The Tribune Salutes The History Of The Hendersonville Area Chapter Of The Links, Inc.

In the Spring of 1976, two young ladies in Nashville the late Dr. Joan C. Elliott and Rev. Chestina Archibald met to discuss the need for a cultural revitalization of the city’s African American community and the formation of an unbreakable bond for a group of seriously committed women.

They held its initial meeting on August 14, 1976, with its founders/organizers, Dr. Joan C. Elliott and Rev. Chestina Archibald. There were 34 charter members inducted by Area Director Link Roberta Basnette.

The Chapter soon made its presence felt in the community as its members worked vigorously to incorporate a variety of activities and projects into the four program facets of the National body-The Arts, National Trends, International Trends and Services to Youth.

Support of local charities has been a primary focus of the chapter. Fisk University, Meharry Medical College and Tennessee State University, all HBCUs, have been consistently among the recipients of the chapter’s fund-raising projects.

With grants awarded by the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, The Tennessee Humanities Council, the Southern Federation for the Arts and the Tennessee Commission for the arts, the chapter was able to sponsor several public programs. The grant funded by the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs was used for an international symposium. Through this grant the chapter presented Madame N’Dye Marie Fall of Senegal. A series of public seminars entitled “A Precarious Balance: Marriage and Career, Progress and Regression, Freedom and Authority” was funded by the Tennessee Committee for the Humanities and with this grant, the National Trends Facet led discussions on public policy issues through a humanistic approach in small urban towns of Middle Tennessee.

Through the chapter’s efforts, fifty paperbound books by Black writers were purchased in 1977 and presented to the “Reading and Rap Program,” at the Nashville Public Library. The project was sponsored by the Services to Youth Facet.

As a group consistently committed to issues affecting African-Americans and the pursuit of human rights, the chapter joined the NAACP as Life Members and supported the Nashville chapter by donating much needed office supplies.

The chapter was recognized by the Nashville community for it presentations of programs in the arts. The chapter was known for the “theater brunch” and held the first of many brunches in the newly built Opryland Hotel. The huge crowd reveled in the presentation of A Kaleidoscope of Skits, Poems and Sounds brought to life by Pamela Poitier (daughter of Sidney Poitier) and local actress, Diane Dixon. The enjoyable afternoon netted thousands of dollars, which was donated, to the United Negro College Fund. This success was quickly followed with a performance by Oprah Winfrey (before she became an icon) and Sweet Honey in the Rock, a Washington-based female quartet. Proceeds from the brunch provided scholarships for students at Tennessee State University and Fisk University.

In its artistic vein, the chapter secured funding from the Southern Federation for the Arts and The Tennessee Commission for the Arts to bring a touring Broadway play to Nashville. In 1980, Nevis Mountain Dew which was named one of the 10 best plays of the New York season in 1978 was the chapter’s fundraiser for not only Tennessee State and Fisk Universities, but Meharry Medical College as well. Although these presentations were successful, the chapter expanded its efforts to include “applause parties” for renowned artists such as piano virtuoso Andre’ Watts and for soprano Marian Moore and Symphony Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn following their performance of Carmina Burana. By 1981, the chapter also provided programs for the elderly who livein the Kelly Miller Smith Towers, joining them for parties at Christmas and Valentine Day, sponsored the touring production of the poignant drama Home, a folk play presented by the Negro Ensemble Company, starring a young, unknown actor by the name of Samuel L. Jackson! In 1982 the International trends facet presented Delores Ashley Harris, an expert in traditional African textiles, and “Roots” author Alex Haley as he toured the U.S. to raise funds for the African Waterwells Project. An exhibition of the works of folk sculptor Will Edmondson, a presentation of the Clive Thompson Dance company, an evening of song and dance with Harlem Nocturne, a concert by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and a performance by the Chinese Opera Troupe allowed the chapter to finish out the 1980’s in grand style focusing on the Arts to raise and distribute over $10,000 in scholarships and donations.

The chapter’s commitment to meet the national interest of The Links, Inc. toward an umbrella approach, the membership focused on Project LEAD – a program aimed at issues of alcohol and substance abuse- and joined forces with the Nashville Center for Black Family Life and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. A joint effort was made with the Nashville and Music City chapters of the Links to secure funds for implementation of such programs. The chapter’s participation in another local program, Project PENCIL (Public Education Nashville Citizens Involved in Leadership) brought a strengthening of the relationship between community and the public schools and lead to the adoption of Highland Heights middle School by the chapter. Unity with the other local Links chapters led to an outstanding National Assembly co-hosted by all three chapters in the city.

Awards received included a Certificate of Service in the National Arts Program presented “In recognition of unselfish leadership and service to Improving the Quality of life” July 8th, 1984; the Nashville Urban League’s Volunteer Award March 7, 1986 for “exemplary volunteer service and participation in the Urban League’s community programs”.

1990 – 1999

In the 1990’s, chapter programs again focused on the arts. In 1991 the chapter supported Fisk University’s art galleries and became the first African-American organization in Nashville to restore a work of art for the university spearheading support for the restoration of other historically significant works of art housed at Fisk University. Through these efforts, other groups joined in the drive to preserve this part of African-American history. By 1992, the chapter focused internationally on the Jamaican project “Hands across the Water”, a workshop for teachers in different schools in St. Mary’s Province and provided educational materials and equipment for the teacher’s resource room. The chapter also adopted the National Children’s Home in Kingston, Jamaica providing reading materials, clothing, and appliances to teachers and families and sponsoring one child who showed academic excellence. Following up on a long-term commitment to the Smithsonian Institution’s African American Museum Project, seminars were hosted in 1993 and 1994 featuring museum specialist Claudine Brown and black photography historian Deborah Willis. The following year, the chapter collaborated with the Junior League in the establishment of a Women’s Center at Meharry Hubbard Hospital. That same year, a luncheon was held to honor fifteen former players of baseball’s old Negro League, several of whom had played on the Nashville Elite Giants team. Stirred by the affair, the former baseball players said that they had never been so honored before.

Beginning in 1999 the Hendersonville Area Links (HAL) chose a service project that would enrich student learning experiences at the Smithson-Craighead Academy (SCA) and its companion after-school program-Project Reflect Education Program (PREP). At the inception of this project SCA was Nashville’s first charter school and the only elementary charter school in the city. The school evolved from the dream of an African-American Catholic nun, Sister Sandra Smithson, and her biological sister, Mrs. Mary Craighead, who had been a career educator in the Nashville Metropolitan Public Schools. These programs were incorporated to address the needs of minority and poor populations who had not been academically successful in other Nashville public schools by providing a unique learning environment that encourages and ensures academic success. PREP and SCA became the chapter’s primary focus for its Umbrella program and the Services to Youth facet took the lead in providing activities for the Academy’s student body. Members planned and executed gala holiday events and programs of recognition for the children.

Awards received this decade include The Director’s Award June 30, 1994 for “outstanding leadership in creating linkages in the arts”; the Outstanding Achievement Award presented by the National Eye Health Education Program in 1998 “for contributions to ensuring that the results of eye and vision research are used for the benefit of all Americans”.

2000 – 2009

During this decade the HAL continued to sponsor learning enrichment programs for the children of SCA and PREP and to host fundraising events to support various charities in the community including the SCA and PREP.

In 2001, the Arts facet took the lead in the chapter’s fundraising efforts to support its selected charities. In April, “A Day in the Arts” was initiated, a spring arts festival showcasing the talents of local artists and netting thousands of dollars for charity. In December the chapter celebrated its 25th Year anniversary with a White Rose Luncheon highlighting its achievements and honoring the founders of Project Reflect, Sister Sandra Smithson and Mrs. Mary Craighead. In 2002, programming and financial support of PREP continued with a focus on the Young Emerging Scholars program. During that summer, Hendersonville Area chapter members directed a 6-week summer program that exposed the children to Drama, Music, Art and Computers. Another “Day in the Arts” event in 2003 provided the chapter with more scholarship funds cementing its connection with Arts events in the community.

The most ambitious effort to raise funds came in 2005 with the presentation to the Nashville community of “Links to Legends”, a benefit performance of the National Tour of Ailey II of the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe promoted by the chapter and performed at the historic Ryman Auditorium. This was a high-energy presentation choreographed by famous dance legend Judith Jamison. The chapter was able to complete its $50,000 pledge to PREP due to the generosity of its supporters. This effort was followed in March 2007 with the “Links to Legends II” fundraiser featuring the Grammy award winning jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra held at the state of the art Schermerhorn Symphony Hall. This event celebrated the chapter’s 30th year of charitable and educational service to the community. A smaller fundraising effort consisted of the co-sponsorship of the exhibit entitled “Women of a New Tribe” with the Tennessee Tribune. This was a photographic celebration of the beauty and accomplishments of Black American Women. The organizer and artist of the exhibit was Jerry Taliaferro, of North Carolina. Proceeds from the exhibit were donated to SCA and the Anthony J. Cebrun Journalism Center sponsored by its founder Link Rosetta Miller-Perry and the Tennessee Tribune Newspaper.

Programmatically, this decade featured many activities directed toward the chapter’s Umbrella project.

The National Trends facet took the lead in sponsoring annual fall festivals for the children of SCA with contributions from all four facets. There were activities such as pumpkin and mask decorating contests, games, fire prevention and safety taught by the Nashville Fire department, African storytelling and an introduction to the renowned South American artist, Jorge Yancey who exposed the children to South American culture through art. During these festivals, seminars were held for the parents of the students including HIV prevention, Stroke prevention, Cancer prevention and Dress for Success.

Since 2004 the chapter has sponsored a yearly promotion exercise for the 4th grade class of students moving on to middle school. The purpose of this program is to introduce the school and its outstanding students to individuals who may in turn support the vision set for the school. Furthermore, it allows the students to realize that each milestone of success in their educational journey is significant and should be celebrated. The event is held at the Avon Williams Campus of TSU and has featured keynote speakers who are prominent members of the Nashville community who encourage the children through words of inspiration. Achievement awards are presented to the top performing students and the ceremony is followed by a reception for the school community and parents.

The chapter has consistently encouraged the love of reading by actively participating The National Education Association’s “Read Across America Days”. In March 2007 chapter members read to students in K-4th grade and provided activity booklets, book marks and certificates to each child. 100 age appropriate books were donated to the school. In March 2009 Links participating in this activity did not passively read to the students; they set-up props that demonstrated and supported the themes of the stories read. In addition, facet members engaged the students in the activity by allowing the children to assist with reading the stories.

Over the course of this umbrella project and with the leadership of International trends, the chapter has been involved in a collaborative partnership with the Interdenominational Services Organization of America, Inc. (ISOA). With ISOA, the chapter hosted career fairs at SCA which featured corporate executives, artists, education professionals, law enforcement officials, journalists and entrepreneurs. Field trips were organized for SCA students to visit local universities where the students were able to interact with members of the college communities.

In addition, the chapter has embarked on an ambitious long-term endeavor designed to provide entrepreneurial support to women of color in less developed regions of the world. The support included the establishment of a micro loan program for women in Jamaica through a collaborative relationship with the Fergus Simpson Foundation in Jamaica. A strong working relationship was developed with Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Global Health and the programs instituted in Jamaica were presented during a major global health summit in 2009. Also during this year, a working relationship was established with Dr. Moses Akpanudo, a native of Nigeria to determine how the chapter could assist girls in 7th – 12th grade attending a school he established in the village of Obong Ntak. Because girls are often denied access to education in less developed regions of the world if they do not have appropriate school attire, uniforms for 60 girls were purchased for the 2009 – 2010 school year.

At the Central Area Conference July 14, 2007, the chapter’s umbrella program won the First Place Program Award “in recognition of Programming Excellence”.

The chapter has continued to build on the programs initiated in the last decade. It has continued to promote literacy and an appreciation for the visual arts as it is well established that reading and exposure to the arts make for a well-rounded individual. In May 2010 “The Art of Cooking” class was held in the SCA cafeteria and was designed to teach children to use kitchen utensils safely, to determine the nutritional value of the ingredients used, experience through taste, the ingredients used for international dishes, and learn to use a simple food preparation vocabulary. November 2010, 24 students from SCA were taken to the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens to experience the Chihuly glass works displayed throughout the garden, the Museum of Art and the Courtyard gallery. The students also viewed a portion of the film “Hot Shop” which showed how Chihuly and members of his team designed and made the glass objects that were on display. The students also had the opportunity to enjoy the works of art featured in Cheekwood’s permanent collection. In keeping with the objective that reading is fundamental to children’s growth, the chapter participated in February 2011 in the Metropolitan Nashville activity entitled “Read Me Week”. The HAL had members of the Arts Facet read books covering themes relevant to the real world experiences of the children. It has continued to support the Obong Ntak village school in Nigeria with yearly financial donations. The children of SCA have worked on their writing skills through a pen pal program with the children of the village school in Nigeria.

In order to positively impact the SCA children’s vision of their futures as young adults, the chapter has continued on an annual basis to sponsor the Black Heritage College Tour which includes Fisk University and Tennessee State University and to continually support and co-sponsor the Annual BEEM (Business Exchange for the Entrepreneurially Minded) Career Fair.

Because there are many health issues that disproportionately affect the African-American community, the chapter has begun to focus on programs designed to address these problems and has partnered with Meharry Medical College’s Women Center to raise awareness in the African-American community. Organ donation in the African American community is one such issue. Research has shown that as a group, African-Americans have a greater need for organ and tissue transplants due to the number and nature of the medical conditions that are experienced. Of the 90,000 persons awaiting transplants, 27% of these are African-Americans; only 12% of donors come from the black community. 25% of the persons who die each year awaiting transplants are African-Americans. In support of the Links, Incorporated Signature Program “Linkages to Life,” the HAL sponsored an educational forum during an afternoon luncheon for 200 attendees, to highlight the need and importance of organ, tissue, and bone marrow donations in the black community. Link Robin Williams, MD served as the forum facilitator and outlined the importance of the topic. Mr. Kenneth Walton from Tennessee Donor Services presented a video further explaining the facts surrounding organ/tissue donation. Cecil W. Cone II MD Associate Professor, Department of Pathology, Meharry Medical College served as the keynote speaker. His explanation of the difficult subject was both informative and well received by the audience. Organ recipients and their families shared what it meant for them to have a donor provide them or their loved one with the gift of life. Family members of donors expressed the ambivalent feeling they experienced – sorrow for the loss of a family member, and joy for having made a donation to sustain another life. After a question and answer period, audience members were given packets with materials explaining organ donation and a donor registration card. Both the Parthenon and the Music City Chapter of the Links sponsored tables at the luncheon.

The Chapter partnered with Meharry and the Susan G. Komen foundation to present a workshop to 250 members of the Nashville community on Breast Cancer awareness. In response to the obesity epidemic the chapter has worked harder to teach the children of SCA how to make healthier lifestyle choices especially regarding nutrition and exercise. In December 2011 the students of SCA participated in a fun and healthy Christmas party where a local dance instructor taught them how to exercise using line dancing. In 2012 the chapter began its annual Chew and Move program with the leadership of the Health and Human services facet where children from multiple schools in the community in addition to SCA are invited to participate in a day of activities promoting an appreciation of the benefits of exercise and lessons in nutrition and healthy cooking. 2012 was an important year nationally. Because large groups of people were at risk of disenfranchisement, the chapter participated in the local effort to register members of the community to vote and to ensure knowledge of the requirements under the new voter ID laws. Between May and October chapter members participated in voter registration drives in churches, neighborhoods and at the Smithson-Craighead middle school. Other community partnerships included participation by members in October 2011 with the Habitat for Humanity’s Women’s Build. The HAL continues its tradition of fundraising through support of the arts.

In November 2011 the chapter raised funds for charity by sponsoring 300 attendees at the Broadway Production of “Memphis”. Members and event attendees were encouraged to share photography depicting life of family and friends in the 50s and 60s. Photographs of newborns, weddings, graduations and family life were shared. From these memories, renowned artist and Connecting Link Ted Jones captured the universal experiences of African Americans during post war America in a colorful and inspiring repose of copper and photography. After 37 years of service, the Hendersonville Area Chapter of the Links, Inc. has made a significant contribution to the local, national and international communities as it discharges its obligation to the National body. Going forward, the chapter is continuing to design programs in an attempt to close the achievement gap of African-American children and thereby improve the quality of life for all members of the Nashville community. Eighteen presidents have guided the chapter’s direction beginning with its founding president Chestina Archibald, followed by Norish Adams, Joan Elliot, Jacqueline Mitchell, Jessie Carney Smith, Vesta Wheaton, Julie Williams, Margaret Turner, Karan Howard, Stephanie Perry, Shelia Hill-Thomas, Cynthia Turner-Graham, Patricia Turner, Carol Lawson, Amber Gooding, Anica Howard, Julie Williams (2nd term), Kristi Faulkner, Gina Gunn, Michelle Viera, K. Dawn Rutledge, Valencia Price, and Leah Dupree Love.