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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Keeping the Flame of Black History Alive in Delray and Beyond

Charlene Farrington has an impressive legacy to uphold.

Yet, she decidedly sees her role as one of good stewardship rather than one of fanfare or bravado. That’s because the Executive Director of the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum wants the history and the con-tributors to shine the brightest.

“I keep a low profile by design. There are many people who came before me doing wonderful things. If I can share the great work of others without getting in the way, then I feel like I have succeeded,” said the Delray native whose mother Vera started this non-profit organization to preserve and highlight black history.

It all started when Charlene’s mother was a volunteer at the Delray Historical Society. While she was assisting researchers in gathering history about Delray, Vera realized there was no information on the Black community. Very quickly she took on the responsibility – and personal quest – to bring Black history to life in Palm Beach County.

Though Charlene took a different route to this critical mission than her mother (Vera was a teacher for 32 years), she ended up at the same junction.

Charlene got a business degree from Mercer University in Georgia (worked in IT at the Sun Sentinel) and came to The Spady Museum in 2001 as an administrative assistant. By 2003 she was in charge of educational programs for young people. It was then that she increased their historical footprint by aligning with other organizations in Delray.

“I went to the Achievement Centers and created an etiquette program for children. I promised myself that every child that goes to Palm Beach County Schools would be aware that there is a rich Black history here.”

And that’s what she has done.

She spearheaded programs for young people to meet business professionals and hear about career options. She also implemented health and wellness activities such as yoga, healthy cooking, healing, dance, and technology.

She also creates synergy and cooperation from other organizations to highlight the rich cultural heritage of the Black community. Charlene curates exhibitions, maintains strong relationships with government agencies (the private sector), and increased revenue. She also redefined and expanded their cultural programs and events with organizations like the Arts Garage.
Although Charlene likes to be the woman behind the scenes, she is clearly the ghost who wears diamonds. “Charlene has done a phenom-enal job of helping us get back to a place of prominence. She brought programs to schools, uplifted the organization so everyone knows us, and because of her we have a stellar reputation,” said Spady Chairman of the Board, Bill Whigham.
Charlene is definitely steeped in the history that she expounds upon. She was born and raised on SW 8th Avenue and NW 2nd Avenue. Her fa-ther Charles was born in the Bahamas, came to Delray for an agricultural contract, and as luck and love would have it, ended up living in Delray. He was a master carpenter, and treasurer and Deacon of Mt. Olive Church.
Charlene is blessed to have inherited the educational prowess of her mother and the business acumen and people skills of her father. “I learned about the importance of education and relationships. Relationships are the most important aspect of life – the way you treat people is the way you expect to be treated.”

Charlene is definitely a woman who commands respect. The twinkle in her eyes and the strength of her conviction is what people re-spond to so vividly.

“Charlene and I have worked on many projects together and I’m moved by her passion for community and history. I hope that our town knows how lucky we are to have Charlene showing us the historical and cultural significance of our Black community,” said Marjorie Waldo, President and CEO of the Arts Garage.

To keep pace with her role at the Spady, Charlene was voracious in taking courses on museum and non-profit management. She now oversees the “Expanding and Preserving Our Cultural Heritage” (EPOCH), a non-profit organization that preserves and shares Black history.

In 2014 the Spady Museum was awarded the prestigious Muse Award from the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, and the Florida Preservation Award for the “preservation of Florida’s rich history” from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.

Charlene is also president of the South Florida branch of the Asso-ciation for the Study of African American Life and History.

Though she is the keeper of the flame at The Spady and the Williams cottage next door (from management to fundraising and budgeting), Charlene is also known for her hands-on savvy to preserve and highlight the talent and influences of African-Americans, Caribbean-Amer-icans and Haitian-Americans.

“Spady Museum is an axis mundi in the City of Delray where the his-tory of Blacks in Palm Beach is archived and exhibited for the community to enjoy and learn from. There is no place like Spady Museum in Palm Beach County and Charlene is its Director, Guardian and Defender!” said Dr. Joan Cartwright, Founder of Women in Jazz South Florida.

If you go to the Museum, open Tuesday to Saturday, you will see it is small in stature but large in Delray history. It was the home of Solomon D. Spady, the most prominent African American educator and community leader in Delray Beach from 1922 to 1957.

The Museum – a living testament to Delray’s Black History – is infused with the heart and hub of community ideas, art and culture. Both the museum and cottage are available for meetings, wedding receptions, book clubs and cultural events.
To honor its 20th anniversary, there will be a celebration on July 31 at the Spady in the West Settlers’ Historic District. There will be live music, food and the unveiling of a new initiative. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
“Life is a work in progress. Nothing is ever completely done. Change is always happening.”
This attitude is what will propel the Spady to continue to evolve, thanks to Charlene Farrington.

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