More than 1,200 attendees explode at the 28th annual Happy Hill Reunion

Happy Hill Gardens. celebrated its 28th annual reunion July 15-16.

More than 1,200 attendees explode at the 28th annual Happy Hill Reunion
July 29
15:09 2022

By Felecia Piggott-Long, Ph.D.

TDDC! TDDC! TDDC! Total Distraction Dance Company! Tick! Tick! Boom! The chant filled the stage and the parking lot of the William C. Sims Recreation Center where more than 1,200 residents, former residents, and other Happy Hill Garden enthusiasts crowded in to celebrate the 28th annual Happy Hill Reunion July 15-16. 

The audience perched cell phones to record and watch the dance group Total Distraction gettin’ down on the concrete! Moving to the beats, the dancers flooded the lot with hot pink, royal blue, black, and white movers and shakers who wowed the crowd with uniformed gyrating movements and confident attitudes. The owners and directors of the company are Chaurice Manning and Reginald Chatman.

The New Dimension Band and singers filled the air waves with Old School tunes that made the audience get out of their seats and dance to the beats. The theme for the gathering was “Happy Hill Reunion: Continuing the Legacy.”  Natalie Hatchett of the Happy Hill Garden Committee (HHGC) created the red, black, and green t-shirt with the family tree on it and the bendera flags which posted the theme and displayed the African liberation colors. Ben Piggott honored 14 former residents of the community with gold Happy Hill Reunion pins mounted on African kente cloth.

Tammy Hatchett, the president of the Happy Hill Garden Committee, has been directing the reunion for the last ten years. She was raised on Alexander Street in the community. She was very pleased with the outcome of the whole weekend. 

“Since my ten years leading this event, that was the biggest crowd and the most people we have ever seen. The day was just outstanding with people who greeted one another with hugs and high fives! Friday night brought back that special spirit of Black heritage to the atmosphere,” said Hatchet. “All of the talking together, dancing together, eating and sharing good food made the whole weekend awesome!”

On Friday night, 120 attended the meet and greet session and the memorial ceremony and reception. Rev. James Rowdy served as the master of ceremony, opening the gathering with prayer and praise. Kathy Park Woodard of the HHGC presented the memorial video of photos and music to give honor to the deceased residents from Happy Hill Gardens, Dog Trot, Salem Hill, the Heights, and Columbia Terrace. The keynote speakers were Joseph and Felecia Anderson, who spoke on the topic “Let’s Go Down by the River.” 

 “When they began to present to the audience, the people tuned in. They were eager to join in and participate in the call and response activities,” said President Hatchett. “The Andersons made the people open their ears wide to hear the message.”

The Andersons invited the audience to participate in a traditional African welcome song, “Funga Alafiya,” and they also had the audience participate in the recognition of the ancestors through the traditional African libation. They sang the song, “Let’s Go Down by the River,” together and some of the Negro spirituals which gave the enslaved ancestors hope and courage during their bondage. 

“Our African ancestors would often steal away to the river because it was a place of serenity. The river was a place to keep faith in a time of darkness. They had to steal away to the river in the woods to worship God out of the eye-shot of the master,” said Felecia Anderson. “Our ancestors continued to find strength as enslaved in this country by gathering at the river to worship God. Water is a spiritual symbol of refreshing and healing. When we pour libation, we use the water as an instrument of connection to the earth, to our common roots. We call on the strength of the ancestors who prayed for us and taught us how to survive.”

The idea for the first reunion took place on July 9, 1994, starting from the vision of two friends, William “Rock” Bitting, a recreation center volunteer and former Happy Hill resident, and Ben Piggott, the center supervisor of the William C. Sims Recreation Center.  

Each year at the reunion, Happy Hill Park has been a place for cooking out, staged entertainment, games for children and adults, and great speeches given by former residents. The reunion continues to be an annual event for commending outstanding leaders, enjoying community fellowship and assisting with removing the negative stereotypes about the Happy Hill Community. The people who have lived in Happy Hill are proud to be a part of the oldest African American community in Winston-Salem.

“I felt that we hit the hearts of the city through the Happy Hill Garden Community. It was a giving and rewarding weekend for so many who felt the love of giving and gathering in one place together,” said Tammy Hatchett. “My mother, Loretta Hatchett, raised us in a large loving family. When we got together on Sunday, my grandmother and my mother taught me that sharing with others brings people together. We do not have to look down on anyone. Just share the love and let it flow.”

The members of this year’s Happy Hill Garden Committee include: Renee Andrews, Robert Baskin, Sharon Coleman, Darlene Dilworth, Kim Dilworth, Bridget Exume, Harry Exume, Clara Ferguson, Michael Gentry, Sherman Hanes, Shannon Hanes, Natalie Hatchett, Loretta Hatchett, Tammy Hatchett, Michelle Jackson, Jack Jordan, Lashanda Lewis, Debby Lewis, Camille Lewis, Virginia Martin, Michael Reeves, Esther Pringle, James Rowdy, Ivy Shoulder, Sandra Roane, Mike Woodard, and Kathy Parks Woodard.

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