The sound of the beating drums — steady, upbeat and soulful — set the tone Saturday for the blessing of the land ceremony at the site of what will be the African American Cultural Center.
The green space at the corner of Newtown Road and Hampshire Way is no longer just an empty area waiting for a building.
Community leaders gathered Saturday to bless the land and thank the city for its support of the project.
The African American Cultural Center won’t rise for another five to 10 years, but the excitement Saturday was palpable.
The ceremony is one of the first steps, but an important one for the future of the project, leaders said.
“We are really seeing the community come together,” said Kevin Duffan, who is on the executive board of the advisory committee.
“For today, we felt it was important to start on the right foot spiritually,” he said.
Jason Knight, pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church, prayed.
“We are thankful that we have this opportunity to come and to bless this ground that God has provided for us to build a structure where we can educate ourselves and our history, where our young people can come and be liberated through education about their culture and be able to walk with assurance and confidence that they have a part of this American history,” Knight told the crowd.
He said the center will stand at an intersection where history and ancestry meet grace and humanity.
The ceremony included performances from churches around Virginia Beach.
A group from New Genesis Baptist Church performed a skit that included portrayals of African American icons throughout history, such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Mary McLeod Bethune. The skit ended with words from a person portraying President Barack Obama.
Members of New Light Full Gospel Church performed a praise dance. The Piney Grove Baptist Church Mass Choir and Teens with a Purpose also performed.
Mayor Will Sessoms said he looks forward to the groundbreaking of the project.
The 30,000-square-foot center will have 12 galleries featuring artifacts from 11 historic neighborhoods of Virginia Beach. There will be classrooms for woodworking, painting, dance, cooking, ceramics and multipurpose community rooms. It will also have a 150-seat indoor theater, an indoor-outdoor amphitheater and trails outside that will have bronze artwork.
Building the center will cost about $10 million, Duffan said.
The next step in the process is fundraising that amount.
They are doing a feasibility study and are working with a consulting group and architectural firm.
Linda Bright, the president of the executive board, said Saturday’s blessing ceremony was to bring everyone together.
“I feel so connected to every person here,” she said.
She said the center will be more successful because of all the collaborations.
City Councilwoman Amelia Ross-Hammond is spearheading the project.
Over the past two years, the City Council has taken steps to support it.
At its Leadership and Strategic Planning Workshop in February 2015, the council deemed building the center a priority. It designated five acres of land at Lake Edward Park for the project where Saturday’s ceremony was held.
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