Hen Asem

The Fredericksburg Area Museum will launch its yearlong ‘Hen Asem’ series, sponsored by the City of Fredericksburg, with a kickoff event on Wednesday evening. The program’s logo incorporates branches (Nyame Nti) and a bird (known as a Sankofa bird), which are adinkra symbols.

Hen Asem, derived from the Akan–Twi words of the Ghanaian language, means “Our Story,” and in keeping with the theme, the Fredericksburg Area Museum is set to tell the story of African–American history in the area.

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African–Americans in the English colonies, in 1619 at Point Comfort, Va., the museum will a host yearlong program series titled “Hen Asem.”

In May of 2017, the 115th U.S. Congress established the 400 years of African American History Commission to develop and promote programs and activities throughout the United States, according to a museum press release.

The “Hen Asem” kickoff, which will be held on Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. at the museum, will present the programs and offer a forum on the upcoming events celebrating African–American history, said Melanie Johnson, the museum’s development and marketing manager.

The program will include regular installments—about every month—to commemorate the anniversary.

“It’ll be lecture series. We’ll have a traditional African dance group that’ll perform in Market Square, a film documentary, school events and workshops. It’ll be a varying program with a little bit of everything throughout the whole year,” Johnson said.

The state of Virginia kicked off its commemoration in October and the museum supports that initiative as well.

“The statewide initiative is important to our community not only to residents that have relocated here, but we have a long tradition of families and residents who have been here pre- and post-Civil War,” Johnson said. “This program series is a unique, diverse way to share the early history of the African–American history here in the area.”

Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has declared 2019 as the “Year of Return” for descendants Africans captured and brought to the Americas as slaves.

“The year of return is just recognition of the importance of understanding the commemorative year, to acknowledge history of how its affected and shaped our nation,” Johnson said. “Hopefully the programs we have along the way will speak to that evolution of the country through that voice.”

Johnson said the City of Fredericksburg, which is sponsoring “Hen Asem,” saw the value in the programming. It made sense for FAM to host the program since it aligned with the museum’s mission, and the museum has the capacity to present such things as “Hen Asem.”

Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said that the museum’s presentations compliments Fredericksburg’s work on the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, an international network of museums that work to connect past struggles with human rights initiatives of today.

“This program is well timed to compliment the work our community has taken on with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience over the past year, and its launch in Black History Month is appropriate. The City is proud to partner in this program offering,” Greenlaw said in the press release.

Fredericksburg Councilmember Chuck Frye said the program will shed light on unheard stories of the community.

“This program’s theme echoes what I have been saying for some time, we have so many untold stories of who we are—let’s work together to tell them. I am happy the city is partnering with the Fredericksburg Area Museum to continue an important community conversation about our complete history,” Frye stated in the press release.

Johnson said she hopes the community gets involved in the program that will highlight the continuing influence and impact that the African–American community has had on Fredericksburg and the surrounding area.

“What we hope to achieve is to get the community engaged and excited about this program and talk from a larger perspective of why we’re doing this and how the museum fits into this and why the city is involved,” Johnson said. “We just hope that everyone can participate, and we look forward to it.”

Mark Walker is a freelance writer from Stafford.

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