Celeana Wiggins and Jaden Renfroe. Photo courtesy of Dublin High School.
There’s a cemetery in Dublin, Ga., where African American history and family roots run deep. Its known as “‘Cross the Creek,” and many of those resting there were enslaved African Americans in the late 1800s. Forgotten for decades, the cemetery was finally rededicated and upgraded in 2015, but most tombstones or grave markers had been damaged or lost over the years.
To remedy that situation, city government officials reached out to Dublin High School’s SkillsUSA advisor and construction teacher Mike Shepard in September to see if his students would be willing to build crosses for the some of the grave sites. When Shepard brought the idea to his SkillsUSA chapter members, they were eager — and honored — to use their skills for such a noble purpose.
Shepard and his construction students decided the new crosses should be made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) boards so they wouldn’t decay or rust. The city provided the materials for the project and work started on the crosses in January. Two of the students were from Shepard’s construction class, but other trade areas were represented, too, and construction students gladly trained them to use the equipment.
On Feb. 24, Dublin Mayor Joshua Kight and Superintendent Dr. Fred Williams — along with members of the City Council, the mayor’s office, city employees, and about 40 students representing SkillsUSA, Dublin High’s Beta Club, and other work-based learning organizations — attended a brief ceremony before installing the crosses. “This doesn’t happen with one person alone,” Mayor Kight said to all who’d participated. “It takes a team. Thank you for being part of this team.”
The completion of their work during Black History Month meant a lot to the students, but what meant even more was the restorative connection they’d made to our nation’s past. “When we saw the cemetery for the first time, it was pretty empty everywhere,” says senior and SkillsUSA treasurer Shaliyah Curry. “You could tell that there hadn’t been any visitors or acknowledgement of this cemetery’s existence. But, when we put the crosses out, it felt real, like these people once had lives. It looked like a place where people could visit.”
“I felt sad that the cemetery was not better taken care of, and it made me feel good to give back to the community,” says senior and SkillsUSA president Da’jana Shivers. “I feel very proud and happy we were able to help the community and remember and honor those who were once in this life,” adds sophomore Celeana Wiggins. “It doesn’t matter that we didn’t know these people in this lifetime.”
“It was special to honor these people,” says proud sophomore Aylin Delgado. “When we put the crosses in the cemetery, it looked revived.”
“These are a great bunch of students, and their hearts went into the project,” says Shepard. “The city requested 400 crosses and these enthusiastic students made a total of 488. There are an estimated 500 graves that still need to be marked, and we look forward to making more crosses and installing them by Memorial Day.”
“This project speaks to so much of who and what we are as a district, and what we hope to instill in our students,” superintendent Williams says. “Having our students understand that maximizing community engagement and support is a two-way street reinforces the idea that we are stewards of the places we call home. Furthermore, by honoring and preserving the legacy of those who came before us, we fortify the future for those who come after us.”
For more on the ‘Cross the Creek cemetery, visit their website.