WCU students assist on statewide African-American calendar project

Three WCU students who helped produce profiles for the 2017 Heritage Calendar meet with one of the influential North Carolinians featured in the calendar – Teresa Williams (second from right), former chair of the WCU Board of Trustees. The students are (from left) Joshua Wilkey, Sherae Bonner and Cassandra Talabi.

Three WCU students who helped produce profiles for the 2017 Heritage Calendar meet with one of the influential North Carolinians featured in the calendar – Teresa Williams (second from right), former chair of the WCU Board of Trustees. The students are (from left) Joshua Wilkey, Sherae Bonner and Cassandra Talabi.

A calendar highlighting North Carolina’s African-American heritage and produced with the assistance of a team of Western Carolina University history and education students is hot off the presses.

Launched by primary sponsor AT&T, the 2017 edition of “The Heritage Calendar: Celebrating the North Carolina African-American Experience” highlights individuals of all races from across the state who have made a lasting impact in North Carolina and across the country.

A team of WCU students, led by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, associate professor of history and   director of graduate social science education programs, conducted interviews with the honorees and wrote their profiles.

The calendar profiles two people with WCU connections – the late Victoria Casey McDonald, Jackson County native, WCU alumna, and teacher and historian who was a pioneer in incorporating multicultural education into public school classrooms while conducting groundbreaking research on African-Americans in Western North Carolina; and Teresa Williams, former chair of the WCU Board of Trustees who, along with husband Richard “Stick” Williams, former chair of the Board of Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are the first couple to each serve as board chair for UNC system institutions.

The project proved to be a very positive learning and networking experience for the WCU students, McRae said. “During the project, the students learned to combine their oral history skills and historical research skills with journalistic writing,” she said. “Our students did such a good job that it looks like the project might return to WCU next year. Folks from AT&T were pleased to get participation from the western end of the state through WCU and an honoree from Jackson County.”

After completing their assignments over the summer and this fall, the students attended a reception at the governor’s mansion, where they met the honorees and their families and executives and consultants representing the project’s sponsors, McRae said.

“Meeting the folks whom they had interviewed was rewarding for both the student authors and the honorees,” she said. “The reception was an incredible networking opportunity for WCU students as leaders in journalism, philanthropy, religions and education attended, meeting with our students and discussing their future plans.”

WCU students participating in the project were Joshua Wilkey of Dillsboro and Raquel Kelly of Franklin, who are graduate students in history; and Cassandra Talabi of Mebane and Sherae Bonner of Whitesburg, Georgia, who are elementary education majors with concentrations in history.

The profiles are published in the printed version of the 2017 calendar and will be posted on the project’s website at http://ncheritagecalendar.com/ beginning in January.

“Today’s North Carolina is a product of the lives and accomplishments of many extraordinary individuals,” said Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina. “Some of the honorees in this year’s calendar could be considered unsung heroes, while others are more well-known. But all have made a difference for our state and we are privileged to help tell and preserve their stories for future generations.”

As with previous calendar editions, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction convened a team of educators to prepare lesson plans based upon the lives of the honorees. This material will be available online as a resource for teachers across the state.

“As students look at the accomplishments of the calendar honorees, teachers are able to put those accomplishments in the context of history and highlight the diversity which contributes so much to our state’s character and heritage,” said June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction. “Each year, I am proud of the creativity and professionalism of the North Carolina teachers who wrote the curriculum materials, and energized by their passion for students and learning.”

Coming from across North Carolina, the Class of 2017 represents a wide variety of fields, including education, architecture, youth programs, philanthropy, local government, athletics, media, and community service.

In addition to McDonald and the Williamses, individuals spotlighted in the 2017 Heritage Calendar are:

  • Dell Curry – The first selection of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in the 1988 expansion draft, Curry became one of the franchise’s most popular players and created the Dell Curry Foundation.
  • Joe Dudley Sr. and Eunice Dudley – Determined entrepreneurs, the Dudleys launched their own line of beauty products and grew their company into one of the most well-known in the industry.
  • The late Anne Cannon Forsyth – Forsyth became a champion for traditionally under-represented people, focusing on desegregating public schools and equal educational opportunity.
  • Philip G. Freelon – One of America’s preeminent architects, Freelon led the design team for the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
  • Paul R. Jervay Jr. – As a third-generation journalist, Jervay ensured that his family newspaper, The Carolinian, provided an outlet for voices within its community.
  • The Rev. Richard Jones – A minister and agricultural educator, Jones founded a community center that teaches skills lessons to young people while providing fresh produce for the community.
  • Hattie “Chatty Hatty” Leeper – The first female African-American radio broadcaster in Charlotte, Leeper’s vivacious on-air personality made her a community favorite and an industry leader.
  • The late Clarence Lightner – A Raleigh businessman, Lightner was the first African-American elected mayor of a major Southern city, with a commitment to education and public service.
  • Christopher Suggs – At age 14, Suggs founded a nonprofit dedicated to empowering Kinston’s young people through service, leadership and civic engagement.
  • Millie Dunn Veasey – Veasey served overseas in the U.S. Army in World War II and has led the NAACP’s Wake County chapter and assisted neighbors in completing tax forms.

Other primary participants in the project are The News & Observer, Capitol Broadcasting Company/WRAL-TV, PNC Bank and the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel.