Our First Annual Gullah Geechee Heritage Dinner Gala, March 6, 2020
The North Carolina Rice Festival, Inc., hosted its annual Gullah Geechee Heritage Dinner Gala on Friday, March 6, 2020, at the Leland Cultural Arts Center. The event attracted over 100 attendees from the Brunswick and New Hanover County area, treating guests to an outstanding evening that included a lively reception, a sumptuous Sea Island-themed dinner, and a spellbinding after-dinner performance of Gullah Geechee songs and history.
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Bottom Left: Gala performers, Gullah Geechee cultural warriors, Ron & Natalie Daise. Bottom Right: NC Rice Festival Board members with gala performers. Photos by Romie Holmes
Gala attendees enjoying the evening's inspired cuisine and celebration. Photos by Romie Holmes
Our Hosts and Featured Speakers
WWAY-TV3 meteorologist and reporter Monique Robinson served as the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies, commenting happily on the wonderful diversity of the audience. Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman greeted the crowd on behalf of the town’s Tourism Development Authority, underwriter of the Gala. She was followed by the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Susi Hamilton, who gave an impassioned endorsement of the Rice Festival board’s efforts to revive the lost Gullah Geechee culture of Brunswick and its surrounding counties. She also shared her vision for the future of the Rice Festival, promising to help marshal the resources needed to make it, one day, “the largest cultural festival in the State of North Carolina.” She also introduced several members of her department’s staff in attendance, noting the role each plays in helping North Carolinians discover, preserve, and celebrate their diverse cultures.
Gullah Geechee Inspired Cuisine
Renowned Chef Keith Rhodes of Catch Restaurant created a dazzling menu for the event, which included an appetizer of Daufuskie Deviled Eggs with Sea Island Vinaigrette; Southern Collard Green Salad with Vidalia Onions, Pecans, and Smoked Bacon Vinaigrette; a savory Gullah-Style Seafood Gumbo entrée, served over Carolina Gold Rice Middlins; and a delicious Peach Bread Pudding dessert topped with a banana hard sauce.
The food left the audience wishing for more, and more there was! For those hungry to learn more about the traditions of the region’s Gullah Geechee ancestors, entertainers Ron and Natalie Daise did not disappoint. The award-winning duo, who helped create and also starred in the 1990s Nickelodeon television series, Gullah Gullah Island, took the audience on a vividly narrated journey from Sierra Leone on the west African Rice Coast to the rice plantations and coastal islands of the southeastern United States. They sang, as soloists and together, sharing animated musical tales and stories from the Gullah Geechee heritage. They concluded their performance by engaging the audience in group singing while teaching the fundamentals of the Gullah Geechee people’s unique language.
Our Featured Entertainment
The Gala’s program, food, and performance each received high praises from the attendees. “Fantastic!” “Awesome!” and “Outstanding!” were the overwhelming responses. As guest Brayton Willis noted, “This was such an educational event. I wish it could be repeated for every student in Brunswick County Schools.” This view was echoed by Susanne West of First Bank, one of the event’s sponsoring organizations, who stated, “I learned so much about this area. Previous rice festivals were festivals; this was an educational event. I’m ready for more!” Juanita Ballard Harper applauded the tasty food offerings: “I thought I didn’t like bread pudding but, for this, I wanted to lick my plate!”
In closing, George Beatty, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Rice Festival, took to the podium, reminding the audience of the Festival’s motto, “Education through Celebration,” and restating its goal: “to bring to life the history and heritage of all those responsible for the historic rice culture of this region.”
Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman addressing the evening's guests. Photo by Romie Holmes
Event volunteers greeted gala attendees at the doors to the Leland Cultural Arts Center.. Photo by Romie Holmes
Guests mingling in the hallways of the Center prior to the event. Photo by Romie Holmes
Suzi Hamilton, Secretary, NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Photo by Romie Holmes