(photos by Kevin A. Smith)
SINCE THE SEPT. 07 PRESSER AT Gregory Church - As reported last week, the WJBC got decent coverage from the local Wilmington media about the 1898 symposium and the student essay competition, particularly from WHQR-FM, WWAY-TV3 and Greater Diversity News. A story was also sent to the Wilmington Journal.
On Sept. 7th, we also unveiled our 1898symposium.org website to the public. Our hopes were that the website would not only advise the community in Wilmington/New Hanover County about the Nov. 11th symposium and the “Bringing the 1898 Assessment Alive “ mission statement, but the 1898 Student Essay Competition as well, so that as many NHC students, grades 8-12 could be informed about it, and go to the website to possibly enter.
On Saturday, Sept. 8th, I texted Rev. John Thatch (Mary Alice's husband) , advising him of our press conference, our website, and our student essay competition honoring his wife. The next day he texted back, saying that the family "greatly appreciated our efforts," and even asked if there was anything they could do.
I had also emailed Shawn Thatch, one of Mary Alice's daughters who now publishes the paper. After essentially sharing the same information with her about how we were honoring her mother, she emailed back the following day, "Thank you Cash, that means a lot to me. Thank you for everything and your continued support."
Key to my contacting the Thatches was that weeks earlier, the WJBC had voted to name the essay competition the "Mary Alice Jervay Thatch Memorial 1898 Student Essay Competition," in honor of the late, great Wilmington Journal publisher/editor.
However, my youngest daughter, KaLa, who is a Yale University third year student, strongly felt that the website was not properly designed to reach young people about the 1898 essay competition as effectively as possible. In particular, she felt that students would grow impatient scrolling down and looking for information on the essay competition, especially since the symposium was several weeks away. She, along with her friend, Rodney Nguessan, a recent graduate of Baruch College in New York, immediately got to work on developing a separate, designated website for the 1898 student essay competition, so that interested students can not only go directly there, but also learn about Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, the pioneer our essay competition is named in memorial for. Students can also click over to the 1898 symposium website from there to learn more about that.
To keep things simple, KaLa and Rodney decided on the web address “1898studentessay.org.” The site is very attractive, has a large portion devoted to Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, complete with portrait picture super-imposed over a picture of the 1898 burning of the Daily Record newspaper, and a brief bio of Ms. Thatch next to her picture, along with a “Learn More” button link underneath her portrait which, once clicked, goes to the 16 minute video I produced about her life earlier this year.
In regards to cost, this website cost the WJBC NOTHING. I gladly took care of underwriting the website setup for one month, and KaLa and Rodney refused my repeated offer to remunerate them.
They felt the cause and outreach to young people was THAT important.
In my opinion, all of this was very tastefully done, and represents our efforts substantially per the student essay competition. Both at the top of the webpage and the bottom, are links to the 1898symposium.org website. Above the bottom button link is the title, “About the Second 1898 Symposium.” Underneath that title, is a paragraph promoting the Nov. 11th, 2023 symposium to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre at Williston Middle School from 1-4 p.m.. Underneath that paragraph, is a linked button that says, “Read more” which, again, takes you to the 1898symposium.org website for that information.
I think the work on this dedicated website is excellent, and very tasteful. I think it will be an asset for us in terms of attracting 1898 student essay applicants. It contains the same links for student essay competition information, including (first slide) a guidelines page, references page, and a submit page at the top. But how can we get students to go to this website? Rodney, who is very tech savvy and a fine young man to work with, developed some new flyers that have a QR code on them containing all of the information students need to get to the websites to enter the competition. I’m told this is the way young people today access their information, through QR code.
A version of this flyer was sent to Aidimar Richardson, the new Community Engagement Specialist for New Hanover County Schools. He requested on Monday that I ensure that this disclaimer be included on the flyers before they can be distributed in New Hanover County middle and high schools - This information/publication does not necessarily represent the views of New Hanover County Schools nor does it constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by New Hanover County Schools. I had Rodney add the disclaimer, and I sent it back to Richardson, who stamped and approved the flyer for distribution in NHC schools the next day, Sept. 12th.
I’m thinking that the NHC Schools approval was partly due to the fact, at Dr. Bertha Todd’s suggestion, that I sent a press release to all seven members of the NHC School Board on Sept. 8th. Shortly thereafter, on Tuesday, Sept. 12th, I received a positive response from NHC School Board member Josie Barnhart, who said that she passed the flyer onto the community engagement specialist (Richardson). I also got a positive response from NHC board member Hugh McManus, who thanked us for sending the press release to him.
Principal Madden indicated that once the student essay flyers were officially approved, he could start having them distributed in his school. Ways of getting the approved flyers distributed in other NHC middle and high schools are yet to be determined.
After some initial confusion on Tuesday, our Chairman Paul Jervay determined that based on discussions with a Jervay family member “we have permission to use Mary Alice's name and likeness only once this time for the symposium & essay contest. The family wants no further use of it in this manner in the future.” In compliance with Chairman Jervay’s directive, changes were made to a tiktok video already in production. Rodney had designed it, at my request, for the expressed purpose of directing qualifying NHC students, with the hashtag #NHCessay, to the 1898 student essay competition information on either website. The tiktok video, which shows a picture of white, Black and Hispanic high school students walking in a school hallway together, has a popup internal video of Rodney telling students “who love to write” where to go to enter the essay competition, with him pointing to a line which shows “$500.” The entire tiktok video is less than :30 seconds, and further tells students to go to the video’s “bio” to click on the website for more information. The tiktok video makes no mention of Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, nor does it show her picture, since it finished production after Chairman Jervay’s directive.
Enclosed with this report are also mockups of the tiktok account screens with the appropriate information.
TIKTOK ACCOUNT "BIO" (web address will be 1898studentessay.org)
What makes this direct approach to young people important is a report I asked Principal Madden for Thursday, where he told me at that time, that thus far, we had five student essay applicants (no submissions yet). That is one week after our press conference where we first unveiled our 1898symposium.org website. If we’re to get those numbers up substantially higher, we have to ramp up our social media and flyer outreach to the students targeted. I’d personally like to see a minimum of fifty students entered in the essay competition. That would need to happen within the next two to three weeks in order for all students to have the proper time to research and write good 500-word essays worthy of grand prize consideration by Oct. 21st.
In closing, I put a lot of work into my WJBC report this week, because I believe in what we are doing, and I believe in the hard work of everyone in this club, especially our chair, Paul Jervay. I believe whatever work any of us have done, or will do, is work he does not have to do, which means he can hit the streets with confidence seeking sponsors for the 1898 symposium. There is still a lot of work to be accomplished in that area, primarily because it is not easy to begin with.
I feel very strongly that we have an extraordinary 1898 symposium planned, with an extraordinary panel. led by Bishop Barber, Dr. Bertha Todd and others. To compliment that, we have the inspiration of the NC Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Greene, who I'm looking forward too as well.
But a very important part of our symposium, and something that so far everyone seems to be very supportive of because of its intrinsic value, is our Mary Alice Jervay Thatch Memorial 1898 Student Essay Competition.
In just one week, we've garnered broad support from the community (thank you Sonya Patrick for your hard work), members of the NHC School Board and system, and the local media. But that means we CANNOT take any of that broad support for granted.
The symposium is on Saturday, Nov. 11th, several weeks away, and that should ultimately be our goal toward making our case about 'Bringing the 1898 Assessment Alive through restoration, rebuilding and reparation."
But a very important feature of that work is our outreach to NHC students, incentivizing them to learn more about the 1898 Wilmington Massacre, and to share their knowledge through our essay competition. That kind of challenge, I believe, energizes the community, gives it pride and also further establishes the Wilmington Journal Breakfast Club on the map.
As I close this report, I am heartened by reports from WJBC member Christina Davis McCoy about the letter from the New Hanover Community Endowment forwarding a sponsorship application to us for the symposium, and from Jim Davis earlier in the week about contact being made with the pastor of St. Luke's A.M.E. Zion about allowing Bishop Barber to preach there on Sunday, Nov. 12th.
Community activist Cedric Harrison, per Jim Davis' report, should also be lauded for his work in this regard.
The WJBC is moving forward with vigor, energy and positive action on all fronts. This must continue so that all of our collective good work is not for naught.
Fellow WJBC members, I submit this report for your review.