|SPECIAL TO THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
Heather Hodges, an administrator of a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in Washington, D.C., and a photographer who documents African, Afro-Latino and Hispanic cultures, has been named executive director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
Hodges was recently selected by the 13-member federal commission that manages the coastal corridor that extends from North Carolina to Florida. She will bring to the Corridor her nonprofit experience, legal training and interest in cultural documentation to continue the Commission’s implementation of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Management Plan, approved by the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service in 2013.
She will assume her position on Monday, November 6, 2017.
The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was established in 2006 by Congress to recognize and preserve the cultural treasures of Gullah Geechee people. Gullah Geechee people are direct descendants of enslaved people brought primarily from Africa’s rice-producing regions. They were forced to work for almost two centuries on coastal plantations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida.
Dr. J. Herman Blake, a founding member of the Commission, provided leadership as a full-time volunteer during 2014, and then as executive director since 2015. Congress re-authorized the Commission in 2016 and recently a foundation to develop funding support was restructured. Currently the Commission is developing strategies to develop as well as strengthen corridor-wide programs, including an “Emancipation Day” celebration, an important treasure of Gullah Geechee culture.
Speaking of the new executive director, Dr. Blake said, “She is an excellent person with a superb foundation. She brings vision and wisdom to the sacred task of honoring our Gullah Geechee past by strengthening our future.”
Commission Chairman Emory Campbell of Hilton Head Island, S.C., said, “The entire Commission is excited about the depth of experience and high-quality skills Ms. Hodges will bring to our work. We look forward to her leadership.”
Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown of Savannah, Ga., who chaired the search committee and also represents Georgia on the Commission, commented that “Ms. Hodges’ excellent combination of qualifications and her love of African culture throughout the diaspora will take the Corridor in its next logical direction. Her unique experience of working with people and her particular interest in the richness of Gullah Geechee communities makes me excited for the future of advocacy for the Corridor.”
An honors graduate from the Tulane University School of Law, Hodges began her legal career in private practice in Washington, D.C., as an associate at the international law firm Arnold & Porter LLP (now Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer). She spent eight years at that firm before becoming a counsel with Crowell and Moring LLP.
Hodges is joining the Gullah Geechee Corridor after serving as pro bono counsel for almost a decade at Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP) of the District of Columbia, a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal information, advice and representation to low-income residents. In this role, she had day-to-day responsibility for overseeing program delivery, managing community partnerships, designing and managing administrative systems, and implementing multiple grants and contracts.
She managed the firm’s pro bono partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, which brought government attorneys into the neighborhoods to draft wills for low-income seniors and disabled community members. Through this work she first became familiar with the issue of heirs property. NLSP’s primarily African-American client community has many members whose family roots lie in North Carolina and South Carolina. In contemplating her new responsibilities Hodges said, “My vision for the Corridor is that it remains an enduring, robust and multi-faceted platform for the recognition of the cultural contributions of the Gullah Geechee people. I look forward to supporting the Commission as it continues the important work of both implementing the Management Plan and finding new partners and supporters to help accomplish its important mission.”
Hodges is also a documentary photographer who specializes in African, Afro-Latino and Hispanic culture with an emphasis on contemporary and traditional music and dance culture. Recently, this has taken her to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, to study traditional Afro-Cuban dance; to La Sabana, Venezuela, for the Fiesta de San Juan; to Dakar, Senegal, to explore its contemporary music scene; and to Belize for Garifuna Settlement Day. She has also documented the roots of Delta blues and the Gathering at Geechee Kunda festival in Georgia. Her photographs have been exhibited in Washington D.C. and London.