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The Power of Work
In a gathering with community and College organizers of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street that is coming to Chestertown this spring, Lonnie Bunch praised participants for recognizing the power of work to bring people together and define our common past and present.
Most of us think of work as just that thing we do—our job, our career—but Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, assured a gathering of community members and Washington College faculty, staff, and students, that it is much, much more.
“It’s something we all do. We’re looking at what are the things we have in common. Work is one of those things,” Bunch said. “Work is the thing that allows me to pay homage to the people who went before.” Regardless of the kind of work, its stories “allow you to bring people together, to cross these boundaries … You want to convey that this community was made better by the array of work that was done, both free and enslaved, and I think that’s a powerful message that encourages people to realize the power of work.”
Bunch visited Chestertown on February 24 as the keynote speaker at the College’s Washington’s Birthday Convocation, where he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Letters. He took time before the event to meet with community members who are organizing the town’s participation in the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street traveling exhibition “The Way We Worked.”
The gathering filled the upstairs of Sumner Hall, whose volunteers are collaborating to develop “The Way We Worked” with the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, Center for Environment and Society, the Department of Education, and Library and Academic Technology, the Kent County Public Library, Kent County Public Schools, Sultana Education Foundation, town of Chestertown, RiverArts, Downtown Chestertown Association, Kent County Historical Society, and the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board.
The setting of the meeting itself was significant. In 1882, William Perkins and 25 veterans of the Civil War organized the Charles A. Sumner Post No. 25 of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). They incorporated in 1908; the present building, which was reopened in 2014 after extensive restoration, is one of only two such U.S.C.T. (U.S. Colored Troops) veterans’ halls still standing in the United States. Bunch said the last time he saw Sumner Hall, it was “a beautiful shambles.”
“A museum is a constructed space,” he said. “This is a sacred space. You have helped people remember an important part of your story and your community.” The enthusiastic support of “The Way We Work,” he said, is another example of that same commitment.
“Let me tell you how humbled I am that you’re doing all this. I was one of the people involved years ago with the Museum on Main Street, and the hope was that a museum is a safe space, a place that people trust and where people can cross lines and cross boundaries and come together,” he said. “What you’ve done is really the best of what this could be. This is something that allows us to not always focus on what divides us, but to let us remember what brings us together, the things we share, the common stories. You’ve recognized the most important thing a community can do is remember, because by remembering you not only honor the past, you shape the future. So I am just so pleased the way you’re doing this. You’ve taken all the right steps; you’ve got enough people around the table! The key is to really figure out how to make sure this ripples long after … what are the things you’re going to do that are going to allow this to live on.”
Chestertown is one of only five communities in the state that Maryland Humanities chose to participate in the traveling Museum on Main Street. From March 31 to May 20, a series of exhibits, speakers, and events will define, explore, and celebrate Kent County’s history through “The Way We Worked.” For more information on the exhibition, go here: http://garpost25.org/the-way-we-worked/