Nourishing The Soul

City Sponsored Dinner Helps Mark Black History

Posted: February 18, 2013

Linda Ferrell helps great-granddaughters Skaimyah, 4, (left) and Nakyah, 6, during the annual Soul Food Dinner at the Simms Center Saturday. The dinner, free to the public, provides a sampling of cultural cuisine as well as music and desserts, and is sponsored by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. (Photos by Jason Lenhart)
Saturday’s dinner Soul Food Dinner at the Simms Center in Harrisonburg featured soups, chicken, pasta and everything in between.
A jazz ensemble from James Madison University performs during the annual Soul Food Dinner, sponsored by Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation, at the Simms Center on Saturday.
HARRISONBURG — Three years ago, cousins Stephanie Howard and Deanna Reed first tested an idea they had been kicking around: bringing locals together over original soul food recipes to celebrate Black History Month.
Little did they know that it would catch on so quickly.
Saturday evening marked the third annual Soul Food Dinner, sponsored by the Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation Department and held at the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center. There wasn’t an empty seat to be found.
“It gets larger and larger every year,” Reed said Saturday, looking around at the more than 150 guests packed into the center’s auditorium.
Trays of homemade dishes — various versions of cabbage, goulash, green beans and the like — outlined the room.
Several James Madison University students, including a band that played during the dinner, agreed to help with the event, and some local restaurants donated food to add to the mix. 
Many lifelong residents of the city’s Northeast community brought dishes so that others could “sample” soul food during the free event, but the sheer amount of food meant that sampling turned into a hefty dinner for most. 
Betty Curry, 69, a resident of Harrisonburg since she was about 4, has brought food for the get-together every year. This time around, sweet potatoes and apple pie were her specialties.
Rita Brown, a first-timer at the event, toted a cabbage concoction with her.
Brown, 76, of the city’s Northeast community, said she’ll likely be back again next year.
“I got to see a lot of old faces that I don’t normally see,” she said.
Curry and Brown were just two of a host of local residents who re-entered the halls of their alma mater Saturday.
Woody Johnson, 73, of Penn Laird, graduated from the Lucy F. Simms School in 1957 after completing all 12 grades there. About 25 people were in his graduating class, he said.
The school was named for Lucy F. Simms, an ex-slave who taught at the school’s predecessor — Effinger Street School — for decades before she died in 1934. The Simms School replaced Effinger as the school for black children in Harrisonburg until integration in 1964.
Although Johnson graduated years before desegregation, he knows one thing: “If I would’ve been at school at that time, I think it would’ve been hard for me to leave here,” he said.
Saturday provided a time for locals to reflect on the changes African-Americans have experienced throughout their time in the city, as well as catch up with friends and, of course, eat.
“It’s great — the food’s great; the people are great,” said Johnson, who came out to the event for the first time this year. “I didn’t think it would be this many people.”
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or

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