Oak Bluffs selectman Walter Vail called it a perfect Vineyard day. Kites hung in the clear blue sky over Ocean Park and a light breeze blew in off Nantucket Sound on Saturday. A crowd had gathered beneath a peaked tent to celebrate the memory of Della Hardman, a leader in the Island African American community and in the Island community as a whole. “Savor the moment,” Mrs. Hardman famously said, and the phrase was repeated throughout the course of the celebration.
Nine years ago the Oak Bluffs selectmen designated the last Saturday in July as Della Hardman Day to commemorate Mrs. Hardman’s work as a scholar, volunteer and an outstanding Islander. This year’s celebration included a speech by Charlayne Hunter-Gault about the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington, D.C. where Ms. Hardman brought her entire family. There were scholarship awards for a student essay contest. Paris Bermudes, Marc Natichioni and Nicole Parkhurst were awarded $500 scholarships for their winning essays. Three $100 scholarships were given to runners-up Mateus Ribeiro, Andrew Hakala and Jack Roberts. The following day Jim Thomas led his spiritual choir in a sunset performance at the East Chop Lighthouse.
The keynote speaker Saturday was Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. Muhammad used the opportunity to discuss the gains made and setbacks suffered by the American black community. Whereas most of the day’s events had been focused on celebrating Mrs. Hardman’s memory, Dr. Muhammad’s speech carried a melancholy undertone.
In light of the recent verdict in the racially-charged death of Trayvon Martin, Dr. Muhammad asked the audience to question if the black community is better off now than it was 150 years ago. He likened the death of Mr. Martin to the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, which played a role in catalyzing the youth to take a stand against injustice and urged the audience to once again take up the fight.
“The black community has faced some shocking setbacks and the moment of joyful commemoration has passed,” Dr. Muhammad said. “This is our moment.”
But the moment would not pass without one last commemoration of the life of Mrs. Hardman: a large, specially-frosted sheet cake. A line of guests stood waiting to savor the moment — and the cake.
For more photos of the choir at the East Chop lighthouse, visit: Spirituals Choir Celebrates Della Hardman Day.