Student Wins First Place for Oral History Project
Through an opportunity with the Honors College, Courtney Ward, a junior broadcast journalism major, had the chance to interview a legend, Dr. Mary T. Christian, Hampton University professor emeritus. The National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) invites students to create an oral history of their elders. The elders are members of the community who have been an influence in the community and the nation.
Dr. Camille Cosby created NVLP in an effort to bridge generations together by recording, preserving and distributing the experiences of African-American leaders. Ward heard about the project while working on an interview of last year's winner for her internship with the Daily Press.
"I interviewed Tiffany Sheppard who placed third in last year's competition," stated Ward. "Dr. (Freddye) Davy asked if I would be interested in applying for the competition."
Ward interviewed, Christian this summer in Washington D.C. The pair was able to record an award-winning oral history project.
Christian, was the first African-American delegate to represent the City of Hampton in the House of Delegates, where she served nine terms. A 1955 Hampton Institute graduate, Christian later returned to her "Home by the Sea" to become Dean of the School of Education.
"We taped a total of three hours of film for the project," recalled Ward. "Dr. Christian has a great personality. She can tell stories with great enthusiasm. It was her story and the way that she told it made our project unique."
Christian shared with Ward some of the experiences she had while serving in the House of Delegates. She was a leader in passing legislation for the cancer bill, which later led to the creation of the National Patient Advocacy Foundation.
Throughout her nine terms, Christian remained a proponent for educational funding. "She pushed to have money moved from different budgets to fund Virginia schools," Ward said. "She looked at what schools were receiving certain amounts of money and made sure the funds were distributed fairly, her efforts sent over $1 million to Virginia State University, a school that was not receiving their share of money."
Today, Christian is still working in local government. One of her current projects involves a local blind and deaf school.
As a winner of the NVLP, Ward will receive a $3000 scholarship and an opportunity to speak with students in Washington D.C., who will enroll in next year's project.
"Being able to record oral histories is important for the African-American community," stated Ward. "It shows a connection to history and allows us to share someone else's struggle. You can see the emotions of that history while watching an oral history."
Ward enjoyed taping the oral history and looks forward to doing similar projects in the future. She is interested in documentary filmmaking and hopes to create an oral history of her own family.
"I learned that I won the competition during spring break. I shared the news with Dr. Christian and she was very proud."
Although Ward did not know Christian prior to the project, the two have remained in contact. "She has a great history and it was an honor to be able to speak with her about it."
-Naima A. Gethers