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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Speakers Reflect on African American History at 400-Year Anniversary Event

By Joe Garvey

At Old Dominion University's inaugural event commemorating the first African landing in Virginia on Wednesday, sophomore Bry Johnson related the story Colin Kaepernick, who sacrificed his NFL career in pursuit of racial and social justice.

"Now he's a social justice advocate," she said. "He has the Courageous Advocate Award from the ACLU. He is constantly appearing on the TV, magazines and even has millions of dollars in endorsements from Nike right now, even though he's not an NFL football player. Their slogan as of today is 'You have to believe in something even if that means sacrificing everything you have.'"

The theme of the evening was "Writing A New History: Let's Talk About Our Dream." ODU is the first institution of higher education in the nation to host a "Writing A New History" event.

"As reflected in recent essays in the New York Times, the enslavement of African Americans has touched nearly every aspect of contemporary life in the United States and remains the most painful and searing episode in our nation's history," ODU President John R. Broderick said. "However, in spite of suffering and injustices, with resolute spirit, strong will, determination and resiliency, the first Africans and their descendants have continually fought for human dignity, equality and social justice. As a result, they have made significant - if often unacknowledged - contributions to establish what the United States is today."

Johnson, along with fellow student panelists Calisa Farmer and Frank Wood, also told the stories of the Greensboro sit-ins, W.E.B DuBois and Angela Davis as part of a "Take A Stand To Have A Seat" discussion.

Wood said the lesson of DuBois' activism is to not be afraid to step and think outside of the box.

"And using that mindset to shape a future where we're all free. We're all free from violence. We're all free from oppression," he added. "And we can all bask in the privileges that our creator has given us."

The Greensboro movement was an inspiration for Cecelia Tucker, ODU's director of community relations. She participated in sit-ins at Thalhimers and Miller & Rhoads stores in Richmond while she was a student at Virginia Union University.

"We were taught to resist those who said things to us that were ugly, called us the N-word, pushed us, shoved us, spat on us," she said. "... I was afraid - I really was - because I knew that I could be hurt. My father called and said, 'I don't want you to participate. I don't want you involved. You're gonna get yourself killed.' But I did it anyway. I was determined that I was going to try to help turn the tide. And I can say that students across the country did turn the tide. And I am very happy I was a part of that."

Lesa Clark, executive director of ODU's Office of Intercultural Relations, opened the commemoration with a quote from Harriet Tubman.

"If you hear the dogs, keep going," she said. "If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they're shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going."

She then rang a bell 15 times, which she said "is part of a historical narrative of a people who had to struggle and fight against significant inhumane effects of slavery and racial discrimination while all the time remained resilient, and for generations of descendants, shaped the course of this nation."

The event also featured music and dance performances ODU African Student Association; ODU alum Corey Staten and Atumpan Edutainment, Inc.; and vocalist Patricia Saunders Nixon and accompanist Geraldine Boone, both from Norfolk State University. Among those in attendance were Verrandall Tucker and his cousin Carolita Jones-Cope, descendants of William Tucker, believed to be the first African American born in the colonies.

Moderator Addie Richburg, executive director of the 400 Years of African American History Commission and president of the National Alliance of Faith and Justice, presented event organizer Melvina Sumter, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice, with a Presidential Volunteer Service Award from President Donald Trump.

For a list of more events planned at ODU commemorating the anniversary, go to this link.

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