African American cultural center plan taking shape in Virginia Beach
Since becoming a Virginia Beach councilwoman, Amelia Ross-Hammond has made it her mission to create an African American cultural center in that city.
She was surprised that of the 32 museums in Hampton Roads, only four of them are African American-centered.
"One of the first concerns I heard after taking office was the longing of many elderly and middle-aged community members to have a repository for historic artifacts," Ross-Hammond said. "There is a lot of history and culture we need to preserve and share with future generations. This will bring a sense of pride to the community and showcase such traditions as storytelling, the spoken word, and arts and crafts unique to the culture. In the age of high technology, there is still a need to be grounded in the cultural values of elders."
Ross-Hammond has worked with civic and business leaders to establish an executive board, legal advisory board and community advisory board. The executive board envisions a 25,000-square-foot, two-story building replicating the African Palaver hut, a central gathering space for community celebrations, conflict resolutions, spiritual renewal and mentoring the next generations through their rites of passage.
The entrance will be located at the intersection of Newtown and Diamond Springs roads, a site that Deputy City Manager Doug L. Smith said "has easy access to transit, is publicly controlled and also has some geographic relevance. This site is located among six of the 12 historically black neighborhoods in Virginia Beach."
Ross-Hammond said, "It will be a place where local residents and tourists can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience relating to their lives historically, aesthetically, spiritually and culturally. It will highlight the contributions of African Americans to the region and establish an additional tourism asset for Virginia Beach. We will continue to seek public involvement throughout each phase of development."
The mission of the center is "to connect, preserve, and celebrate Virginia Beach and Princess Anne County's African American culture dating from the mid-1600s to the present and to inform and educate the public about their achievements in business, politics, religion, city organization, and arts to include African American history."
The next step is to create "a memorandum of understanding with the city and the nonprofits," Smith said. "There's a lot of African American history in this region, so we want to make sure we tell the story of Virginia Beach."
Ross-Hammond added, "It will be enriching, not a playground. It is something that is very important and much needed."
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