Black in Time

Former educator retiring from second career as volunteer at ‘Zora’ festival

 
 

Alberta Wells Godfrey is a retired educator who has volunteered for the past 25 years with the Zora Neale Hurston festival in Eatonville, Fla.
Alberta Wells Godfrey is a retired educator who has volunteered for the past 25 years with the Zora Neale Hurston festival in Eatonville, Fla.

Special to The Miami Herald

Passionate is the only word to describe Alberta Wells Godfrey’s intense enthusiasm for teaching children. A retired elementary school principal, she was an educator in the Miami-Dade Public Schools for 36 years. She started as an intern then teacher at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School and retired as the principal at Parkway Elementary School. After retirement Godfrey became a 25 year volunteer at the annual Zora Neale Hurston festival in Eatonville, Fla.

The silver anniversary of this milestone event, the 2014 Zora! Festival of the Arts and Humanities, will take place Jan. 25-Feb. 2 in Eatonville, about 10 miles north of Orlando. Attractions include heritage tours, international marketplace, activities for children and youth, Pre-K-age 17; Words and Voices for authors and audiences to celebrate the joy of the spoken and written word and a workshop for high school students interested in creative writing.

This year’s musical headliner is Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. A street festival, art, public forums, and music make this a lively three-day event. For tickets call, 407-647-3307 or visit www.zorafestival.org.

While working for the school system, Godfrey also volunteered with youth groups at Greater Bethel AME Church and Beta Tau Chapter, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. After retirement, not to be idle, she inquired about possible activities to occupy her time. Already on her agenda was a tradition of the women in her family, riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

After learning that 40 hours of training is required to earn a license to ride a Harley, she moved that tradition to the end of her bucket list. Then through our mutual friend and mentor, the late Marian H. Shannon, Godfrey heard a festival celebrating Eatonville’s 100th anniversary. The event celebrated the historic community and it’s most famous pioneer resident, novelist, anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston.

Godfrey’s passion grew when research revealed that In 1887, during the midst of segregation and Jim Crow laws, which limited black people in every phase of life, Eatonville was one of the first all-black incorporated communities in the United States. The achievements of these communities, in spite of the humiliation of Jim Crow, can be a source of pride and present role models to youth.

Unable to get anyone to drive to the first festival she drove her minivan alone, 250 miles to Eatonville.

The trip to the first festival in 1989 started Godfrey on a journey that would enrich her life and the lives of thousands of others. In a recent interview she said, “after experiencing the spirit of the guests and visitors, I was hooked on learning more about Eatonville and the writings of Zora Neale Hurston that tell about our people and our feelings in a bygone era.”

An anthropologist, trained at New York’s Barnard College, Zora travelled to the South, Caribbean and Latin America collecting black traditions, languages, and music. She was an active writer in the Harlem Renaissance.

Between trips, to earn money for further study, Zora lived in Miami’s Overtown and Liberty City while working as a maid on Miami Beach and writing for the Saturday Evening Post magazine.

Godfrey volunteered to help plan the festival’s education program.

“I wanted to be sure the education piece was solid,” so she developed the curriculum and each year packed her mini-van with school supplies and art materials and drove to the festival. She became the manager of the Make and Take (arts and crafts) section of the Children’s Corner. She encouraged our sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., to sponsor this educational component and an Eatonville historic site, the Moseley House Museum.

As a result of Alberta Godfrey’s efforts more than 25,000 youth participated in activities improving their application of the Florida Sunshine Standards in Language Arts, Art and Science Education. She also shared the information with hundreds of students in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools through the Zora Neale Hurston Essay Competition sponsored by the sorority.

A decade ago Godfrey was invited to join the board of directors of Preserve the Eatonville Community Inc., the festival’s host organization. The organization’s N.Y. Nathiri helps coordinate the education program. In recent years Godfrey inspired sorority sisters Dianna Williams, Acquanetta Buggs and Beatrice Barrett to participate.

This year Godfrey will drive her minivan to Eatonville for the last time as the Make and Take manager. Because of the impact she has made on the festival

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.’s, International Grand Basileus, Mary Breaux Wright will host a reception in Godfrey’s honor preceding the annual gala on Feb. 1. The festival will continue for decades to come during the last week in January.

And Godfrey plans to fulfill a family tradition, to ride a Harley.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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