Heritage must be healthy

Published 7:01 pm Friday, February 9, 2018

By QuaWanna Bannarbie

There was a young tree that grew not far from the Nansemond River. An eagle-eyed hunter found the sapling on a food expedition. He immediately recognized the tree as an oak and dug it up. He gave the oak tree as a gift to the village storyteller, and they planted it near an open lot just outside the village.

The young children gathered there while the storyteller shared tales of their ancestors. The tree seemed to grow wider and wider like an umbrella canopy over the children who increased in numbers to hear the storyteller. As the years went by, the storyteller grew old and could no longer walk to the tree. So the children themselves gathered at the tree, held hands and shared their memories of all the tales the storyteller told them.

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After the old woman died, the children continued to come. The villagers decided to dedicate the tree in her honor. They called her Oakland. Years later, a school was built near the tree. Children from the area of Chuckatuck attended there. The school, like the storyteller before it, grew older. The foundation remained strong, but the school had to have upgrades. The people in the community decided to keep the foundation and build around the school. As the tree continued to grow, more children began to attend the newer school. Families gathered around the tree for the first day of school pictures. Teachers brought the students outside during school time and read stories to their class around the tree. Students even gathered at times to pray.

One day, the head of the school noticed the tree did not look as healthy. The vibrantly, beautiful leaves were changing colors out of season and some of the bark looked dull and worn. She asked for help to save the tree. The community leaders medicated and pruned the tree, cutting heavy, dead limbs from its high branches. The teachers planted beautiful flowers around the base of Oakland. The families of Oakland watched the tree in hopes it would recover. But alas, the tree did not. Her roots had been badly damaged by disease that had gone undetected for many years. Ultimately, the decision was made to cut it down. The deteriorating tree that stood tall presented a danger to the nearby school if it were to fall.

In the summer, when the children were absent and the school closed, the mighty Oakland disappeared from our sight. There was not a gathering of mourners as children had gathered around to mourn the storyteller. Two men, who were assigned to complete the mission of getting rid of the tree, were the only attendees at her funeral. When school reopened, no one mentioned the missing symbol of strength and perseverance that once stood high. But those who knew the tree acknowledge its absence. Sadness fills their hearts when they think of the many memorable moments she took with her.

This is a dedication (with fictional narrative added) to the community of Nansemond that was once represented by the tree that stood in front of Oakland Elementary School for many, many years. This summer, I watched in disbelief and heartbreak when the tree was disassembled piece by piece and hauled away. Roots of oak trees are known to run deep down in the ground. Their roots make them resilient, yet vulnerable. A tree receives its life supply from the assembly of roots. When outward signs like deteriorating symbols of strength get our attention, it is an indication that roots are damaged.

We cannot neglect the roots if we desire community. Who are the roots? Families such as Brown, Holland, Riddick, Russell, Watts, Wilson, Johnson, Foster and yours. The family is the core system of every growing community on this earth. The familial integrity connected to this area should be preserved if we want Suffolk to continue to stand strong. We prevent our community from being cut down piece by piece when we care for the roots. Heritage must be healthy to endure hardship.

  QuaWanna Bannarbie is an adjunct professor of Nonprofit Leadership and Management with Indiana Wesleyan University, National and Global. Her children attend Suffolk Public Schools. Connect with her on Twitter @QNikki_Notes.