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Wampler: Merge past with future

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Martinsville’s future will incorporate much of its past, according to NCI Executive Director William Wampler, who believes that the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 will be relevant for the next century and beyond.

“I predict that 50 or 150 years from now, the Rev. King’s (speech) will still be relevant,” partly because “it is such a powerful speech (delivered) at a point in history that I think students of history would be well served to continue to learn from” it, said Wampler, who is a former state senator.

Incorporating the community’s history into the area’s future also is a goal of NCI as it completes its new building, he said.

The building is being constructed on the Baldwin Block, named for Dr. Dana O. Baldwin, a physician and businessman in the black community.

“We want to continue to help tell the story” of Martinsville’s history, Fayette Street, Baldwin Block and other areas, he said.

NCI will dedicate a wall in its new lobby and use it “to tell the story of the Baldwin Block, Dr. Baldwin, Fayette Street, Martinsville and the greater community,” he said. “It’s going to be up to the community to tell the story. It will not be the New College telling the story as it thinks it ought to be told.”

Wampler also said NCI’s Academy for Engineering and Technology — which allows high school students to enroll in classes through Virginia State University and earn college credits in engineering and technology — has just as many female students as male students.

That, he said, “in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, is very uncommon.” He estimated that 70 percent of those students are African American.

“Education can play a critical role in providing those basic steps to a degree that will allow the student to gain employment that you can raise a family with,” he said. That economic empowerment will, “over a couple of decades, be great tonic for the community. ... It isn’t going to happen overnight, but you’ve got to start the process, and we do. Set your course and stick to it.”

Wampler encouraged others to study the story of the Rev. Thurman Echols, who was active in the civil rights movement in Danville.

Echols, he said, “is a modern day profile in courage. What he did to stand up for what he believes is right can be told from the first person ... his lips, and it’s a powerful message,” Wampler said.

On a personal note, Wampler recalled that one commandment has been taught as the greatest commandment. It is simply, “love your neighbor as yourself.”


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