A recent walk through the halls of the historic Jefferson School — now the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center— left me sorely disappointed. One would think that in February, the one time when many communities’ schools, organizations and institutions celebrate and honor Black History Month — the tenants of this historic building would make a point of showing the community that they care about the past and present contributions of African-Americans to our country’s greatness.
Of all the locations in the Charlottesville community, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, is one place that I (and perhaps many others) expected to see an array of cultural displays — including artifacts, visual images and programming that show an appreciation of Black History Month.
I also took the opportunity to visit City Hall, the Discovery Museum and the Charlottesville Albemarle Visitors Center to compare how these prominent places honored Black History Month. Again, I was disappointed to find that they featured no activities for this purpose.
When we celebrate black history with visible cultural reminders, we contribute to the education of our entire community — especially our children. Seeing themselves reflected on the walls and in the hallways of the city’s prominent buildings tells impressionable young black children that they are special, while giving all children (and adults as well) an opportunity to learn about a past and a people who played important though often overlooked roles in building America.
Charlottesville is a city that takes pride in having informed, conscientious and progressive leadership. I am disappointed that leaders of the various programs in the buildings I visited hadn’t come together to organize events, displays and programs in recognition of Black History Month. One tenant I spoke with expressed appreciation for the reminder and swore to do better next year. Hopefully, this conviction will spread throughout the building and the city.
M. Rick Turner
M. Rick Turner is president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP.