VIRGINIA BEACH - City Councilwoman Amelia Ross-Hammond wants to make sure future generations of Virginia Beach residents know about the city's history.
She’s spearheading an effort to get an African American Cultural Center built in Virginia Beach.
“We want our story to be preserved for our children, to know our culture and our history,” she said.
At its Leadership and Strategic Planning Workshop in February 2015, City Council deemed building the center a priority.
Since then, the city has designated nearly five acres of land for the project at Lake Edward Park, which is surrounded by six of the city’s 12 historically black neighborhoods. The plan is to build the $10 million to $11 million center in the next five years.
Ross-Hammond said a groundbreaking and “blessing of the land” is tentatively set for the first or second week of September.
The next step is completing a feasibility study that will involve surveys, meeting with stakeholders, and planning a capital campaign to pay for the museum, which will be funded privately through a new foundation.
Ross-Hammond said the project is a public-private partnership. The city has conveyed nearly five acres of land at Lake Edward Park and will lend support from departments such as parks and recreation, economic development, the arts and humanities council and the arts commission. Ross-Hammond will work with city schools to develop a curriculum for students visiting the museum, which will be run by an executive board.
The idea came to her because she’s from Liberia, in western Africa, and she enjoys visiting museums. She wanted a place in Virginia Beach to celebrate the city and Princess Anne County’s African American community from the mid-1600s to the present.
A quote from historian and author Carter Woodson inspires her: “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile traditions and it stands to be lost in society forever.”
Ross-Hammond wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The cultural center, which is expected to be 25,000 square feet in its first phase, will have meeting rooms and cultural learning classrooms, a multipurpose hall with a commercial kitchen, exhibits and exhibit spaces, offices and a souvenir shop.
Linda Bright, executive board president for the center, wants to make sure it gives young people an education about the past.
She envisions guest speakers sharing stories of cultural traditions.
In 2014, about 20 percent of Virginia Beach residents were black or African American, which is about 85,000 people, according to the U.S. Census.
“This museum is not just for African Americans, but for everyone in our region,” Bright said.
The pair want the museum to have partnerships with the school system, the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, and other organizations. They have formed a nonprofit, with a board of directors and officers who have diverse backgrounds.
They’ve started collecting items to display, but have more work to do. They hope the public can contribute items to the museum. Information about how to donate monetarily or items to the museum will be released soon, Bright said.
Robyn Sidersky, 757-222-5117, firstname.lastname@example.org
See the original Virginian Pilot story here.