“Blessing of the Land” Ceremony Celebrates Virginia Beach’s First African American Cultural Center

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A "Blessing of the Land" ceremony will be held on Saturday, Sept. 24 from 1 to 4 p.m. at 704 Hampshire Way at the corner of Newtown Road to launch Virginia Beach's proposed African American Cultural Center. This free event is open to the public and will feature cultural performances, guest artists, gospel choirs, mime praise dancers, the spoken word and an artifacts display. Festivities will include the ceremonial blessing by ministers from the 12 historically African American neighborhoods in Virginia Beach.

With a goal of making Virginia Beach another "hub for African American culture and a historic resource in the region," the center is proposed to be constructed on 4.8 acres of land the city conveyed to the organization at Lake Edward Park, surrounded by six historically African American neighborhoods — Newsome Farm, Lake Edward, Burton Station, Reedtown, Grace Town and Lake Smith.

The Virginia Beach City Council established the center as a high priority during the City Council's Leadership and Strategic Planning Workshop on Feb. 6, 2015, and approved $75,000 for a feasibility study for the proposed African American Cultural Center in the FY2017 budget. The Center will showcase Virginia Beach's African American communities, along with collections and artifacts. Amenities will include a historic journey walking trail, outdoor event spaces, a gallery, a rotunda hall and multipurpose classrooms.

"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," said Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, the City Council member who has championed the center. "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 "Blessing of the Land" ceremony is sponsored by the Executive Board and Advisory Committee of the African American Cultural Center, the Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities Commission, The Young Audiences Arts for Learning of Virginia, and the City of Virginia Beach.  The event will showcase performances and presentations by:

  • The Adult Praise Dancing from New Light Full Gospel Baptist Church;
  • An African American History Musical Skit by New Genesis Baptist Church;
  • Gospel songs by the Piney Grove Baptist Church Mass Choir;
  • Storyteller Sheila Arnold from Historic Williamsburg;
  • An interactive mural painting for the children;
  • The Spoken Word from the national award-winning "Teens with a Purpose";
  • Authentic drumming; and
  • Local African-American historian and author Edna Hendrix will be on site displaying various artifacts.

Working with civic and business leaders, Dr. Ross-Hammond established an executive board, a legal advisory board, and a 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 project also includes cultural learning classrooms and a historic walking trail.  Webb Management Consulting Services, Livas Group Architects and Design, and WPL Landscaping are collaborating with the organization.

"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," Dr. Ross-Hammond said. "There is a lot of history and culture we need to preserve and share with future generations."

For more information, please contact Council Member Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond at (757) 646-1709 or ahammond@vbgov.com

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