By Wendy Nilsen Pollitzer • Photos by Bob Sofaly
On Saturday, May 7, Penn Center inducted three new members into its prestigious 1862 Circle at its eighth annual Gala and Awards Banquet. The event honored Pat Conroy, contemporary Southern author and award-winning writer of numerous novels, including “My Losing Season,” “The Water is Wide,” “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline,” “The Prince of Tides,” “South of Broad” and “My Reading Life.” Roland J. Gardner, Chief Executive Officer of Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, Inc., which provides health services to more than 19,000 patients in the tri-county area, was also honored. The New York-based Sankofa Circle, Inc., organized in 1993 to support the mission of the Penn Center.
The 1862 Circle recognizes local and national leaders who embody the spirit of Penn Center and who serve as advocates for the enduring history and culture of the Sea Islands. Established in 2003, the 1862 Circle has inducted previous notables such as Congressman James Clyburn, Congressman John Lewis, Courtney Siceloff, Emory Campbell, Honorable Ernest F. Hollings, James Denmark, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Jonathan Green, Juan Williams, Phillip Simmons, The Penn Club, Inc., Thomas Barnwell, Vernon Jordan, Phylicia Rashad and Mary Inabinett-Mack.
Penn Center, Inc. is one of the oldest and most important African American cultural and educational institutions in North America. Founded in 1862 by Northern abolitionists and missionaries as a school for emancipated Africans, Penn operated as a “model” school until 1948 when its Trustees turned over the organization’s educational functions to Beaufort County and changed its name to Penn Community Services. Later, the Penn Center served as a retreat where much of the strategy of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s was outlined by major leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young.