MLK Jr. Day service unites community

January 18
13:29 2018

By Busta Brown

“The first person that was buried up here was in 1903, and then Mr. Jarvis Hill was transferred from another cemetery to here in 1908. Back then in the township of Winston, blacks didn’t have proper burial places. So two Lodges came together bought this land, cleaned it off and then started this cemetery.”

James Clyburn is talking about The Historic Odd Fellas Cemetery on Shorefair Drive, in Winston-Salem. Clyburn is the president of The Friends of Odd Fellas Inc. He said Odd Fellas is a private cemetery.

“The city does not come to clean it, but it helps us, anything we have like we’re doing today. They’ll bring the trucks on the asphalt and take it away.” Clyburn is speaking of the MLK Jr. Day of Service, which took place this past Monday, Jan. 15, with local sororities, fraternities , businesses and the community all came together to clean up the historic cemetery.

Clyburn said he started cleaning up and restoring Odd Fellas 18 years ago. “We started this during a meeting at the Women’s Center in Winston-Salem over here in Boston, because we have loved ones that’s buried here, so we wanted to come clean up the cemetery.” He said they asked everyone that had the heart to help, and the former president of the National Panhellenic Council and founder and CEO of Triad Minority Business Expo, Reginald McCaskill, answered the call.

“Eleven years ago I got involved because I saw the need. We started off with The Service Corps in Winston-Salem, which is a youth organization in the community. Later we pulled in the National Panhellenic Council, and then made this an annual event.”

They would mow the lawn, cut the grass, and keep the grave sites clean. “We even helped with the building. When we first started out, it was a shell, so we had the mayor come out to join us to do a video commercial in this building with no windows or anything in it. Now, as you can see, it has come a long way.”

Dr. Jonette McClain, former professor and interim associate dean for nursing at Winston Salem State University, said, “It’s such a history to this cemetery, so I enjoy raking the leaves and cleaning up. It’s very cold out here, and I don’t mind it, because it’s for a good cause. It really looks so much better than it did several years ago when we first got started. This is a great way to spend MLK Jr. Day of Service, giving back.”

McClain was joined by her sorority sisters of Alpha Kapa Alpha Inc. in Winston-Salem. Neisha Daniels and her sorority sisters of Zeta Phi Beta Inc. came out as well.

“To help maintain this cemetery and its history is very important, so to see all of the people from different communities, sororities and fraternities come together for this cause is what this day of service is all about,” Daniels said.

When I first arrived at the Historic Odd Fellas Cemetery, I saw Tony Caldwell and the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. racking a ton of leaves and then carrying bundles and bundles back and forth to the garbage.

“Dr. King was one of our fraternity brothers, so what we’re doing on this day of service is indicative of the service that he rendered while he was alive, so we try to keep his memory alive,” Caldwell said.

I also caught up with Lamont Allen and the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Inc. “Every year we like to come out to help clean the grave site, we find it very important to remove the debris, because those that came before us deserve this kind of love and support,” Allen said.

Make sure you check out all of my interviews and inspiring videos of The MLK Jr. Day of Service at the Historic Odd Fellas Cemetery on The Chronicle’s channel @ Winstonsalem Chronicle.

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