CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WV News) — The mission of the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival is to “promote the African-American experience while addressing the many milestones that our forefathers have made since the Emancipation Proclamation.”
One person who has been a stalwart supporter of that mission is Jim Griffin.
His name is synonymous with all things West Virginia Black Heritage Festival — due in part to his decades of service but also for his steadfast desire to educate as many people as possible about the contributions of African Americans throughout West Virginia.
Griffin believes the festival is a learning and teaching opportunity for the entire community and state.
“We have a very rich heritage, especially here in West Virginia. Oftentimes, people are unaware of the contributions West Virginia has made to this country. This is an opportunity to highlight our heritage and teach young people about what we have accomplished,” he said.
Griffin said the festival is a celebration — and more than that.
“Really it’s about learning about our heritage. There are parts of our history that we don’t want to repeat. I think we have to continually tell the story so that we don’t repeat those things that harmed everybody. When we teach our heritage, it gives us a sense of belonging and something to be proud of,” he said.
“I feel that the old saying, ‘To whom much is given, much is to be expected,’ is the reason why I work so hard to help other people,” the festival chairman said. “I’ve had a pretty good life, and I have to give back. And as long as the Lord gives me the strength and the ability, I’m going to give back as much as I can.
“I want to be seen as a role model and share with others how I have overcome obstacles in life, and a lot of that has to do with the color of my skin. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but it’s important to keep trying.”
Two other people with the same drive as Griffin are Dorian and Sherri James, a married couple who feel and act on their innate need to serve their community.
Both have been involved in the Black Heritage Festival for over 20 years. Dorian serves as vice chairman on the board of directors and Sherri serves as chair of the fundraising committee.
“Unfortunately, the youth of today are faced with many troubling and negative influences. The festival exposes the African American youth in the area to the idea that there are options available and that positive contributions will help them make difficult decisions,” Sherri said.
Dorian added, “The festival’s efforts are also concentrated toward the younger generation by recognizing and honoring a young king and queen each year and by awarding college scholarships to our young people throughout West Virginia.”
According to the James there are around 20 volunteers, not counting board members, who work every year for the event. The board members work year-round planning for the next festival.
“We partner with the city of Clarksburg who assists us with the street set up, planning our banners around town, hanging lights, putting out extra garbage cans, clean up and they provide police officers for the event,” Dorian said.
Although the festival is one weekend a year, the Black Heritage Festival, Inc. has always had a presence in the community throughout the year.
“We publish stories on our ‘Back to Black’ blog which is used to showcase our community’s talented black writers, activities and allies,” Dorian said.
Services are offered year-round, including community leadership, health screening, teaching history, lifestyle improvement, spiritual growth to uplift the community and the young black scholarship opportunities. In addition, they receive donations from private citizens, organizations, and governmental entities in order to continue to provide needed services in the area.
The Kelly Miller/WV Black Heritage Festival, Inc. annual golf tournament helps to raise money for deserving young people across the state who have graduated from high school and are intent in continuing their education in college. In addition, the board partners with local area banks to provide financial literacy workshops and work with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center to host “How to start and own a business” seminars.
According to Sherri James, the Kelly Miller Community Center in Clarksburg has an adult fitness center, youth fitness center, Kids Chess Club, a family walk club, New Beginnings book club and adult game night, as well as the Clarksburg Hung Gar Martial Arts School, all of which is open to the community.
The official 2021 WV Black Heritage Festival Event Schedule is as follows:
— Kelly Miller/WVBHF annual golf tournament starts at 8 a.m. Sept. 10 at Bel Meadow Golf Club.
— The Youth Block Party will be held at Jackson Square in Clarksburg from at 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 10.
— Festival starts Sept. 11 at Jackson Square. Opening ceremony will be at 1 p.m.
— Live Entertainment starts at 1 p.m. and will feature Lady D at 2 p.m., Bryon Cooper at 3 p.m., Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist (Fairmont) starts at 4 p.m. with their Praise Dance and Worship Team Ministries.
At 4:45 p.m. Logical will take the stage, followed by Belinda Nichols at 6 p.m. Old School hits the stage at 7 p.m. followed byron Cooper at 8 p.m. The final entertainment starts at 9 p.m. with Twan Moore.
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