I received an e-mail recently from Lynchburg artist and community activist Ann van de Graaf that I wanted to pass along.
Remember Ota Benga, the tragic Congolese pygmy who was exhibited in the Bronx Zoo in the early 1900's before being released and sent to Lynchburg, where he ultimately committed suicide? Ann writes:
"Thought you might like an update on the planning for the International Conference 'Ota Benga, Lynchburg and the Empowerment of the Pygmies' scheduled for October 25-27, 2007. It has been selected as a signature event for Jamestown 400.
"We have lined up some great speakers and have invited the ambassadors from several African countries. We have had a definite acceptance from the Ambassador from the Cameroons!
But, she continued ...
"We had to abandon the original idea of bringing over a troup of Pygmy dancers, the Molimo Dancers, because of the cost and the difficulty of obtaining visas for young males since 9-11. We are however planning to bring three members of the African Congress of Pygmies from Kinshasa to speak at the conference.
"One problem is paying for their airfare, since our funding agencies do not fund foreign travel. So I am trying to raise $5,000. Several individuals have contributed and I have an exhibit of my paintings up at Montana Plains Bakery (in the Boonsboro Shopping Center). All proceeds from the sale will go towards the Pygmy air travel fund administered by Lynchburg College."
This could put Lynchburg on the map -- the map of Africa. And the conference is already on the radar of the national media.