Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Festival celebrates 'Mother of Learning'

BY RACHEL PITTMAN
Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 5/16/19

Mayesville is a quiet, nostalgic place, a small town square surrounded by Southern estates that harken back to a different time.

But on Saturday, the town square will come alive with music, carnival rides, educational opportunities, a parade and …

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Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Festival celebrates 'Mother of Learning'

Posted

Mayesville is a quiet, nostalgic place, a small town square surrounded by Southern estates that harken back to a different time.

But on Saturday, the town square will come alive with music, carnival rides, educational opportunities, a parade and more for the 2019 Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Festival, a day of learning, history and festival fun in honor of the town's most famous daughter - Mary McLeod Bethune.

"We want to acquaint the future generations with the legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune," Mayesville Mayor Jereleen Hollimon-Miller, herself a great-grandniece of Bethune, said. "We want to inspire the children to walk in her footsteps during this event through the values and causes she espoused."

Bethune was born in a log cabin near Mayesville in 1875 and worked during her childhood in the area picking cotton. She became a lifelong advocate for education, a leader of the civil and women's rights movements, an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a vice president of the NAACP. The festival in Mayesville began in 1998 to focus on preserving the "Mother of Education's" legacy of learning.

This year's festival will feature an on-site DJ, carnival rides, food vendors and celebrity guests, including retired Harlem Globetrotters Bobby Hunter and Larry Rivers, NFL legends Jamie Dukes, Flip Johnson, James Gossett, Terrence Campbell, Dexter Davis and Keith Williams, world heavyweight boxing champion James Smith and many others.

The weekend will kick off on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. with a celebrity dinner featuring boxing legend Kelvin Seabrooks that is open to the public at Golden Corral in Sumter. The event will continue on Saturday at 7 a.m. with the In the Footsteps of Dr. Bethune Walk-A-Thon and breakfast hosted by the Lee County section of the National Council of Negro Women, followed by a parade at 11 a.m. that will be the official start of the day's festivities. Judge Larry Grimes, interim president of Bethune-Cookman University, will be the grand marshal.

The festival, which begins at noon and will include singer/songwriter Candi Staton, is about more than entertainment. The theme for this year's event is "Empowering Communities through Health, History, Art, STEM Education, Music and Sports," and the organizers take this theme seriously.

"We've made a game that will be available at the festival on tablets," Festival Chairman Ed Miller said. "It's just like any other video game, but it's got an emphasis on literacy. They can get their parents involved, and churches and libraries and other institutions can even buy the software."

The software will be free and open to the public at the festival. It was created in conjunction with Flink Learning, a virtual education organization based in Massachusetts.

Health education opportunities will be available to those who come out for the festival, too. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a global nonprofit that provides information and care to individuals living with HIV, will have its Columbia-based mobile unit there, providing attendees with free screenings and health care information.

"It's so important for people to be educated about this," AHF Columbia pharmacy liaison Gary Rhett said. "We want to get the word out down [in Mayesville] because people of all ages need to know about this. They need to be tested and need to know, if they do test positive, how they can receive treatment."

Truly a mix of celebration and education, the festival will last all day on Saturday, making the town of Mayesville a community center of learning, advocacy and fun for all ages for a day.

"This is about looking forward and moving forward - inspiring people to find a legacy of their own," Hollimon-Miller said. "This is for people to take a look at the past and then see what they want to do with that moving forward.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Festival is free of charge, though certain concessions, games and rides will cost a small fee. Attendees are invited to bring their own lawn chairs.

For more information on attending or sponsoring the festival, visit www.thebethunefestival.com or call (803) 614-0413.