The vision of a Black Heritage Network in Greater Fort Lauderdale is slowly emerging. The most notable thing about the process is not the time it is taking; it’s talking with younger people who are so passionate about preserving and celebrating local history in a meaningful way.
You expect the elders to be involved. They hope to preserve their legacy. As an oral historian my work, which began in Broward County, has focused on collecting cross-cultural interviews on race and ethnic relations with the goal of sharing them in performances and presentations in innovative ways to promote further dialogue. I have also assisted in designing studies and consulting on projects where the goal was to capture stories of pioneers for the historical archives and there has been little follow through in using those memories in ways that keep them alive through others.
The Trailblazers project, anchored Fort Lauderdale’s historic Sistrunk community, was an exception. The project we worked on developing ended up creating a large historical archive, public storytelling events, and a resource bank of narrators who now bring history alive in tours and presentations that benefit tourism. The stories in communities of Dania Beach and Hollywood’s Liberia, where I also collected interviews for my Race and Change work, have become content in a documentary spearheaded by Emmanuel George, a young Broward County resident who is also uncovering and writing about bits of Black history in business and entertainment in social media, piecing together memories and working to memorialize some of these sites that have disappeared in artistic ways.
Grace Kewl-Durfey, an arts administrator with the Broward Cultural Division, has taken on the vision in a dynamic public way. “Our history and struggles tell us of the commitment of folks who came before us and we honor their legacy by preserving and educating the present generation and the future,” she says.
She started with the Destination Sistrunk concept using the visual and performing arts to revitalize public spaces and planning informative markers and a walking trail. Historic Sistrunk area experiences are offered to conference attendees and family reunions where they can volunteer at an urban farm, do a service-learning tour, watch performances by locals or visit the Young At Art House for a specially-designed class or workshop with a professional artist-in-residence.
Destination Sistrunk has evolved into a gateway to the expanded Black Heritage Network vision. In addition to established places of interest such as the African American Research Library and Cultural Center and the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale, the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, and the Miramar Cultural Center, emerging new sites will eventually include the Blanche Ely Museum and Historical Ali Cultural Arts in Pompano Beach and the Bowles-Strachan Historic Resource Center in West Park in South Broward.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau will host meeting planners from ten of the most prominent black organizations in the professional, governmental, corporate worlds, August 14-16. They represent 2.5 million potential attendees and will tour the area to decide on making Greater Fort Lauderdale the destination of choice for an upcoming meeting. The Black Heritage Network may be in the plan as well.