COPA receives a grant from the Georgia Humanities to work documenting African American history on the Georgia coast

BRUNSWICK – Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement was recently awarded a $2,500 grant from Georgia Humanities for its latest work in a nearly decade-long research-based service-learning project documenting African-American history on the Georgia coast.

Over the past nine years, the students of Dr. Melanie Pavich, in partnership with the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, conducted interviews with members of the African American and Gullah Geechee communities on St. Simons Island. These interviews are used to produce digital stories that are presented in free, public programs on the island.

The project and public programs were supported by several grants from Georgia Humanities, in addition to grants from Mercer’s Office of the Provost and the university’s Center for the Study of Narrative.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support we have received from Georgia Humanities,” said Dr. Priscilla Danheiser, Dean of the College of Professional Advancement. “This scholarship will allow us to expand this long-standing project through which Mercer students play an important role in documenting and preserving the rich history and influence of African Americans living in coastal Georgia.”

Binya, cumya knobs on the table
Pins feature the Gullah Geechee words ‘cumya’ and ‘binya’ meaning ‘come here’ and ‘been here’ respectively. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith.

This year’s project, titled “Binya, Cumya (Been Here, Come Here): Gullah Geechee Life and Culture on St. Simons Island and in Brunswick, Georgia,” culminates with a public program on Saturday, May 20, 13-16 p.m., at the Nalls Auditorium in Epworth-by-the-Sea on St Simons Island.

Focused on family stories as well as the Union Memorial Cemetery, also known as Strangers Cemetery, the program combines student-produced digital stories with a performance by the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices.

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The Washington Revels Jubilee Voices is an ensemble dedicated to preserving African American history and traditions through songs and stories of struggle and endurance, trials and triumphs, expressed through a cappella music, theater and dance.

Since 2010, the group has regularly performed at heritage sites throughout Washington, DC, singing, sharing and learning the stories of the people in these communities. In addition to music, the ensemble also explores poetry and writing, as well as first- and third-person depictions of African Americans whose stories make significant contributions to American history.

“Binya, Cumya (Been Here, Come Here): Gullah Geechee Life and Culture on St. Simons Island and in Brunswick, Georgia” is supported by Georgia Humanities in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development through funds from the Georgia General Assembly.

About the vocational college

Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement is committed to post-traditional learners. Undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs are offered to adult learners seeking career advancement in leadership roles within and outside their communities. The programs offer students distinctive, multidisciplinary experiences that integrate theory and practice. In addition to general education and electives for various colleges and schools at Mercer, the College of Professional Advancement offers degree programs in areas such as technology, public safety, public and human services, leadership and administration, health care and liberal arts. Programs are offered at Mercer’s Atlanta and Macon campuses, as well as at regional academic centers in Douglas County and Henry County, and online. To learn more, visit

Featured Photo: A group of Mercers including Dr. Melanie Pavich, fourth from left, looks at a grave in the Foreign Cemetery on St. Simons Island in August 2021. In recent years, the students of Dr. Pavich learned the stories of African Americans buried at Strangers and elsewhere on the island. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith.

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