Smithfield Herald

Black history takes center stage

A painting in Jane Lillian Vance’s Africa Series.
A painting in Jane Lillian Vance’s Africa Series. COURTESY OF JANE LILLIAN VANCE

February is Black History Month, and many events are on the calendar, including an art exhibit, concerts, a business expo and a new exhibit at the Heritage Center.

Johnston Community College is hosting most of the events. All but one is free, and all are open to the public.

David Dublin Jr. is chairman of JCC’s Black History Committee. “Black history is really American history, and black history in the long sense is also world history, and people need to be aware of that, both for people outside of the black community as well as inside,” he said.

Dublin said that when he was in public school, black history was underrepresented, and JCC’s events try to fix that.

“Because if the only history you have is, ‘OK, you were brought into slavery, you were enslaved for this long, Emancipation Proclamation, Thirteenth Amendment,’ it leaves out a lot of the history of the various inventors and also people that overcame great odds to both produce and invent and do other things in this country,” Dublin said

JCC’s Black History Month celebration began Saturday with a showing of the movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” On Monday, the Frank Creech Art Gallery will open an exhibit of paintings from Jane Lillian Vance’s Africa Series.

The college will also host multiple music performances: The Ruckers, a group of singers and storytellers, will perform Feb. 7. The college’s Country Music Showcase will present Motown’s Greatest Hits Feb. 6-7. Also on the schedule are the Joboli Drummers on Feb. 13 and the 2014 Gospel Fest on Feb. 23,

Vance, the painter, lives in Blacksburg, Va. but traveled throughout Africa in the 1980s. She will talk about her art on Feb. 6.

Vance said her memories, along with photos and stories from friends who have visited recently, inspired her Africa Series. She took inspiration also from a Zambian child, Anderson Mambwe, who stayed at her home while receiving medical treatment in the United States. The child had a rare hormonal disease that made his feet swell to be huge.

Vance, who’s paintings focus on rural Africa, said she hopes her art inspires people to help others and show everyone’s shared humanity.

“Suffering is an abstraction,” she said. But a child’s story is not. “What you see once you can individuate suffering, you can get up and do something about it,” she said.

Vance, who is 55 and white, said she remembers segregation and the fear and distrust surrounding integration. “But I can barely remember that time, and the students I teach now can’t even conceive of prejudice based on something like color, thank God,” she said. “Fifty years ago, we were like a primitive culture in terms of race, but we have come so far so fast that Black History Month might as well be our second Fourth of July.”

JCC will also host a business expo with a focus on black-owned businesses. Vendors will come to JCC on Feb. 19 to sell their products and services.

“The goal is for everyone to meet each other, the interaction, and it’s our way of raising money for our scholarship fund,” said Della McMillian, chairwoman of the business expo committee. Vendors pay $25 to attend.

A new Heritage Center exhibit will open this month and run through spring, said director Wingate Lassiter. Called “Political Pioneers,” the exhibit will pay tribute to black politicians in Johnston County since the 1960s. About half of those are currently serving today.

The Heritage Center staff has collected personal stories and photographs. “With all exhibits like that, it’s not just an exhibit, it’s adding material to our collection,” Lassiter said.

On Feb. 20, the Heritage Center will host a a program called “Pocahontas,” which compares Native American culture and black culture.