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Soul food and speakers – RCC celebrates African-American history

Both of Rappahannock Community College’s campuses observed African-American History Month with February celebrations. “A Taste of Soul Food” was an attractive option for lunch at Warsaw on the 13th and at Glenns on the 16th, with Essex County author and artist Dorothy Alves Holmes visiting to reminisce with the students about the experiences of her long life. The events were catered by Sho-Nuff Bar-B-Q in Montross, which, says RCC Student Support Services director Lorraine Justice, “did an awesome job. The students and staff really enjoyed the event.” One student commented, “Delicious! I really enjoyed the greens,” while another said the food “brought back memories of my grandmother’s cooking and our family time.”

Mrs. Holmes reads her poetry at RCC Black History Month celebration

Mrs. Holmes reads her poetry at RCC African-American History Month celebration

On February 15, Mrs. Holmes shared double billing with broadcaster Jerry Brown; the college’s interactive video facilities allowed Glenns and Warsaw audiences a simultaneous hearing of the two speakers’ personal viewpoints on getting ahead in life.

A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Dorothy Holmes says that she came to Virginia to retire, after a successful career in several secretarial jobs, and as a district manager for Avon Products. But at 80 years of age, she finds herself busier than ever. She is a published author, with three volumes of poetry—“Let the Music Play,” “People Talk,” and “If Butterflies are Free”—to her credit. Seven years ago she took up painting, and has since won several blue ribbons at the Virginia State Fair, as well as selling her own line of art greeting cards. And she has worked as a volunteer for the Essex Public Library since 1993, coordinating a reading program for preschoolers. Her relatives, she says, tell her that God gave her all the talent in the family, but she answers, “No, but I take advantage of the talents I have.” She exhorted her audience, “Never give up! ‘Can’t’ is a coward that never tries.”

As a teenager in the 1940s, Holmes experienced segregation personally. “I went to an all-black high school,” she says. “But the teachers were fabulous.” She cites her close kinship with family and friends, and a good upbringing, as making all the difference to her. “When you pick your friends,” she advises, “take the ones that are aiming for something. Look for the ones that get all ‘A’s and find out how they did it.” She concluded, “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.” Several students mentioned how much they enjoyed Mrs. Holmes’ inspirational reading of her poems, describing her as “energetic and passionate about her work.”

Jerry Brown is a sterling example of the native son who makes good. Born and raised in King and Queen County, and a graduate of King and Queen Central High School and RCC, he transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University to continue his education, and graduated in 2007 with a degree in broadcast photojournalism.

“It hasn’t been easy,” he says. “There have been many bumps in the road. You’re going to hit those bumps even when you’re just going along. There will be people who hold you back . . . but also people who help you.” His advice for getting a job or an internship from an interview was: “Make them remember you. Talk to them, be sociable, shake hands.” He was chosen out of 30 applicants for an internship at ESPN-Radio, he said, because he had had a long conversation with the interviewer. And, in order to be successful at an internship—which has the potential for turning into a job—he says, “Be flexible. Work any shift, put in lots of hours, do whatever the job calls for. You will be noticed, and they’ll put you in the forefront when it’s time to hire. And it will look good on your résumé.”

 

Photo: Author and artist Dorothy Alves Holmes gives RCC audiences the secret of her success.

2 Responses to “Soul food and speakers – RCC celebrates African-American history”

  1. Linda Taylor says:

    Thank you for bringing this wonderful program to our students and staff.

  2. Kimberly Nelson says:

    Mrs. Holmes was the sweetest lady and I loved her poems. The food was delicious, and I had a wonderful time!

    Thank you,
    Kimberly

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