Incoming Smyrna mayor Derek Norton and Ward 7 city council member Lewis Wheaton have announced that a Black Heritage Celebration will be held Feb. 15 at the city’s community center.
Norton, who takes over for the retiring Max Bacon in January, said he believes this will be the first city-sponsored Black Heritage Celebration to ever take place in Smyrna.
The event is also noteworthy due to the controversy over Smyrna’s canceling of a Hispanic heritage event that was scheduled to be held downtown in October. The event was formally scheduled but then vetoed by Bacon, an action the city council refused to override. Former city council member Maryline Blackburn noted at the time that previous attempts to plan black heritage festivals in Smyrna were unsuccessful.
But Norton countered saying the issue was a misunderstanding and touting the upcoming event as a way to champion the city’s diversity.
“I know there was a lot of talk, misinformation and miscommunication about the heritage events that have been suggested for the city to do,” Norton said. “Nobody was ever against having these types of events.”
Wheaton, just the second African American to ever serve on the Smyrna city council, will be the council’s liaison for the event, which will also be organized by an eight- to 10-person citizen committee to be named next week.
While it remains to be seen exactly what will take place, Norton said it will display African American culture, with speakers and other showcase pieces. Wheaton said he’s excited to get to work.
“It’s an exciting time to do something like this, to bring the city together,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have some good educational programming, some cultural programming and some really exciting speakers to welcome in.”
Wheaton said some of the event will be educational in nature, detailing the history of African Americans in Smyrna and “what they bring to the table.”
Planning will get underway following Norton’s official swearing in as Smyrna mayor on Jan. 6.
“This is exactly what the city needs and I’m totally excited that Derek Norton is happy to support this type of event,” said Wheaton. “It’s a really good thing for Smyrna and will be great for the community.”