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African American Diversity Education We are Emerging We are Overcomers

Coming Full Circle

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At some point in middle school, I began to develop an intellectual passion for history. I’m not sure what sparked my curiosity in learning about the past, but it’s safe to assume my background and upbringing played a huge part in it.

Growing up in Virginia, I had the opportunity to learn about and even visit historical sites that played integral roles in the Colonial, American Revolution, Antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras. While at the time I may have simply viewed these field trips as respites from school, the visits to places like Colonial Williamsburg, Maggie L. Walker’s house, St. John’s Church, Berkeley Plantation, the Museum of the Confederacy and the Black History Museum left indelible marks that I cherish today.

My maternal and paternal roots trace back to Alabama and Georgia respectively and my family has always maintained a commitment to preserve and pass on our history. Since a young age, I’ve learned about the struggles experienced and sacrifices made by those who came before me. It is humbling to think about the vision and fortitude that individuals who share my DNA displayed in the face of unimaginable adverse conditions in the Deep South. Knowing that their actions afforded me the opportunity to enjoy experiences beyond their wildest dreams motivates me to uphold their legacy.

While some Americans can trace back their lineages to before America was even a country, most African-American family histories have been muddled by the legacy of slavery. I was inspired to pursue a degree in U.S. History and African and African-American Studies, with the hope of uncovering some of what was lost. Discovering the connectivity, processes and moments related to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Postbellum America, Jim Crow Era, Civil Rights Movement and the African diaspora expanded my worldview and ignited a lifelong commitment to learn more about my ancestry and heritage.

When I learned that I would be working on the 2019 Commemoration, it was a surreal full circle moment. The experience thus far has felt like a postgraduate education of sorts. I have a newfound appreciation for democracy, diversity and opportunity and take pride in the fact that Virginia has been America’s leader in many ways for 400 years. It is my hope that surfacing the many told and untold stories of the Commonwealth can collectively edify our community and inspire the next generation of leaders to uphold Virginia’s legacy.

Image: Ben White, www.Benjah-Photography.com

Editor’s note: Want to learn more about how the 2019 Commemoration is highlighting the contributions of America’s three founding cultures? Don’t miss the 1619: Making of America Summit.

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2 Comments

  1. Glenwood Davis August 21, 2018

    Coming Full Circle by Brelan Hillman was an incredibly well written and inspirational piece. Thank you Brelan for sharing your wonderful story!

    Reply
    1. Brelan Hillman August 28, 2018

      Thank you!

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