilson is the former superintendent for Hanover County Public Schools and currently serves as the dean of the School of Professional and Continued Studies at the University of Richmond.

Rev. Terry Sharpe, pastor at Western Hanover Church in Montpelier, will share some closing remarks. Krystal Brooks, Minister of Music, Shiloh Baptist Church, will lead a Community Gospel Choir with two Gospel songs.

Watson said the collaborative effort of this program is known locally as community building through the arts.

“This program, with its story telling and its Community Gospel Choir, brings people together in unique and special ways,” Watson said. “We become friends as we sing together, and we understand and appreciate better our fellow citizens and neighbors as we hear about different people’s experiences growing up in Ashland and Hanover, black and white experiences”

She said the stories run the gamut of emotions. From funny and impressive, to moving and sometimes challenging. This program is designed to teach and provoke thought.

“In many cultures and families, a storyteller is held in high regard,” Watson said. “We think that our storytellers regularly teach us about others and ourselves in powerful ways, making each of us a better member of our greater Hanover community and world.”

The event first started in 2014, but this will be held at Patrick Henry High School for the first time this weekend. Principal Beth Smith, along with her staff and students have embraced the opportunity to be involved in this project.

“These students will learn history from real people,” Watson said. “These students will help with the event and hopefully get to know some of the planning committee, as well as the storytellers, as they volunteer to cover the program.”

Watson encourages the community to come out and support the event.

“People regularly have told us that they loved this program because there are surprises about people and their lives,” she said. “Real people’s stories are often more instructive and moving and emotional than anything we could read or see featured on television. The honesty, bravery, humor and kindness that our program shares with our listeners is very special.”


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