It has been 50 years since Williamsburg-James City County schools integrated and this weekend, locals can hear about the experience first-hand.
The Village Initiative, a local nonprofit that promotes unity and inclusion in Willilamsburg-James City County Public Schools, is hosting the event, “Integration Then and Now: Voices from the Community” on Saturday.
This is the culmination of the organization’s yearlong work to celebrate the 50th anniversary of integration in the district.
Leading up to the event, volunteers from the organization have spent months collecting the oral histories of locals who were students in WJCC at the time.
Locals can also submit their stories in an online survey that asks about the person’s strongest memories in the school system, how integration made them feel, what schools can do now to be better and more.
In the past, Jacqueline Bridgeforth-Williams, president of the Village Initiative, said the stories help the area learn about its character and how the African American experience has been impacted as a result of integration.
The Village Initiative has worked for years to break down structural barriers that prevent minority students from succeeding. Bridgeforth-Williams said previously some of these barriers are a result of the way WJCC schools were integrated.
The event comes on the heels of various other efforts to promote minority rights and history.
In August, members of the organization and the community participated in a national walk with Opal Lee, a woman from Texas who started a grassroots walking campaign to bring awareness for the need of Juneteenth to be nationally recognized as a day of observance.
The event Saturday will feature a multi-generational panel of five previous students who can tell stories of school integration in the past and how segregation still occurs in schools now, said Amy Quark, a member of the Village Initiative, in an email.
Bridgeforth-Williams said the conversations will cover what was gained, what was lost and what can still be improved from integration.
“We want for ways for those things to trickle down to all children so all children are a part of the great strides we hope to accomplish,” she said.
Quark added she believes the stories will create a really powerful event.
“We are opening doors because if we don’t have the conversations, we don’t know what we need to fix,” Bridgeforth-Williams said. “Hopefully folks [at the event] will hear those things and we will have more conversations and move forward with action to fulfill that hope of equity for all students.”
Bridgeforth-Williams said that there will be representatives from WJCC to take part of the discussion.
While this is the last event for the 50th anniversary celebrations, Bridgeforth-Williams said it won’t be the last time the history is discussed.
“The 50th anniversary doesn’t fully define where we will be,” she said. “It will take even more because 50 years later, we are still having conversations about the gains we want.”
The event will be at the Williamsburg Unitarian Church from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information, visit the Village Initiative online.