It began as a promise to a small boy in the Oak Bluffs School. Throughout the years it grew from a project researching distant figures whose lives had faded into obscurity into a vibrant community history project embracing every town on the Island. From its inception in 1998, the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard has been a multicultural venture uniting communities and augmenting the rich fabric of the Island’s history.

Stories of heroism, endurance and courage were unveiled including that of William A. Martin, an African American whaling captain, whose great grandmother was enslaved but who rose to command whaling vessels and his remarkable grandmother, Nancy Michael, whose life is celebrated at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown. Her obituary, unearthed from the microfilm copies of the Vineyard Gazette, breathes life into her image as a conjure woman who held the maritime community in thrall.

The civil rights movement, the achievements of Sen. Edward Brooke and Adam Clayton Powell in their fight for justice and inclusion are all celebrated on the trail, as are the stories of Emma Chambers Maitland, the world lightweight female boxing champion, Dorothy West, the renowned Shearer Cottage, the quiet strength of the landladies of Oak Bluffs and the theatrical successes of Ralph Meshack Coleman and Isabel Washington Powell. It is a remarkable story.

The trail continues to grow and at Thanksgiving this year, the home of Anne Jennings will be added to the collective story that we all share.

Throughout the summer season, hundreds of visitors explore the trail that has been created and are moved by the life affirming stories they learn. The trail continues to grow through the love and energy generated by the work of discovery and inclusion.

Students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School have contributed greatly to the building of the trail through their research work, their gathering of oral histories, the films they have made and the murals that they painted. Their work has been an integral part of growing the trail. The stories have engaged them and in turn their work has engaged visitors to the Island. Learning to view the lives of others without judgment or preconceived notions has made them culturally competent and active agents of change in the Island story. In so many ways, they have enriched all of us who value our inclusive history.

Never has it been so important that we value all the stories. We are living in turbulent times where our very future may depend on our ability to value and affirm each other. Hatred and suspicion will only limit our ability to be fully human. We all need to be visible and to be heard raising our voices for justice for all of our communities. The young people of Martha’s Vineyard have shown us a path forward through their embrace of diversity and their desire to learn and share what they know. We should follow their example and reach out our hands to our community in friendship and in trust. We are responsible for ourselves and for each other — and in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King when reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Those who passed by the wounded man asked only what will happen to me if I stop and help him, but the Good Samaritan asked what will happen to him if I don’t help him?”

We are a community with a shared and inclusive story that embraces the diverse experiences that ultimately bind us together. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and as we make our way in the world we can reach out our hands recognizing the value of all other people.

Elaine Weintraub lives in West Tisbury and helped to found the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard.