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Virginia Museum Receives ‘Largest Donation’ Ever from Black Homeschool Students Keen on Helping to Keep Their History Alive: ‘I Was Just So Excited’

Students from a Virginia school recently made a surprise massive donation to help out a Black history museum in their community.

Richard Stewart’s home on Pocahontas Island, a peninsula located in Petersburg, Virginia, doubles as the museum. Stewart, who is considered the unofficial “mayor” of the island — reportedly the home, as early as the 1800s, of free Blacks who achieved prosperity and esteem — purchased the 18th-century home in 2002. He began collecting artifacts related to Black history as well as Civil War history.

On Monday, May 10, students on a field trip from Richmond-based Cultural Roots Homeschool Cooperative were visiting Stewart’s home for the third time since 2018. This was the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic where Stewart was able to accommodate more than one person at a time. But the students did not come empty-handed. They had a check for $3,500 — the largest donation the museum owner told the Associated Press he had ever received. 

The students, middle-school age, created a documentary with the help of Film Instructor and VCU Adjunct Professor Ariana Hamidi from the Virginia Commonwealth University. The two-minute film, which played a crucial role in their fundraising efforts, featured Stewart talking about the significance of his museum, an establishment that houses some 700 historical pieces, and that Stewart said is a meaningful physical connection to Black history.  

Cultural Roots is most notable for its emphasis on teaching its students about their heritage and the importance of their heritage. The students were pleased with their ability to raise the funds in one month and present the fruits of their labor to Stewart. “I was just so excited to give him the check”, said one student. “I felt really like I was supporting Black culture.”

Alycia Wright, founder and director for Cultural Roots, added while presenting Stewart with the check, “I want you to know that you’ve impacted us to have many conversations around preserving history and what it means to have actual history and sharing it with the community and the value of all [of it].”

She told AP that having the students “hear personal stories from people like Mr. Stewart who collect stories is really important to us.” She added, “It’s great just having them put their feet on the ground and know that Black people were resilient and determined.”

Wright expressed that the region has done a less-than-adequate job of truly celebrating Black history, noting that the Richmond Slave Trail is located next to a sewage treatment plant, and the city’s African Burial Ground is somewhat unknown, despite having a central location.

She spoke highly of Stewart and his efforts, calling him “amazing,” adding that they are “glad this land is being preserved.” The school’s donation will assist in helping Stewart continue telling the history of Pocahontas Island. 

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