Culture and Community at Penn Center names 2024 research partners

Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District has named its 2024 community research partners: Mr. Ed Atkins and Ms. Earnestine Atkins of St. Helena Island.

Ed Atkins is a third-generation fisherman and owner of Atkins Live Bait and Oysters, whose expertise is in the local maritime practice and culture. Like her brother Ed, Earnestine Atkins is known for being a strong advocate for protecting the traditions, culture, and land of the St. Helena Island natives, who are commonly referred to as Gullah Geechee. The siblings have been leaders in the community for decades.

“The Penn Center is thrilled to welcome Earnestine and Ed Atkins as fellows. They are long-time members of the Penn community who possess deep ecological knowledge and an unwavering commitment to Gullah Geechee culture. Their leadership will greatly enhance the Penn-UGA partnership,” said Robert Adams, executive director of Penn Center.

The role of the community research partners is to help anchor the partnership’s programs in local communities. During their year-long term, Ed and Earnestine Atkins will be engaged to work with the place-based classes, artist residencies, and community conversations that comprise the grant’s major public programs. The project’s first community research partner was Dr. Emory Campbell of Hilton Head Island, SC.

“2024 marks the third year of the partnership’s spring residencies,” said Barbara McCaskill, professor of English, Willson Center associate academic director, and co-principal investigator of the Mellon grant project. “Our paramount goal has been to connect students to community members and experts who share their first-hand perspectives about Gullah history and culture, as well as their lived experiences in coastal Gullah communities like St. Helena Island. Ed and Earnestine Atkins bring to this year’s participants a longtime familiarity with the Island’s coasts and waterways and their inspired commitment to sustaining and respecting these irreplaceable ecosystems.”

The 2024 student research residencies will take place May 15-19 and 21-25 and will be attended by students and faculty from UGA and other regional institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In addition to engaging with Ed and Earnestine Atkins, students will have interactive lessons and workshops with artist in residence Amiri Geuka Farris, whose work is currently on display through April 6 in a solo exhibition in the Penn Center’s York W. Bailey Museum. A reception for the exhibition will be held in the museum at 6 p.m. Saturday, February 24.