The Many Voices of Harrisonburg
In 2016, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) asked Dr. Lisa Porter, Assistant Professor of Sociology, if she would organize a meeting of community partners to explore the possibility of creating an event that highlighted the culturally diverse population of Harrisonburg as part of a nationally funded VFH initiative to honor the changing demographics of Virginia. Harrisonburg, due to its designation as a refugee resettlement community, is one of the six most culturally diverse cities in the state. Dr. Porter invited representatives of local schools and nonprofit organizations as well as leaders from various immigrant populations within the community to congregate. The group (comprised of over 30 community partners) accepted VFH’s invitation to participate, designated itself as the Many Voices of Harrisonburg planning committee, and drafted a formal proposal for the funding of the documentary, “The Many Voices of Harrisonburg.” Mohammad Rasoulipour and Mikhala Lantz Simmons, graduates from Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, assisted the committee in producing the film.
The documentary was shown at a community event in May 2016 where storytelling and cultural activities were included. Over three hundred community members attended. The documentary aired on WVPTA in the fall of 2016, including a 20-minute discussion panel added to the original documentary. Additionally, the committee created school toolkits that included a teacher’s curriculum guide to accompany the documentary for Harrisonburg middle and high schools. Due to community interest and support, the community-wide committee has led two additional “Many Voices of Harrisonburg” events that have included a city-wide photo exhibit and a day of poetry and art focusing on peace and justice. Funding for the past two years has come from Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Harrisonburg City Public Schools and James Madison University. Each year, the chair position rotates between committee members. The committee chair for the 2018-2019 year is Salvador (Sal) Romero. The 4th Annual Many Voices of Harrisonburg event will take place on May 18th. The committee is working on organizing a city mural created by the community at-large. More details to come!