Black History Month has always been special to me, but this year was even more special because I was able to curate two displays to honor the African American high school in my hometown, W.F. Branch (click HERE to read more about these displays). Creating these displays and being able to share the history of an educational institution such as W.F. Branch was such an honor, but little did I know when I when preparing the displays that I would be asked to speak at Arkansas State University, Newport’s Black History Month Celebration.
When Mr. Ike Wheeler, Vice Chancellor of Leadership and Community Engagement, first asked me to speak, I was shocked to say the least. I remember reminding him that I didn’t attend W. F. Branch High school, and my memories are from my Granny, my parents, and other family member’s stories. He told me that he wanted me to talk about my research, my family’s connection to Branch, and why creating the display and finding a home for it during Black History Month was so important to me. I agreed but with some hesitation. I had never given a presentation before, or done any public speaking before. Although the world had been communicating through Zoom over the last two years, I hadn’t had to use it but a few times. So I didn’t think I had the technology skills to be a part of a virtual celebration.
To say I was a nervous wreck while preparing my presentation is an understatement. I have said many times that I am a writer not a speaker. I have gone out of my way for the majority of my life to avoid public speaking. But I was reminded by Mr. Wheeler and my husband that this opportunity was what this 12 year genealogy journey is about. Not only would I be sharing the story of how I got started researching. But also how my research includes the community of Newport, and for African American residents of Newport, that includes W. F. Branch High School. So I set aside my initial hesitation and nerves and embraced the idea that my story could motivate or inspire someone to do something similar to what I have done with either my research or creating the displays.
I started this journey alone at the library filling out a family tree chart by looking at census records. I spent the next five years continuing to research quietly and alone. I didn’t share much of my research with other people including family members. I don’t really share much about my research other than when I’m at genealogy conferences and here on my blog and podcast. So for me to tell the story of my genealogy journey to strangers in this way was a very big deal. But I’m so happy that I did. This experience has been one of the highlights of my genealogy journey. It also served as a much needed reminder that this journey is not just for or about me. My research isn’t just about my family and my name. It’s also about the community that my family lived in and worked in for generations. It’s about continuing our legacy and sharing the story. And this is why my journey continues…
Click HERE to read more about W.F. Branch and my family