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Initiative aims to elevate local Black community in tourism efforts

A campaign to tell inclusive Black stories and attract tourists in Charlottesville and Albemarle County launched recently.

Discover Black Cville is the beginning of an ongoing effort to accurately tell modern and historic stories of the Black community, while promoting local Black-owned businesses and attractions.

Through meetings with about 50 community members, the Charlottesville and Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to work to better highlight what Black community life looks like in the area.

“The big mission for us is showing everything that Charlottesville has to offer for the Black community and in support of the Black community,” said Scott Hamler, owner of Forezee Marketing Solutions and a local consultant working on the initiative.

Hamler, who grew up in the area, said he wanted to be involved because of how the city has been portrayed in the media over the last few years, since the deadly Unite the Right rally, which he said is not reflective of his life in Charlottesville.

“We’re doing our part to try and repair some of that, and not in a disingenuous way, but by showing folks this is what’s happening in the Black community in Charlottesville — there are Black people that live here that enjoy living here, that are thriving, that are making it, that are doing things,” he said.

Jawara King, founder of Vibe Fest and another local consultant for the initiative, said sometimes there’s the thought that one or two things are needed so Black people will feel that a business is for them.

“That’s not really how it works,” he said. “We like a lot of the same things, so if a business is catering to a diverse crowd, then Black people are going to feel welcome … [If you are] open minded, welcoming, warm, understanding of a perspective that’s not your own, then you’re going to be heading in the right direction. We’re trying to put on display businesses, people and activities that have that kind of thinking in mind.”

Discover Black Cville is launching on Facebook and Instagram, as well as a landing page on the CACVB’s website that highlights Black-owned businesses and Black historic sites. It also links to the Charlottesville Black Business Directory developed and compiled by Destinee Wright.

“A lot of the things that we’re going to be doing or amplifying right now were already in place in some shape, form, or fashion,” King said. “We’re recovering from a pandemic, we’re recovering from history, recent and past, so people are being more intentional about participating in having a healthy, diverse community.”

Courtney Cacatian said that when she started as executive director of the CACVB in August 2019, she began to meet with as many people as possible to find out how the tourism bureau could better serve the community.

“As I was going around town and having different conversations with people, it was clear to me that the CACVB had the opportunity to shine a spotlight on Black-owned businesses and a history outside of the Black history tied to Thomas Jefferson, and that we, to my knowledge, hadn’t explored that before,” she said.

Cacatian, along with Justin Reid, of Virginia Humanities, invited some Black community members to listen over Zoom to a presentation on BLK RVA, an initiative between Richmond Region Tourism and community leaders.

“We decided that it was a conversation worth continuing to have, so we asked the group of people participating who else we should invite, and we just continued to invite different members of the community and have the conversations and ask, ‘What does this look like for Charlottesville and Albemarle? What role does the CACVB play, and how can we execute on that?’” Cacatian said.

Hamler and King were part of those conversations. With their expertise in promotion, marketing and social media, they were hired as consultants to work on the initiative.

The long-term effort will be guided by a steering committee of community members, which is still being finalized. The committee will help to provide consistent guidance, and also suggest when the CACVB should be reaching out again to the larger group that gave feedback.

Cacatian said the bureau is committed to continuing the initiative, and that the committee will help to guide the CACVB and hold it accountable.

“I don’t want people to feel like this is a social media presence that will just wither on the vine and that this is just a short-term project,” she said. “I want to continue those conversations and learn from people here about how we can serve them and get them excited about inviting people here.”

King and Hamler said there are projects in the works that aren’t yet ready to be unveiled.

“We’re just doing a piece of the good work that people are doing and we just want to do our part, but then we also want to make sure that all of that gets elevated, that it gets pushed to the surface, people see it,” Hamler said. “There’re a lot of great things happening, but they can be so much stronger if more people know about them.”


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