ARARAT, Va. — A Mount Airy group formed to facilitate and improve race relations is sponsoring an event here at The Cherry Orchard Theatre this weekend.
“Go Tell It On the Mountain” will begin each evening with a prayer, then feature live gospel music, storytelling, African drumming and dancing, poetry and rap music. It will run from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening. With good weather, the event will take place at the outdoor Cherry Orchard Theatre at Levering Orchard, 12 miles north of Mount Airy in Carroll County, Virginia. If it is raining, the event will move to the orchard pack house on Orchard Gap Road.
This event is intended to introduce people who may not know each other, according to Frank Levering, owner of Cherry Orchard Theatre and member of sponsoring organization, Hope for the City of Mount Airy.
“Our aim is to build ties that bond and to educate ourselves further on what we can do to promote racial unity and understanding,” said Levering.
Hope for the City of Mount Airy, a bi-racial group working for racial progress in this area, includes among its members Mayor David Rowe, local historian and longtime educator Dr. Evelyn Thompson, city school Superintendent Kim Morrison, city Commissioner Jon Cawley, Mount Airy Downtown coordinator Lizzie Morrison, longtime local NAACP leader Faye Carter, educator Emma Jean Tucker and Rev. Thomas Williams.
The mission statement of the group reads: “The Hope for the City of Mount Airy team was created by a diverse group of people who have hearts for loving and intentional racial reconciliation in our community. Our mission is to inspire meaningful change at the local level that will encourage racial unity through social, cultural and economic initiatives. We will hold tightly to the hope that our work will change minds, create opportunities and form lasting friendships, so that together we can make Mount Airy a more inclusive and unified city.”
The group was formed in 2017 in response to the publication of a Washington Post story that did not shine favorably on local race relations.
“It was formed basically because of a comment I made to a Washington Post reporter that was not well thought out,” admitted Mayor Rowe. “The reporter took everything I said the wrong way. I made a comment about an ethnic group, and this committee is part of an effort to try to rectify what I had said.”
As far as meeting the ambitious goals of the organization’s mission statement, Rowe said, “It’s been very slow. From the large initial group, it’s down to seven or eight people who faithfully come to the meetings.
“The problem is, we don’t understand one another. We don’t have much of a good way to know people of other backgrounds. The greatest thing for me is to develop good friends I can count on.”
“Dr. Evelyn Thompson has been my mentor though this. I consider her to be a real friend. If all else fails, I have developed some friendships that are indispensable to me.”
“This event up at Frank Levering’s, and the group of people getting together there, will hopefully enlighten us as to what can happen when we come together.”
“The mayor initiated this group (Hope for the City), and it’s been wonderful,” said Dr. Evelyn Thompson. “He saw a need to get a better understanding between races, between cultures. It grew out of the Washington Post interview, but it has gone beyond that. He asked if I would invite some of the African-American community to participate, and I did.”
Thompson said in the year the committee has been meeting, questions have been asked.
“How can we be inclusive? What are the desires of the African-American community?”
“We’ve been getting to know each other’s experiences,” said Thompson. “It’s a tough job. It really is tough. And it’s time-consuming. If you’re not retired, it’s hard to find the time. Some of the people who came at first did not have the time. The mayor invited busy people. Everybody thinks it’s a good idea. But doing the work and facing the music, that’s a different story. We all feel good about what we’ve done.”
“I think the people who come to the meetings, and the ones who no longer come, have a better understanding of the different issues we all face,” said Emma Jean Tucker, who has been a member of the committee from the beginning. “We have conversations about why people do what they do and say what they say. We’re more alike than we are different. We all want what’s best for our family, for our city, for our community.”
Those conversations will be moving from the “Hope for the City” committee meetings to the Cherry Orchard Theatre this weekend where the public can participate.
Among the featured performers for “Go Tell It on the Mountain” are storytellers Terri Ingalls and Juliana Caldwell; gospel music singers Eric Strickland, Isaac Allen and Marie Nicholson; African drummers and dancers under the leadership of Marie Nicholson; and rapper Bailey Scales.
The second half of the evening will be a conversation on various topics among panelists who will also be engaging with the audience. Each evening has a theme.
Friday evening is “Hope for Better Relations.” Panelists include Emma Jean Tucker, Ron Snow, and Winnie Merritt.
Saturday evening’s theme is “The Role of Religion in Race Relations.” Panelists include Rev. Thomas Williams, Rev. Diane Harper, Rev. Daryl Beamer, Dr. Richard Groves and Patty Webb Levering.
Sunday evening’s theme is “Race and Local History.” Panelists include Dr. Evelyn Thompson, author of books on African-American history in Surry County, Faye Carter, longtime leader in the local chapter of the NAACP. and Shelby Inscore-Puckett, founder of the Carroll County Historical Society.
Admission is free, and light food and drink will be provided. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. There will be ample time as well for folks to mingle and get acquainted.
For more information, direct questions to Dr. Evelyn Thompson at 336-598-2947, or email Frank Levering at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.