Digital storytelling workshop in West Point will focus on human rights

WEST POINT — Fifty years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, West Point Schools and Arts Alive Inc. are bringing area residents the opportunity to share intergenerational stories of civil and human rights.

With support from the school system and Arts Alive, the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) will provide "All Together Now," a digital storytelling workshop, next month. Dudley Olsson, a major facilitator of the workshop and chairman of the West Point School Board, explained that a major goal of the project is to "share the stories online as a way to inspire others to stand up for their rights."

Olsson will help coordinate the workshop with two CDS facilitators. She attended a CDS Introduction to Facilitation training in January after having a positive experience with a workshop based on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The CDS website hosts recordings and transcripts to the stories individuals share during the digital storytelling workshops.

"This is a great way for us to explore our local history and build community," she said of the upcoming workshop, which will be one of two "All Together Now" story sessions in the county this summer.

"Some people may not be aware that in the early 1950s, before Brown vs. Board of Education, there were local families in West Point who were pioneers in the Civil Rights Movement."

According to Olsson, 29 local African-American families were arrested and convicted in violation of the Compulsory Education Law by keeping their children out of school in protest of public school segregation.

The former Beverly Allen High School students, whose school was converted into an elementary school, were denied admission to West Point's segregated high school for white students in 1952. The individuals protested being bussed to attend Hamilton-Holmes, a school in King William 20 minutes outside of town.

Olsson added that the Virginia Supreme Court overturned these convictions in Dobbins v. Virginia, finding that the parents acted within their rights by not enrolling their children in a segregated school.

Olsson learned of these events in 2011 when the West Point School Board passed a resolution in recognition of the students and their families.

"We hope some of these citizens will want to participate in the workshop, along with others whose lives have been impacted by the movement," she said.

Jeffery Smith, superintendent of West Point Schools, believes the digital storytelling project will "provide the opportunity for us to remember and honor the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in an authentic way by providing a pathway for future generations and all participants to realize the challenges, commitment, sacrifices and ultimately the difference others made as they advocated for civil and human rights.

"We look forward to hearing the real-life stories from those in our local community who were intimately involved in the civil and human rights movement," Smith added. "These stories will enlighten and inspire another generation, as well as remind us of our responsibility as we embody the message and hope of those who made such sacrifices."

Olsson said young adults ages 15-30 and seniors ages 55 and older are the age groups requested for the project.

"I think it will be a powerful experience for the young people who attend to hear their elders' stories, and for older participants to hear from young people about how their lives are impacted by civil and human rights today," Smith said.

The project will directly benefit West Point Schools, as the two main facilitators will conduct a one-day training session for staff on digital storytelling in the classroom.

While the workshop is free, space is limited to 10 participants who must remain on site all day. Lunch will be provided.

"Each person's story will hopefully touch someone else who sees it and stay with them," Olsson said. "And the next time that person feels challenged, maybe that story will help give them the courage to take a stand or take action to defend their rights and the rights of others."

Lundberg can be reached by phone at 804-885-0042.

Want to go?

The workshop will be held at the West Point Elementary School library from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 26. Interested citizens can sign up online (http://storycenter.org/atn-storied-sessions-application) or call 804-366-1141 to receive an application in person.