By Carol Vaughn —
Descendants of Willie “Bill” Davis Sr. have a vision to turn Davis’ former entertainment hall in Whitesville into a community center.
The community, located on the outskirts of Parksley, was a vibrant one that provided a nurturing environment for sisters Aya and Olabisi Ofunniyin, two of Davis’ grandchildren, and others of their generation growing up.
Their goal is to restore that sense of community to Whitesville.
“We’re trying to bring some of that family and cultural energy back to Whitesville,” said Aya Ofunniyin.
Whitesville at one time was a central location where Black Eastern Shore residents came for services and entertainment.
The community included a schoolhouse — one of the Rosenthal schools — a movie theater, a grocery store, a hotel, a restaurant, and a dance hall, according to the Davis Center website.
Business owners were respected members of the community, who served as de facto community leaders.
Over time, businesses closed and residents moved away.
The one-story brick building on Parks Street where Davis operated his entertainment hall was left to the family after Davis’ death.
Now they have started raising funds to tranform the building into the Davis Center, a place “where the community can safely and creatively enjoy programming and services intended to benefit the health and well-being of the community at large,” according to a description on the GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/f/davis-center
The online fundraiser has raised $3,425 of its $10,000 goal since it started July 28.
“Our mission is to foster creativity, collaborations, and interaction for all of the community, across generations and backgrounds,” Ofunniyin said, adding, “We would like our center to be used by as many people as possible in the Accomack County region.”
Plans for the center include workspace for artists and artisans; an entrepreneurial ‘hub’ where workshops are held for people wanting to start or build a business; a technology center with resources like computers, printers, internet and video capability; and more.
The center also could host community-based events focused on healthy living, literacy, and social activism.
An event in Whitesville this weekend will give people a chance to hear more about plans for the Davis Center — and to add their own ideas about what the community needs.
“It’s an open community forum. … We want to gauge the interest and see what they need now,” said Ola Ofunniyin, describing the event as “a focus group session.”
“We’re hoping to engage people from, at a minimum, the northern Accomack County area,” Aya Ofunniyin said.
The Whitesville Renaissance gathering will happen Saturday, Aug. 15, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 23531 Parks St. in Whiteville. It will be an outdoor, socially distanced event. Bring a chair and your mask. All ages are welcome.
There will be entertainment, games, prizes, and an ice-cream truck.
The facilitators will talk about the history of the community and ask and answer questions in an informal setting.
“They can expect open conversation, open dialogue. … Dress comfortably and come ready to engage or re-engage with your community, meet your neighbors,” Ola Ofunniyin said.
“It’s very important to us; it’s a passion project to us,” Aya Ofunniyin said about the center, adding, “Come see what Whitesville was and can be in the future.”
The Davis Center’s website is daviscenteresva.org and the center is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DavisCenterESVA
Email email@example.com or call the center at (757) 632-0324.