Trail Conference Brings Together Diverse Group with A Common Goal

Seeming more like a large family reunion than a professional meeting, the first annual Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail Conference at South Boston’s Prizery on October 21 was a great success. Over 150 attendees started arriving before 9 am and were greeted at the door by Southern Virginia Higher Education Center staff and others like the always-enthusiastic Joseph Epps from Chase City.

As busy as he is, Joseph Epps took time to praise the conference and the organizers. He said the buzz was still going at a meeting he attended after the Trail Conference. Colleagues “expressed positive comments about the conference, how informative, enlightened, and how much they learned by attending the Trail Conference and are looking forward to next year’s conference. Earlier today I attended Mecklenburg County Economic/Tourism Development Seminar, and we spent a very good portion of today’s meeting expressing how much we learned from the Trail Conference and quoted many examples that we could or should incorporate in our economic/tourism development plan for Mecklenburg County.”

“Not very often do we receive positive compliments about our endeavors. This is to let you know that I too congratulate all for such an outstanding Trail Conference.”

Catherine Stevens with the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center said simply, “Wow! I think the day was a success. Thanks for all you did to make it so.” Catherine coordinated registration and helped direct activities as the dozens of attendees separated into distinct tracts for panel discussions, and facilitated sessions.

Friends greeted friends, colleagues renewed acquaintances, and strangers met and mingled over coffee and stimulating conversation. Jessica Borsits, who is the Moton Museum webmaster and Prince Edward County alumna, was pleased to reconnect with her seventh grade English teacher, Ms. Barbara Daniel who was attending the conference to learn more about promoting a site along the trail she works closely with as a volunteer.

One secret to the great networking success of this conference seemed to be the combination of participants from such diverse backgrounds. Some were from academia, and others were tourism professionals. National, state, and local government officials were there to learn more. Still others were new to the process of promoting a historic site and were volunteers from localities all over the state. Everyone had a story to share, and lots of examples to learn from there.

In the morning session, The State of Tourism in Virginia, keynote speaker Virginia Tourism Corporation CEO and President Alisa Bailey previewed a new ad, “Virginia – Where Love Lives.” She said that during a recession people make travel decisions differently, and Virginia is leveraging its marketing programs to take advantage of those trends. She said it is important to remember that everyone in a community is essential to tourism success. She gave the example, “If you have a good time, you tell six people. If you have a bad time, you tell ten.” Today, with visitors communicating online and through social networking, bad news can travel even faster than ever, so it’s important that all participants work to create a positive experience for visitors.

South Boston Mayor Carroll Thackston was thrilled to see so many hard working tourism, government, and civic leaders gathered at the Prizery for the Trail Conference. The Prizery is an award winning meeting place and a source of great local pride for the community. He said when the town lost so much of its tobacco and textile industries, they had these great buildings that were sitting as if waiting to be put back to work. Now the Prizery, and the structure next door that houses the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, help bring new life to the heart of town. The town invested over seven million dollars in the development of the Prizery, and it has proved to be a prudent one, as participants in the Trail Conference learned. It is a great place to meet.

Thanks to those who took time to come and share their insights and experiences. Thanks also to those who took time out of their busy schedules to participate on October 21 in the first annual Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail Conference in South Boston Virginia. We made history by honoring history that day. Our great appreciation also goes to the sponsors and partners who made the day possible for those fortunate enough to attend.

Trail Conference sponsors included The Dominion Foundation, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Robert Russa Moton Museum, Virginia’s Retreat, and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. Also made possible by event partner, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission.