September 2015 Issue

  • Festivals Weave History with Flavors of Community

    The beauty and richness of our community would not be so without the efforts of the people who came before us. That’s why two upcoming festivals are helping to remind us of the unique culture and notable African American leaders who established the Roanoke and Lynchburg areas more than 100 years ago.

    The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum in Lynchburg and The Harrison Museum of African American Culture in Roanoke may be two of the best-kept secrets in our region. These two museums help transport us back in time and remember the flourishing African American culture that once abounded.

    The Harrison Museum of African American Culture

    For Roanoke, Henry Street was once the mecca of the black community. From the late 1800s to the early 1960s, Henry Street was the only place west of Richmond that had a concentration of African-American owned businesses and entertainment; it was a hub of arts and culture. Nightclubs, a record shop, pharmacy, hospital and theater all created the community feel that developed on Henry Street over a span of about 60 years. Originally, Henry Street was three city blocks, starting from Gilmer Avenue and the 1st Street Bridge and continuing toward the Gainsboro Library.

    Because of the significance of Henry Street to the African American community, when organizers started planning the first Henry Street Heritage Festival 26 years ago as a fundraiser for The Harrison Museum of African American Culture, the name seemed appropriate. Executive Director Charles A. Price, Jr., explains, “I think it’s important for our heritage not to be lost. If you go back through history books in Virginia there’s just not a lot of information. I think festivals give folks an opportunity to experience that culture in a relaxed atmosphere. And it’s seeing people you haven’t seen in a long time and the fellowship of being together.”

    Henry Street was in decline in the late 1960s when desegregation began and other establishments that were previously unlawful for the African American community to patronize were made available. Through desegregation the rationale of having an area like Henry Street solely for African American vendors went away. More opportunities were made available to the African American community and as a result the Henry Street community slowly disappeared.

    Joyce Bolden is a volunteer with the Harrison Museum and is the Henry Street Heritage Festival coordinator and planning committee chairman. She was born and raised in Roanoke and describes desegregation and the deterioration of Henry Street as bittersweet.

    “When we [African Americans] were segregated we knew our neighbors. We all relied on each other. Once desegregation took place, no one ever thought that as we were fighting for rights for integration that we would lose something. We lost something in the school system when they desegregated the school system, we lost a lot of African American owned businesses and a lot of the black neighborhoods went away. That’s part of the consequences of us fighting for our rights. We fought for our rights, but we did not fight for the continuation of black entrepreneurship or keeping our community together.”

    The Henry Street Festival is meant to celebrate African American culture that has always been a part of Roanoke’s rich history and also serves as the main fundraiser for the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.

    The museum, which is housed on the second floor of Center in the Square in downtown Roanoke, was established in 1985 and was previously located inside the Harrison School Building, which in the early part of the century offered classes for African American students only through the eighth grade. High school diplomas were unavailable to Roanoke’s black students, and by gradually introducing new coursework, an educator named Lucy Addison eventually created a full high-school curriculum. The State Board of Education recognized her efforts in 1924 by accrediting the Harrison School as a secondary school. The Harrison School Building is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

    In 2012, the museum relocated from the Harrison School Building to Center in the Square to increase visibility and diversity of visitors to the museum, and today offers a wide array of exhibits and artifacts, including hand-carved wooden sculptures from Africa with photos of the artisans who designed them. There is also an audio booth that is being used to collect oral histories from African American community members to help preserve significant events that took place in Roanoke and the region over the past hundred years.

    “The museum is more or less an avenue to present the culture and historical elements of the African American community. Not just here in Roanoke, but showcasing AfThe Henry Street Heritage Festival and Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival showcase heritage with a modern flavor. Photography by George Warner Charles A. Price Jr. Director of the Harrison Museum of African American Culture and Henry Street Festival Photo by George Warner 12 SEPTEMBER 2015 Photo by George Warner rican American leaders from all over the world. We try to present local information as well as national. All of this is to inspire people to see where we’ve been and to see where we can go,” says Price.

    The Henry Street Festival is a celebration of culture and continues to grow every year. This year’s festival will be held in Elmwood Park on Sept. 19. As in previous years, the 26th Henry Street Heritage Festival promises to be a great community event presenting an array of diverse entertainment, educational forums, and exposure to African-American heritage as expressed through the performing arts, crafts, cuisines, customs, and merchandise.

    When asked about what festivalgoers can expect this year, Price and Bolden say there will be great music showcasing genres of the 1960s and ’70s, plus R&B, jazz and modern hip hop of today. There will be many vendors and wares being sold, and of course soul food will be on the menu.

    When asked to describe soul food, Price and Bolden both laugh. Price says, “It’s a process of tender loving care that is put into the food to make it have that special something and when you eat it, you know it’s not something that you can take just one bite of.”

    And Bolden chimes in with a laugh, “It makes you want to smack your mama.”

    East of Roanoke, the executive director and the board of directors at the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum in Lynchburg also are preparing to offer a very special spread for the fifth annual Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival on Pierce Street. Located on this historic block are several notable landmarks that tell a story of perseverance through life’s hard times and not just overcoming, but thriving in the face of adversity.

    Anne Spencer was a poet, a civil rights activist, a teacher, librarian, wife and mother, and a gardener.

    More than thirty of her po - ems were published in her lifetime, making her an important figure of the black literary and cultural movement of the 1920s — the Harlem Renaissance. James Weldon Johnson discovered her poetry in 1919, and she went on to participate in creative circles with Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Zora Neal Hurston and the Rev. Martin Luther King.

    She died in 1975 at age 93, but not before making her home a center in Lynchburg for subtle change. Today her home helps people who travel to see the museum understand the span of a civil rights movement from before the turn of the century to the mid-1970s.

    Anne and Edward Spencer’s granddaughter Shaun Spencer-Hester is the executive director for the museum and says she feels very lucky to work so closely with her family history. “To me it’s more like living through history and being connected in some way, so when I read it in history books I relate it to my family and what were they going through during that time and how they were able to overcome the Jim Crow laws, women not being able to vote, the civil rights movement. And I think, how can that help me today?”

    What makes the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum stand out as a landmark of African American history is also the love story between Anne and Edward Spencer that is perfectly told through the beauty of their historic home and restored garden.

    Both of Edward and Anne Spencer’s parents were born into slavery in Virginia and moved to Lynchburg after the Civil War. Edward and Anne met while attending Seminary, which is now known as the Virginia University of Lynchburg. Edward was a postman and Anne a writer and poet, and the Spencer family would go on to own real estate.

    Amidst the troubled, segregated times in which they lived, Edward and Anne Spencer sought refuge in their home, which Edward built himself. While on his postal routes he would salvage used materials and restore them for their home. The home is built in a Victorian style and is filled with antiques of the time as well as the original wallpaper in some rooms.

    The Spencers spent many days in their garden and in the cottage, Edankraal, which Edward built for Anne in the garden behind their home. The name Edankraal combines Edward and Anne and kraal, the Afrikaans word for enclosure or corral. Here she would lose herself in her flowers and creativity, and work on her writing into the wee hours of the morning.

    One of the notable events that happened at the Anne Spencer House was that the Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP was established in their living room in 1918, and documents show that Edward served as the secretary. Because of Jim Crow Laws of the time, Anne and Edward Spencer also opened their home to many notable black leaders traveling through Lynchburg on official NAACP business.

    The President of the board of directors for the Anne Spencer House is Judith Johnson, who before moving to Lynchburg ten years ago was the personal confidante and assistant to Coretta Scott King in Atlanta. With her background and knowledge of the civil rights movement, she is passionate that African American history is not lost and encourages people to continue to learn about their history no matter their race or nationality.

    “My working in the civil rights movement, many people don’t know any more about it than Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but there was a lot of blood shed, a lot of lives lost, there was a lot of struggle. It’s important for us to know our history and it’s important to know where you’re from. When it comes down to it, it’s good for you to know who you are. This history is not taught in school. There are things that I know that wouldn’t be in the history books, but you can come to the festival and talk with people and learn. We need to keep that spirit of learning; that education is so important.”

    The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum is just one of several historic homes on the 1300 Block of Pierce Street. Several other notable African American leaders lived on the block including Dr. R Walter Johnson, the first minority doctor awarded practice rights at Lynchburg General Hospital, and Chauncey Spencer, a member of the National Airmen’s Association, which would later become known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He made a historic flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on behalf of African American fliers.

    The reason for naming the festival The Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance is that the board hopes to create a renaissance of sorts for Pierce Street in Shaun Spencer-Hester and Judith Johnson Photo by Phillip Barrett SEPTEMBER 2015 15 Lynchburg, where people can rediscover the rich heritage and create a new movement of arts and culture. Johnson explains, “I think it’s important for the African American community to know that they’re important and they’re appreciated. People come from out of town all the way from Washington, D.C., to come to the festival. That’s important; it shows that we have support from one another. We have to lift each other up.”

    The Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival this year is going to feature the dedication of a new historical marker on Pierce Street. There will also be Harlem Renaissance impersonators in full dress and a costume contest, as well as plenty of soul food including Anne Spencer Mint Tea, a secret family recipe. The festival is Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. It’s free and open to the public. For more information on The Henry Street Heritage Festival, visit harrisonmuseum.com. For more information on The Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival, visit annespencermuseum.com.

  • Immigration Presents Multi-layered Issues

    Stepping into Christine Poarch’s law firm in Salem is like stepping into another country. The industrial-sized light fixtures cast a dim glow and black metal filing cabinets line the walls. A ceiling fan spins slowly overhead.

    Poarch specializes in immigration law and speaks fluent Spanish. There’s a world map hanging on the wall with tiny pins marking all the different countries of the clients she represents. There are more than 100 countries marked.

    “The difference between what the immigrant populations in the Roanoke Valley looked like in 1990 when I left to go to college in Texas, and the Roanoke Valley when I returned ten years later, was drastic.”

    Poarch says immigrant populations are not only steadily growing in the Roanoke Valley, but are becoming very diverse. This includes not just the Latin American community, but also the Asian community, and because Roanoke is a refugee resettlement area, there’s a sizeable population of different refugee communities.

    Despite the diversity of Roanoke’s immigrant population, Poarch says there are still stereotypes that immigrants are mostly people coming into this country illegally via the Mexican border with no documentation.

    “I don’t use the word illegal when describing people. Not because I’m trying to be politically correct, but really because I think it’s offensive. At the end of the day there are certain actions that have different levels of legality, but people are people. People aren’t illegal. They are coming because they want to build a better life,” Poarch said.

    JuanCarlos Vargas Alvarez and Zulmaire Gonzalez Cegarra, a husband and wife from Venezuela, didn’t have a whole lot of choice about living in the United States.

    In 2012, Alvarez, a professor of international and human rights law in Venezuela, was invited to Duke University as a visiting professor. It appeared to be a routine trip, as they had visited the United States several times before on tourism visas. He and Cegarra packed a suitcase and headed for Raleigh, North Carolina, expecting to return to Venezuela after the academic year.

    Meanwhile, in their home country, dictator Hugo Chavez was imprisoning Venezuelan citizens for political protesting and sharing political opinions that went against the government.

    Cegarra, a practicing attorney, had been writing op-eds expressing her political opinions during this time and began receiving death threats in the mail and via social media. When Hugo Chavez died in 2013, a new dictator came into power who was even more relentless than Chavez about political protestors. It was then that Alvarez and Cegarra filed to gain asylum status in the United States, which meant they could not return to Venezuela for at least three years or until the political unrest subsides.

    “For me, I miss my family, but I really have fear to stay in Venezuela. We left everything, our books, our friends, our families. In this moment, I know it’s very dangerous for us. I miss my family and my friends. Seeking political asylum is hard because of the cost and during the process you can’t work, so we lived off of our savings.”

    Alvarez describes the immigration process. “The [immigration process] isn’t perfect, but there are clear procedures and if you have a good attorney, there are opportunities to present your case. Now that we are here, we feel safe.”

    Bhupesh Patel owns the Holiday Inn at Tanglewood in Roanoke County. For him, his dreams of the journey of traveling to America started as a child. He was born in India in the state of Gujarat to very humble means. He recalls how his mother used to add water to the family’s milk so that they could have enough for him and his siblings. He always had it in his mind to come to the United States, but didn’t know he would be the owner of a hotel.

    “I was always thinking I want to do something good in my life, to make it better. I was so aggressive from day one. This is a country if you have the guts and you have a reason, this country will support you to grow, this country will give you the opportunity to prove yourself and give you room to grow. If you work hard it will stand behind you.”

    Patel also is heavily involved in supporting other immigrant business owners in the area and serves actively on the Asian American Business Association in the Roanoke Valley, which is a group of 300 Asian American business owners who meet quarterly to support and educate each other about constantly changing laws, tax reform and more. They also have a mentorship program for young teens.

    It is undocumented immigration that has a lot of the country and Congress constantly going to battle in the media. Roanoke attorney Correy Diviney is not an immigration attorney, but practices general litigation and works with a lot of undocumented immigrants. He also speaks Spanish and enjoys working with different cultures and immigrant groups.

    Estimates vary, but there are tens of millions of people the government is not actively seeking to deport and the government doesn’t have the means of deporting people in those quantities. Diviney says something has to be done.

    “We’re refusing to do anything to formally acknowledge their occupancy in this country and the necessity of their work product in this country. The fact is, even a place like Roanoke, which is not one of the real centers of immigration, if all the illegal immigrants stopped working for a day the hospitality industry would come to an absolute halt.”

    Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican who represents the Sixth District including Roanoke and Lynchburg, has been very vocal about the need for immigration reform, saying, “We are a nation of immigrants and immigration has contributed to the greatness of the United States. However, while there are many issues plaguing our nation’s immigration system, the biggest problem is that our immigration laws are not being enforced.”

    Goodlatte says the House Judiciary Committee is taking a step by step approach to immigration reform and says that enforcement in the United States needs to be addressed before moving onto other aspects of immigration reform, such as reforming legal immigration programs.

    When asked about the future of government reform on immigration, Christine Poarch has a dim view.

    “I’m highly pessimistic because we haven’t had comprehensive reform since 2001. I think the community will continue to grow. I hope with public education efforts like the ones that we do in town, environments where we are talking about these issues, I hope that narrows the gap between the right and the left.”

    “My sense is that the immigration system is very chaotic system that is very hard to predict. I’ve had clients who have been convicted of felonies and served jail sentences and who have walked out of the local jails as convicted felons without any repercussions on the immigration front. They’re still eligible for deportation by nature of the fact they’ve been convicted of a felony, but the local immigration authorities don’t pick them up. Then I’ve had many other cases over the years where folks were stopped for what I thought were minor traffic violations or misdemeanor crimes and they’re taken into deportation proceedings. I’m not speaking from a political perspective about whether that’s appropriate or not, but it would be nice to know from everyone’s perspective, the attorneys and from the clients perspective, what’s going to happen and what are the repercussions.”

  • Gaucho Brazilian Grille

    Upon entering Gaucho Brazilian Grille and seating ourselves, I almost expected to see my grandmother come out of the kitchen and scold me for putting my elbows on the table! Francisco “Kiko” Azevedo, owner of Gaucho’s, made us feel so comfortable that it was like being at home with family. Kiko is a sociable individual who is very passionate about bringing the food and traditions of Brazilian culture to Blacksburg. He moved from Brazil to Blacksburg in 2006 for an opportunity that arose for his wife Isa- bella, and he instantly fell in love with the town.

    When Kiko arrived in the States, he began catering small events, as he had a love for food and people, and a desire to share his culture with the com- munity. He later started his booth at the Blacksburg Farmers Market, which caused his following to grow and kept his customers hungry for more. They wanted him to open a brick and mortar location; they wanted to know that his food would be readily available, and not just on Saturdays. Word of mouth of his authentic food spread and he soon had a regular clientele. He realized that he could make a true Brazilian restaurant happen in Blacks- burg but it wasn’t until April 2015 that it actually came together.

    Gaucho’s Brazilian Grille has very warm décor including wood cathedral ceilings, round and rectangular wooden tables and paper pendant lights hanging from above. Kiko, an architect in his previous life, designed the majority of the space to guarantee that the layout was just how he wanted it. There are personal touches everywhere, including colorful artwork on the walls painted by his mother Amabile. Patrons can see the large grill (called a paisa) from the bar, or there is a separate dining area if you prefer.

    The menu is meat-centric and served a la carte style. It is broken down into starters, meats, sides and Gaucho’s suggestions. The suggestions are based on Kiko’s tastes, so if you don’t know what to order or where to begin, this is a good starting point. Drink options consist of Coke products, and they also have a full bar available. My dining companion and I decided to build our own meals, ensuring ourselves the full experience.

    We started our meal with two appetizers, Aipim Frito (fried yuca sticks) and Pão de Chimi (chimichurri bread). The yuca sticks arrived quickly with a side of “red hot sauce.” The fries were crispy and perfectly salted on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. The yuca sticks could be equated to a thick French fry. The sauce is ketchup-based with a little bit of spice for a small kick.

    Our server then brought out the chimichurri bread. Chimichurri is a pars- ley-based sauce with garlic, oregano and olive oil. The Italian-style bread is sliced in half, buttered, grilled and then covered with the chimichurri. It had amazing grill marks, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. This is a very buttery appetizer, so I wouldn’t recommend ordering it if you are watching your girlish figure. One thing to note is that the appetizers did not arrive with silverware or plates. Kiko says this is “part of the Brazilian culture, food is served family style, meant to share, eaten by hand. Of course if someone wants a plate and silverware, we are happy to provide.”

    For my entrée I chose the Sobrecoxa (boneless, skinless chicken thigh), Arroz (jasmine rice), and Cogumelo (portobello mushroom). My compan- ion, being a red meat eater, selected the Picanha (Gaucho’s signature cut of steak) cooked medium, Abobrinha (zucchini) and Salada de Batata (potato salad). You also select the type of dipping sauces or “molhos” to accompany your meat se- lection. We chose chimichurri and farofa. Farofa is something that I have never come across before; it is more of a spice blend. Kiko explained that “farofa is roasted manioc flour, the same thing as yuca but dried and ground.” He also tells me that “it is a mix of canola oil, cassava (a type of flour), adobo, parsley and other spices.”

    Our entrees arrived promptly and were cooked fresh. The Sobrecoxa comes with two grilled thighs, moist and seasoned with adobo. I exper- imented with both sauce options on the chicken and found that I enjoyed it more sans sauce. The jasmine rice was cooked perfectly, only on the verge of being a little too salty. The portobello was probably my favorite item on the plate. Grilled and topped with provolone cheese, it had the dense earthiness you would expect in a porto- bello with just the right amount of cheese to not overwhelm but complement the flavors.

    My companion’s steak arrived perfectly cooked and split into two healthy portions. When men- tioned to Kiko that we were surprised the steak was cooked a perfect medium, he tells us that the “picanha is a redder cut, not a good steak for if you want it cooked more than medium. In these cases, I recommend they order a different type of steak.” My companion praised the tenderness and smoky charcoal flavors of the steak, as well as the “buttery goodness.” The zucchini was also grilled and served in thick sticks. The potato salad, which was mayonnaise-based, contained carrots and green beans, which isn’t what I am accustomed to but the flavors worked. Each side paired well with the steak.

    For dessert we decided to split the Brazilian Chocolate and Coffee Fudge. This comes out in a mini dessert cup with two small spoons for sharing. Both the chocolate and coffee flavors are prominent and rich; a little goes a long way. There are chocolate sprinkles on top to give it tex- ture; overall the fudge was creamy and smooth. This dessert would be perfect with coffee but alas, it isn’t on the menu yet.

    While Gaucho’s will no longer make an appear- ance at the farmers market, they still plan to do large events and festivals, such as BaconFest. They can also be reached by calling (540) 922- 2854 and visited at 880 University City Blvd. Ste. 201 in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Facebook or their website: http:// by-kaz.wix.com/gauchogrille. They are still in a “soft opening” phase but are open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m. and closed on Sunday.

     

  • Editor's Note

    “Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”

    - Ralph Waldo Emerson

     

    The stories of this issue define courage in three different avenues. We examine the African American festivals in Roanoke and Lynchburg and how from different paths, each provides the rich history and celebration of African Americans and the toils and struggles to reach today.

    September is Pride Month, and we talk about the LGBT community of color and impacts of the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. This issue continues to create fear and divisiveness in our community, and we want to share many points of view to continue our mission of “Celebrating our Similarities and Understanding Our Differences.”

    We talk about the immigration issue that affects our communities. Amid the ongoing political banter regarding this issue on a national level, we want to hear perspectives of individuals and families that are affected by the laws and how reform is important to honor the “American Dream” that all of us have envisioned.

    Lastly, we as a publication are introducing an ongoing section on Health Awareness in Colors VA magazine. Our partnership with Carilion Clinic is designed to provide useful information to educate and increase our community’s well-being. Please let us know your thoughts as we start this ongoing mission to provide these resources. You can leave your comments at www.colorsva.pub under the Letters to the Editor section.

    We ask you to open your thoughts and learn more about how our community is growing and changing. To learn and appreciate the point of views from one another creates a much stronger and courageous community

     

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