If you have attended any of the Gullah cultural events going on around Hilton Head Island in the past, you might already know about some of the work that the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association does. This year will be especially important as it marks the 20th annual Gullah Celebration. Each February, there is a monthlong calendar of events celebrating Gullah culture. It includes a variety of activities and events such as expos, food tastings, health screenings and gospel concerts, which will entertain and engage people of all ages. However, the association’s main objective is to expand the number of opportunities for both Hilton Head residents and tourists to experience the richness of Gullah culture every month of the year.
“February is the biggest month that we have for events, but we are working on having events every month,” says Charles Young, the association’s operations manager. Events and celebrations are important to keep the Gullah culture alive — though the community-based organization has a much broader scope than just events.
The association was created 10 years ago by a group of like-minded business owners and community leaders who felt that the island needed a unifying presence for native islanders to be able to improve their quality of life through education and support. The group became a community resource for Hilton Head’s black-owned businesses in need of educational, entrepreneurial or financial support. Additionally, the association sought to address native islanders’ other needs and issues, such as homeownership education, financial literacy and academic support. The organization’s goal is to improve the overall quality of life for the Gullah people on the island.
But the group doesn’t work in isolation; it has a partnership with the Mitchellville Preservation Project. They provide mutual support and together they work to preserve Gullah history and culture and make it accessible to future generations. The organization also works with black churches on the island — long considered the backbone of the black community, as well as the most effective method of disseminating information throughout the community.
While the association strives to assist the community at large, it has a special focus on education. Hilton Head is one of the a few areas in the country that has maintained its strong ties to its Gullah traditions. However, children in South Carolina are at a huge disadvantage because they are not being taught being about their own history and the cultural contributions of the Gullah people, or about Mitchellville, the first self-governing town of freed slaves that is right here in their midst. Young is committed to making sure that a full and inclusive history is taught to children, rather than just one perspective of the past. “This year, our goal is to bring the organization back to its original plans and priorities,” he says.
Those plans include working on establishing a Gullah curriculum that would be taught in local schools. Another initiative is to have adult education classes on obtaining homeownership and financial literacy so that everyone can achieve financial stability and have a more prosperous economic future.