What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us: What We Talk About Can Save Us


Third NJ 2017 Statewide Symposium on African American History Draws Educators, Museum Professionals, Historic Sites and Community & Faith Leaders to Grounds for Sculpture in Growing Movement for Change



Contact: Kimberly Nagy:
Hamilton, New Jersey—November 15, 2017—On Wednesday, November 1st, 2017, the Grounds For Sculpture hosted the third statewide symposium of its kind, “Presenting and Discussing Difficult Topics in African American History,” programming designed to inspire conversation as well as provide information, resources and a regularly scheduled networking forum. The symposium was funded in part by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the New Jersey Historical Commission. Workshop sessions were organized for people working in schools at all levels and in afterschool and youth programs, as well as for people working in colleges and universities. Other workshops were designed for people meeting with visitors to museums, libraries and historic sites and members of faith and civic groups.

“Our symposia have served to seek answers through exploring our history and culture to make for a more harmonious and productive today and tomorrow,” asserted moderator Dr. Linda Caldwell-Epps, President and CEO of 1804 Consultants and Former President of the New Jersey Historical Society. “Our state’s ability to conquer the “isms” could serve as an example to others.  Our consortium through our symposia is only trying to do our part in moving our communities, our state, and our country on the path to true civility and harmony.” John Buck, President of Stoutsburg Cemetery and President of the newly formed Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) expressed his personal concerns for the nation, as he quoted Elie Weisel, “The opposite of love is not hate—the opposite of love is indifference.” Buck continued, “We are called upon to love each other.”

The all-day event, organized by a partnership among Grounds For Sculpture (GFS), the New Jersey Historical Society, the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM), and the 1719 William Trent House also included a special viewing of Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths, an exhibition of works by Scott, a Baltimore-based artist and MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner, now on view at Grounds For Sculpture.

“Museums and cultural institutions have the potential to serve as bridges within our communities. GFS was honored to partner with the New Jersey Historical Society, Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, and the William Trent House on these symposiums, which brought together people of all backgrounds who share a desire for change and transformative dialogue about race. Art can also prompt challenging conversations that can help move us forward. Beyond its physical beauty and technical mastery, the current Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths exhibition gives voice to many difficult truths,” says Gary Garrido Schneider, Executive Director of Grounds For Sculpture, “and in doing so, provides the opportunity for genuine self-reflection.”

During the symposium, the character of Harriet Tubman came to life in the performance of actress and educator, Ivey Avery, who quipped that she was usually only invited to visit during February for Black History Month. Heather Brady, Director of Education and Engagement at Grounds For Sculpture and Dr. Cassandra Jackson, Scholar-in-Residence at Grounds For Sculpture, later provided in-depth context about the Joyce J. Scott exhibition. All speakers demonstrated the power of the arts in raising awareness and promoting dialogue.

Dr. Tabitha McKinley, State Coordinator for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for the New Jersey Department of Education, presented alarming statistics regarding the lack of student knowledge and time allotted for teaching topics dealing with African American history. For instance, in one 2014 statistic, 64% of 8th graders did not know that Jim Crow referred to laws that enforced racial segregation.

The symposium series of events was born over a year ago when Elaine Buck, a board member of SSAAM, where her husband serves as president, and coauthor with Beverly Mills of a forthcoming book about African American history in the Central Jersey region, was on a tour of Trenton’s historic William Trent House with Sam Stephens, a Trustee of the Trent House Association. She noticed that the inventory of Trent’s possessions made after his death listed the names of eleven individuals who were obviously slaves. She asked how the Trent House was presenting this information to visitors.

Instead of shying away from Buck’s question, soon thereafter Stephens set up a meeting with Buck and her writing partner, Beverly Mills, to discuss ways to create greater awareness and dialogue around the African American historical experience in the state of New Jersey. “I’m proud of the partnerships that we’ve developed with Grounds For Sculpture and SSAAM, as well as all of the other partners and people who are committed to acknowledging the impact of slavery on not only our past but where we are now as a nation. This is helping us at the Trent House move forward on an ethical interpretation of slavery in our programs and tours,” said Stephens. 

“The response to all three symposiums has been overwhelming,” Stephens continued. “What we hear the most is ‘Do more’ and ‘Do them frequently.’ People are hungry for opportunities for reflection and dialogue in a safe space.”


1719 William Trent House: The Trent House Association’s mission is to preserve, with the City of Trenton, the 1719 William Trent House as an historic house museum used for the purpose of public education. Governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees, the Trent House Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Operating funds are sustained by private donations, fundraising activities, and a General Operating Support Grant from the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission with funds from the New Jersey Historical Commission. A grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities is supporting research and community forums as the Trent House expands its interpretation of slavery in colonial New Jersey.

Grounds For Sculpture: Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) is located in Hamilton, New Jersey, and is a forty-two acre not-for-profit sculpture park, arboretum, and museum founded by Seward Johnson. It combines art and beckoning spaces to surprise, inspire, and engage all visitors in the artist’s act of invention. Its collection features over 270 contemporary sculptures by renowned and emerging artists. Exhibitions change seasonally in six indoor galleries. Offering rich educational programs, a robust schedule of performing arts, and family events, it is open year-round, with extended hours in the summer season.

New Jersey Historical Society: Founded in 1845, the New Jersey Historical Society is a state-wide, private, non-profit historical museum, library, and archives dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting the rich and intricate political, social, cultural and economic history of New Jersey. The Society offers access to its archival collections and educational programs for all ages in the belief that an understanding and appreciation of historical issues, decisions and actions can inform and inspire the people of New Jersey. Through the history of New Jersey – a quintessentially American place – the Historical Society promotes exploration of our cultures, past and present to inspire our citizen to grow as learners and thinkers.

Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM): The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum was born out of decades’ worth of research conducted by two of its Advisory Board Members, Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck. Both women serve on the board of the Stoutsburg Cemetery Association and their research began as a quest to establish Stoutsburg as the official burial place for Private William Stives, a Revolutionary War Veteran and one of the first African American settlers in the Sourland Region.  The two decided to co-author a book, If These Stones Could Talk.  The book aims to provide a clearer understanding of the African American experience and accomplishments in Hopewell Valley (and surrounding areas).

Wild River Publishing: Wild River Books helps authors write and develop stories that make a difference. Our mission is to publish literary works, family stories, and powerful speeches that connect us and move us forward. We work with authors and brands that elevate and humanize powerful stories and ideas. Wild River Books’ hybrid model of publishing combines high editorial and cover design standards and cultivated author branding strategies of traditional publishing with newer models that give authors greater control of their final work while continuously offering rigorous editorial direction, critical feedback and PR consulting that help authors reach their writing and publication goals.

See images from the day of the event.

Please contact Kimberly Nagy at 609-903-3038, for permission to reuse images in this Symposium photo album link