The Heritage Days Planning Committee invites the entire community to celebrate with them on historic St. Helena Island at Penn Center, Inc. November 12-14, 2015 at the 33rd Annual Heritage Days Celebration. This year the theme of the celebration is “Sea Island Roots: A Celebration of Reconnection.”
The three day event will bring to life the traditions that the Gullah/Geechee community of St. Helena Island are rooted in while also assisting many of the African Diaspora with researching their Gullah/Geechee genealogy. The entire event is a homecoming which will enrich the knowledge of all that attend while providing them with a cadre of entertainment that shows the vast array of artistic talents that have emerged from the Sea Islands.
The Heritage Days Celebration begins on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 3 p.m. with a Founders Memorial and Opening Ceremony in dedication to the founders of Penn School, Laura Towne and Ellen Murray. It will also honor the first teacher of African descent at Penn School, Charlotte Forten. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Jonathan Francis Jr. who is an educator in his own right.
In order to assist the next generation of students with their educations, Frissell Hall at Penn Center will be the site of the “College Fair” on Friday from 9 am to 2 pm. Twenty colleges will be present to provide information on applying for admission as well as financial options to pay for higher learning. Grade school, homeschoolers, and college students are encourage to attend the fair.
The York W. Bailey Museum will be a central location on the campus for art enthusiasts. Not only will everyone get to meet and greet the “Heritage Days Artist of the Year,” St. Helena Islands own, Saundra Renee Smith who is a Gullah/Geechee painter at the artist reception on Thursday evening at 8 p.m., they will also be able to purchase art and books from “Artists and Authors Row” on Friday, November 13, 2015 and Saturday, November 14, 2015.
On Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, those who have been seeking to learn first-hand about Gullah/Geechee cultural heritage and crafts will be able to learn in the “Gullah Roots Village.” Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, Afroculinary specialist, Michael W. Twitty, Majied Drummers, Gullah/Geechee traditional quilter, Carolee Holmes, Brown, and Gullah/Geechee cast net maker, Captain Legree will be on site educating in the “Gullah Roots Village” as part of “Youth Education and Famlee Fun Day.”
Those that love Gullah/Geechee cuisine will want to go over to the “Taste of the Sea Islands” that will be held in the cafeteria at Penn Center, Inc. beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday evening. A range of Gullah/Geechee traditional foods will be served and Afroculinary specialist, Michael W. Twitty will briefly speak on the foodways traditions to open the evening. The rest of the evening will be one filled with music and dining.
The Gullah/Geechee spirituals traditions will continue the music of the evening at the historic Brick Baptist Church which served as the site for initial classes at Penn School. The “Traditional Prayer Service” will take place on Thursday, November 12, 2015 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The St. Helena Branch Library which recently received an international honor as a landmark institution is the site of Friday and Saturday’s “Sea Island Scenes Film Festival” which is being sponsored by the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition. Numerous documentaries on the history, language, and legacy of Gullah/Geechees will be shown in the Community Room.
The St. Helena Branch Library is also the site of the Researching Gullah/Geechee Roots Symposium. This event which begins at 1 p.m. is open to the public and is FREE with advance registration. Michael W. Twitty will provide a keynote address on tracing your family roots back to Africa.
Friday evening the fish fry takes place and the “Vendor Village” and “Artists and Authors Row” are places that participants engage on the grounds of While this is going on, at 6:30 p.m. the doors of Darrah Hall will open for the 2nd Annual Juke Joint Jam featuring Gentlemen of Distinction and southern soul blues national recording artist, Jeff Floyd. This event is for adults 25 years old and older and celebrates the juke joint traditions of the Sea Islands with a live band.
On Saturday morning Highway 21 closes at 8 a.m. for the largest parade of Gullah/Geechees that exist. The annual Heritage Days Parade will come down Highway 21 and turn on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and conclude at Main Stage at Penn Center, Inc. Main stage will be MC’d by Dr. Amir Jamal Toure of Savannah, GA. Queen Quet, who is the co-chair of the Heritage Days Celebration for the 3rd year, will provide the welcome address. Featured artists are African traditional dancers and drummers Wona Womalan, WoSe of Charleston, and the Learning Tree, re-enactor, Bruce Ingram, Gullah/Geechee storytellers Louise Miller Cohen of Hilton Head Island, and Natasha Robinson of St. Helena Island. Storyteller Aunt Pearlie Sue and Gullah Kinfolk will also do a special session for youth in the St. Helena Branch Library on Saturday afternoon. The Main Stage will be headlined by R & B artist Latrese Bush who is a native of Bluffton, SC and is now touring the world and national recording artist, Noel Gourdin who became famous for his song, “The River.” They will release their new duet single at the 33rd Annual Heritage Days Celebration.
VIP All Access Passes are available for $60 for ALL activities for the entire weekend. These passes will also afford the holders immediate entrance to the event and all activities. They will not stand on lines. VIP All Access Passes, as well as tickets to individual events, and registration for the genealogy symposium can be purchased online at EventBrite http://www.eventbrite.com.For more details and a complete program of events, go to Heritage@PennCenter.com.