Ralph Bunche supporters raise the roof with enthusiasm

Ralph Bunche supporters raise the roof with enthusiasm

It’s not often that people get so excited about a new roof.

But since mid-October, when a contractor dropped off supplies to replace the leaking roof at Ralph Bunche High School, people who live around or drive by the aging building have been contacting Claudette Jordon with updates.

She’s president of the school’s alumni association and lives in Maryland. She got another round of phone calls recently when a crew from Old Dominion Roofing and Construction started working at the site.

Supervisor Annie Cupka goes over some history of efforts to renovate Ralph Bunche High School.

“I got five or six calls from people before I even got up in the morning,” Jordon said, as people told her blue tarps and shiny ladders were set up around the school and workers were on the roof.

As Jordon has told the King George Board of Supervisors repeatedly in regular progress reports: “Everyone is just so excited about this. It’s all the buzz.”

People are also reading…

And it’s been a long time coming.

The Ralph Bunche High School opened in 1949 for Black students after King George parents sued for an equal facility for their children. The 1947 lawsuit was viewed as a test case in the national “Road to Desegregation,” according to a brochure of the same name that details the school history.

The facility operated as a high school until 1968 and was used for other purposes before it closed. In the decades since, various groups have tried to restore or repurpose the building, without success.

But there’s been tangible progress in the last year. County supervisors Annie Cupka and Cathy Binder lobbied for the resurrection of the Ralph Bunche Advisory Committee, this time with new members and a new enthusiasm.

County officials applied for, and received, a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service to replace the roof. They’ve applied for similar funds to tackle the mold problem that resulted from the leaks. Economic Development Director Nick Minor has sought other revitalization grants.

This summer, the buzz hit another high note when the group teamed with Jermon Bushrod, a King George native and former NFL standout. His group, the Visualize & Rize Foundation, will work with the advisory committee to raise the needed $10 million to turn the space into a museum, gymnasium and event venue with renovated meeting rooms. There also will be an area where Visualize & Rize provides coaching, resources and support to community youth, including the needy.

Bushrod was in King George recently for another foundation effort, partnering with the YMCA and Walmart to take children Christmas shopping. While in town, he visited Ralph Bunche on a particularly frosty day.

Members of the advisory committee and alumni association joined him, along with county officials and anyone else who wanted to offer their support. The groups stood outside, some in long coats and gloves, for various group photos.

In one, people stood in a long line with signs reading “It’s time to raise the roof.” Jordon and Bushrod each held signs indicating the new name for the facility: “Ralph Bunche Visualize & Rize Center.”

Bushrod also attended an advisory committee meeting where members provided updates on marketing plans and the monumental task of collecting items for the museum. Just seeing people on the roof provided them “a little light at the end of the tunnel, he said.

“I guess you could say the hill is high, the mountain is high, that we have to climb, but we’re starting,” he said. “I’m not gonna sit here and say this is not gonna be a lot of work from so many different angles, but if we can visualize the end goal and try to understand where we’re gonna go, it’s all worth it.”

Committee member Cristina Turdean, who’s also a professor of historic preservation at the University of Mary Washington, provided a detailed presentation on what’s involved in setting up a museum. The project will take several years, she said, as committee members decide what stories they want to tell, collections that illustrate it and how to accept donations as gifts or loans.

“If you don’t have a collection, you don’t have a museum,” Turdean stressed, adding that the group must decide specifically what’s needed and draw up legal documents before asking the community for donations.

The effort also will require a professional exhibit designer to give the Ralph Bunche museum “the look it deserves,” she said.

Mike Hubbard, director of UMW’s Dahlgren campus, said the exhibit must be a “master storyteller,” relating the history of the school, the effort to get it built and the stories of those involved in a way that “will have folks coming back for more.”

The storytelling is what brought Bushrod into the project. He knew the building was a school for Black students because his father had attended it, but he didn’t know all the background—the “history and sacrifice that went into it constructing it in the first place.”

“The hill they had to climb is way higher than the hill that we’re gonna have to climb right now,” Bushrod said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

[email protected]


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