Diving into Black History this February

Southern Delaware has a rich history as well as prominent figures and proactive organizations that strive to enlighten the public in this February’s Black History Month, hoping to inspire reflection, conversation and action year round.

One stand-out individual is Milton’s Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who wrote the book “Just Mercy” that spawned the movie of the same name starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordon. (Local note: Stevenson’s father once worked at the Midway Movie Theaters!)  (Read the 2022 Cape Gazette article on Mr. Stevenson)

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society is celebrating Black History Month by partnering with the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice (SDARC). Together, they are presenting the fifth annual African American Film Festival from February 16 – 18 during President’s Weekend at the Cinema Arts Theater in Lewes (across the parking lot from Lefty’s).  Festival tickets are available online at rehobothfilm.com or at the Cinema Theater Art Box office.  

The SDARJ is a non-partisan organization that educates, informs, and advocates for racial justice, equality, and fair opportunity. Lewes-based, it was founded in 2015 by Rachel King (previously involved with the Women’s League of Voters). This all-volunteer organization (approx. 100 volunteers), primarily made up of retired lawyers and educators, relies heavily on this base to help with the day to day operations. They get sponsorships from various businesses in town, working to maximize with a limited budget.

The African American Film Festival features two full length feature films (one of which is If Beale Street Could Talk and the other a selection by King), three documentaries and a block of five shorts – all meant to capture stories of African Americans’ contributions to their country and having done so, shaped American culture.  

Two of the documentaries are African Americans in WWII: A Legacy of Patriotism and Valor and 761st Tank Battalion: The Original Black Panthers.  

Interestingly, about 80 – 90% of the attendees African American Film Festival attendees are white which, according to King, a retired therapist, is good considering the mission of the organization. “We’re just trying to think about justice”, she says.   

The festival closes with a local documentary called “Finding Their Voices: African American History and the Legacy of Lewes”. The film shares memories, experiences and opinions of long time Lewes residents and those who have returned to their hometown.  

The Lewes Historical Society offers a walking tour with the same name. Departing from the Society’s Historic main campus at 110 Shipcarpenter St., this 90-minute educational tour explores local landmarks that highlight the topic. Contact the LHS for details and dates.    

Activities and events for Black History Month are taking place throughout the state and the Visit Delaware web site is a good resource for what is happening.  

On February 24, the Southern Delaware Chorale performs performers in its annual Black History Month concert at the Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth.  The Chorale joined by Cantabile Women’s Chorus, Sussex Tech Bella Voce and other special guests celebrates “the sounds and history of African Americans and black musicians from around the world.”

Mary Jo Tarallo spent much of her career in public relations with various non-profits and spent 40 years involved with the ski industry s a journalist, public relations director for a national trade association and as executive director of the Learn to Ski and Snowboard initiative. Prior to her ski industry involvement she worked for the Maryland International Center in Baltimore and United Way of Central Maryland. She won a Gold Award for TV programming for a United Way simulcast that starred Oprah Winfrey. She has been cited for her work by numerous organizations. Mary Jo grew up in Baltimore, attended the University of Maryland and Towson University, lived in Washington, DC for 21 years and has been a full time resident of Rehoboth Beach and Milton since May 2019.  

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