African American Festival Educates Youth

By: Dave Byknish Email
By: Dave Byknish Email

For years, Staunton's African American heritage festival has been organized more around celebration rather than history.

This weekend, however, the festival entered it's 23rd year with more focus on educating younger African Americans about Staunton's past.

Eighteen year old Hannah Dillard has been going with her family to the heritage festivals since she was a young girl.

Only recently did she understand why.

"I just saw the vendors and the food, and thought okay, this is kind of fun," she said. "As I got older, I started to respect it more and and learning more about my heritage and my tradition and where I come from."

At the end of the day, that's what organizers of this year's festival were hoping for. Getting younger African Americans to understand what people faced in the past can only help to make the future better.

"Our youth don't understand that we struggled," said lifelong Staunton resident Lucille Caul. "Now, they are going through violence. We were not violent during those days. If it would happen today there would be a lot of violence."

Special historical lessons and demonstrations were woven into the usual course of the festival. Not just on a national level. Staunton itself has a history that younger generations wouldn't be familiar with.

"We could only go to Gypsy Hill Park once a month," said Caul. "That was on a Thursday, because we had no park. But then the lady gave us a park, Montgomery Hall Park."

Teaching children that less than 50 years ago they wouldn't be allowed in the very park they are standing now is a lesson that can inspire some, much like it did for Dillard.

"It's our history. We have to learn about our history to progress into the future," she said.

"You don't want the heritage to die. My parents took me to these festivals and of course I'm going to take my children to the festivals."


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