THE JOURNEY 2023: Organizations aiming to uplift Black communities

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 5:04 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - “These conversations that Black people had among themselves for uplift, whatever form uplift was determined to be realized at the time depending on the need, happened as soon as people of color came together. We can say these meetings started on the slave ships,” Dr. Amy Tillerson-Brown said.

Dr. Tillerson-Brown is a professor of history and the dean of Mary Baldwin College for Women at Mary Baldwin University. She says the early organizations had to make a way out of no way.

“They were fighting out against the violence, the state sanction violence, that plagued Black communities. They were looking to start kindergartens, education was a key factor. They were raising money for those in need branching off of the work Black women had done in the church,” Dr. Tillerson-Brown explained.

Diving into the history of organizing within Black communities you will find numerous groups that supported several needs and causes.

“Their goal was to speak to the needs of their communities and those community needs varied over time. One year it could be, someone was lynched and the focus is more on safety at that moment because you are responding to a specific need,” Dr. Tillerson-Brown explained. “At the same time while you are responding to that need and how you responded depended on which organization you were a member of.”

There are the Black Greek Letter Organizations, sororities and fraternities whose millions of members make life-long commitments to service and many other initiatives.

“You will find Omega men coaching, teaching, mentoring and giving back in all sorts of ways,” Chris Jones explained. Jones is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

“I am a proud member (37 years) of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.,” Harrisonburg’s Mayor Deanna Reed said.

“We were founded in January [1913] and in March, we were marching for women’s rights,” Mayor Reed explained. “That is who we are as an organization. Throughout the years, I can name numerous projects that I have been a part of through my sorority.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP was founded in 1909.

“It is a part of my responsibility of being an African American man in this country, that I participate in an organization that was founded for me and my people,” John Butler Jr. explained. Butler Jr. is the former vice president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham NAACP. The chapter is currently reorganizing and the next meeting is scheduled for March 11.

“We still need to be advocates,” Pastor Michael Turner explained. “If we don’t go forward, we are going to be pushed back. If we don’t know our history we are doomed to repeat it.” Pastor Turner is the regional vice president of region 7 of the Virginia Conference of the NAACP.

The National Council of Negro Women was founded in 1935, with a mission to “lead empower and advocate for women of African descent, their families and communities.”

“This was not only the first organization that I joined on campus but just having the support of another Black woman to see my leadership potential was pivotal,” Promise Harvey explained. Harvey is a senior at George Washington University and the events coordinator for the GWU collegiate chapter of NCNW.

These are just a fraction of the groups that continue to make calls for action and change to support and uplift Black people and communities. Many of these organizations have active chapters in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond.

“I think it is important for these organizations to remember their historical missions and fortify themselves to continue this work no matter how many times you hear it is unnecessary. You are hearing it is unnecessary because they don’t want you to do the work,” Dr. Tillerson-Brown explained. “When you hear that you probably ought to take a step back and remind yourself of why this work is probably more necessary now than it was then. Stay in the struggle.”

Dr. Tillerson-Brown leads and/or is a member of numerous organizations including, the Port Republic Road Historical and Community Association, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., NAACP (Staunton and Virginia State Conference) and Shiloh Baptist Church in Waynesboro. She has been at Mary Baldwin University for nearly two decades, for more information on her research and work click here.