Della Hardman, an artist, educator, writer and columnist, was a pillar of service in the Vineyard community.
She died in December of 2005, but not before enjoying Oak Bluffs’ first Della Brown Hardman Day in July of that year.
“We didn’t realize it would be her last year,” Ms. Hardman’s daughter, Andrea Taylor, said of the first event. “It was a wonderful celebration. A great way for her to look back on her career.”
On this past Saturday, three years later, friends of Ms. Hardman and members of the community gathered at Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs for the fourth annual celebration of her memory and the community service for which she stood.
A sign bearing Ms. Hardman’s favorite expression, Savor the Moment, sat propped up on microphone stands as members of the U.S. Slave Song Project performed Zelma W. George’s narrative of the spiritual called A Joyful Noise.
“We are essentially trying to keep the culture alive,” said Haki R. Madhubuti, one of the piece’s narrators, following the performance. “And that’s how you do it, orally and through music.”
Throughout the historical narrative, the choir, led by Jim Thomas, sang the slave spirituals that shaped modern American music while members of the audience sang along. Christina Montoya, a dancer, carved her arms through the air and moved her body across the grass to the song, This Little Light of Mine. For performers, it was a way to honor Ms. Hardman.
“Della has always been an inspiration to me,” said Dr. Madhubuti, himself a poet and publisher at Third World Press. “So for me to come here and help celebrate her is no question. She was a great artist and a great woman.”
Regional high school students Emily Alosso, Kyle Mercaldo and Connor Johnson each won $400 for their essays on community service.
“There are many opportunities that are given to our high school students to participate in community service — all it takes is a little initiative,” Connor read to the crowd. “We have everything from beach clean-ups all the way to giraffe trainer, true story.”
Ms. Hardman touched many lives on the Vineyard. As a columnist for the Vineyard Gazette, she filled the Island in on the goings-on in Oak Bluffs.
“People beyond Oak Bluffs watched the column,” Ms. Taylor said. “I still get comments from people up Island, saying, ‘Oh, I always loved your mother’s column.”
Della Hardman Day, the last Saturday in July, is officially recognized by the town of Oak Bluffs.
“It’s a chance to celebrate the sense of community that exists here on Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Taylor said. “It’s a magical Island.”