Yesterday welcomed in the 37th Annual Penn Center Heritage Days Celebration, a three-day event dedicated to honoring Penn School, the history, and the culture of the Gullah Geechee people bringing friends and families back to Penn Center located on St. Helena Island. Throughout the weekend, special events will take place, such as cultural demonstrations, re-enactments, a parade, and a craft fair. And we must not forget the food. All of the delicious food!
Penn Center, formally Penn School, is rooted deep in history being one of the first schools established for freed African American slaves. Founded in 1862 by Laura Towne and Ellen Murray, Penn School has offered a sanctuary for the Gullah/Geechee community and also served as a private retreat for civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr.
For years I would pass by Martin Luther King Dr. on my way to Hunting Island State Park never taking the time to pause, learn, and appreciate the history provided by Penn. While attending the University of South Carolina during the 2014 Spring Semester I took a class in photo visual communications taught by Professor Denise McGill. During the semester, Prof. McGill, sent out an email to her students about her work on a documentary film about the Gullah Geechee community. Attached to the email was a documentary short, A Better Place, produced by SC NRCS in partnership with the University of South Carolina-Earth Sciences and Resources Institute.
In order to travel to St. Helena Island to work on the film, I applied for a Magellan Grant and to my astonishment I was awarded the grant. Once the semester came to a close, I focused my time and energy into building the multimedia site (thegullahproject.org) a repository dedicated to the land, water, and people of St. Helena Island along with the film.
That November I traveled to St. Helena Island for the 32nd Annual Heritage Days Celebration; embarking on one of the most incredible experiences of my life as it provided a firsthand look into the Gullah Geechee culture and traditions.
I continued to work on The Gullah Project until September 2016, after my graduation from the University of South Carolina. In addition to the grant work, I also contributed to the project by working as the web and social media coordinator, which included reaching out to different organizations, blogs, and other multimedia sites that were dedicated to promoting stories about the land, food, agriculture, and African American cultures. To fulfill all requirements for the grant, I had to also give a presentation at Discovery Day 2015. That experience was probably the scariest due to the fact that I’m extremely agoraphobic and dislike speaking in front of large crowds.
To my knowledge, The Gullah Project, is still currently in production and the final film will eventually be called Gullah Gone. I will keep everyone posted when a release date is announced.
To learn more about The Gullah Project click here.
To learn more about Penn Center Historic Landmark click here.
To learn more about Heritage Days click here.
To see photos and learn about our trip to the 32nd Annual Heritage Days Celebration click here.