Personality: Michelle Evans-Oliver

Spotlight on president of Richmond, Virginia Branch of ASALH

2/17/2022, 6 p.m.
In the midst of a pandemic marked by death, large-scale action and change for African-Americans, Michelle Evans-Oliver is working to ...

In the midst of a pandemic marked by death, large-scale action and change for African-Americans, Michelle Evans- Oliver is working to ensure the stories of Black people in Richmond are preserved and promoted.

As founder and president of the Richmond, Virginia Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Ms. Evans-Oliver first began this work when the group was chartered in 2020.

“We want to give our story of what really is happening,” Ms. Evans-Oliver says. “We don’t walk, we don’t march, but we make sure that our information is told, is documented and that we know exactly who we are and where we came from.”

The pursuit of this mission carries a personal connection for Ms. Evans-Oliver. She is a descendant of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a historian and author born in Buckingham County who is known as the “Father of Black History.” He established ASALH in 1915 with several co-founders and launched Negro History Week in 1926, which later became recognized as Black History Month.

The ancestral connection led Ms. Evans-Oliver to attend ASALH’s national convention in Richmond in 2016, where organizers were looking to meet with Mr. Woodson’s descendants. There, Ms. Evans-Oliver would not just gain greater insight into ASALH, but also would receive requests every year after the convention to start a branch in Richmond.

“Why not?” says Ms. Evans-Oliver of her choice to start the group. “I know it’s a lot of work, but aren’t all organizations that you start from scratch?”

The organization’s major goal for 2022 is growing its membership. The process so far has been a mix of good and bad, with the pandemic limiting events to virtual discussions and seminars and leading to a drop in the branch’s initial enrollment of 65 members.

However, virtual events have allowed the branch to build a network of interested people extending far outside of Richmond and Virginia.

Future plans for Richmond ASALH include growing their partnerships with the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s Greater Richmond Chapter, of which Ms. Evans-Oliver also serves as vice president, AARP Virginia and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

What is important, she says, is for people to learn about Black life and history and to ensure its preservation and proliferation for future generations.

“My whole thing is just to get the word out about ASALH, so that people can join us,” Ms. Evans-Oliver says. “We’re looking for members who are ready to not just listen, but to do the work as well.”

Meet a local leader in the preservation of Black history and this week’s Personality, Michelle Evans-Oliver:

No. 1 volunteer position: President of the Richmond, Virginia Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH.

Other community engagement: Vice president of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s Greater Richmond Chapter.

Occupation: Business analyst and financial adviser.

Date and place of birth: Aug. 11 in Richmond.

Where I live now: Henrico County.

Education: Bachelor’s in marketing, minor in advertising, Virginia State University.

Family: Daughter, Lauren, and son, Evan.

ASALH is: An organization dedicated to the study and appreciation of African-American history.

When and where founded: ASALH was founded Sept. 9, 1915, in Chicago.

ASALH’s founders: Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, along with George Cleveland Hall, James E. Stamps, William B. Hartgrove and Alexander Louis Jackson.

Mission: ASALH’s mission is to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.

How Carter G. Woodson continues to be relevant today: Dr. Woodson continues to be relevant today by being known as the “Father of Black History” and the creator of Black History Month. He also started the movement of telling our true history and debunking fake information regarding African-Americans, giving us the credibility we never had before.

ASALH and Black History Month: Black History Month was started as Black History Week in 1926. Dr. Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping Black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month.

National theme for Black History Month 2022: Black Health and Wellness.

Number of ASALH chapters: There are 46 branches in the United States, and three chapters in Virginia – The Richmond, Virginia “Our Ancestors Legacy Branch, the Hampton Roads Branch and the Louisa County Branch.

When Richmond ASALH branch was founded: In 2019 we had our interest meeting. We were chartered in 2020.

Local founder: Michelle Evans-Oliver.

How I became interested in establishing a local chapter: In 2016, ASALH had its national convention here in Richmond. A friend of mine said they were looking for Dr. Woodson’s descendants. I went to the convention and spoke to the organizers, and learned more about ASALH. Every year after the convention, I was asked to start a branch in Richmond, which has never had a branch.

No. 1 goal or project for ASALH Richmond Branch: To increase membership.

Strategy for achieving goals: Staying active in the community despite the pandemic by doing educational programs via Zoom on various topics related to African-American history in Virginia and around the country.

How to become a member of ASALH Richmond Branch: Richmond ASALH has an on-line membership form at https://forms.gle/8kZb7pP22MtEffnf7 Also, inquire about us on our Facebook Page (@ASALHRVA) or email us at asalhrvainfo@gmail.com.

Richmond ASALH partners with: We partner with Virginia Museum of History and Culture, AARP Virginia, Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society to name a few. We are looking to partner with more organizations that align with our mission.

ASALH’s upcoming events:

ASALH Richmond is hosting several free virtual events with co-sponsor AARP Virginia. The first “Africulture — Crops, Benefits and Lifestyle — The History between Plants and Africa,” is a virtual talk by Michael Carter Jr., a fifth generation farmer on his family’s farm in Orange County, Va., at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22. Mr. Carter is the small farm resource coordinator for Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program. He will talk about his work in Ghana, Kenya and Israel as an agronomist and organic agricultural consultant and the history between plants and Africa. Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/CultivateFEB

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, ASALH Richmond will host Wind Down Wednesday — Hidden History with Brian Bullock, a local filmmaker and history enthusiast at 7 p.m. The virtual event includes a short film about tracing your family history, followed by a discussion with Virginia historians and genealogists. The event is free and co-sponsored by AARP Virginia. Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/WindDown4

On Sunday, Feb. 27 at 5 p.m., ASALH Richmond will host a “Sunday Sit-Ins: Racial and Social Injustice!” with Dr. Shelley Murphy, a historian and researcher with the University of Virginia’s Descendant Program. She will talk about her research and interviews about the correlation between lynching and Confederate monuments. The free talk is co-sponsored by AARP Virginia. Register at https://aarp.cventevents.com/SundaySitInFeb

A perfect day for me is: Relaxing and cooking.

What I am learning about myself during the pandemic: I have learned that some days should be rest days. I have learned to slow down and relax. I am learning to prioritize my schedule.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Watching documentaries. Quote that inspires me: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” — Maya Angelou

Friends describe me as: Driven and fun

At the top of my “to-do” list: Find more of my ancestors. Best late-night snack: Skinny Pop lime popcorn.

Best thing my parents ever taught me: To be a good steward of my finances.

Persons who influenced me the most: My mother and father.

Book that influenced me the most: “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene.

What I’m reading now: “The Laws of Success” by Napoleon Hill.

Next goal: FYI – I was selected as a local Hero from AARP National to be featured in their Black History Month 2022 marketing campaign. I and 14 other individuals from around the country were nominated and selected from a large pool of nominees.