As the Willow Hill Heritage Festival and Health Fair, the sixth annual event at the historic Willow Hill School near Portal puts a renewed emphasis on health. But this weekend’s festival also offers bike rides, children’s games, faith-centered elements from a prayer breakfast to a gospel concert and heritage through permanent exhibits and a “pop up” museum.
Free screenings for diabetes and high blood pressure are being offered Saturday for the first time since the inaugural Willow Hill Festival in 2011, said Gayle Jackson, development director for the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center. Also for the first time in several years, the festival returns to being a two-day event, with the Gospel Extravaganza to be held Sunday after a full day of activities Saturday.
The Thrill on the Hill bicycle rides, open to adults and youth, start at 8 a.m. Saturday. This year’s simplified routes extend up to 20.1 miles in the Willow Hill-Portal area, Jackson said.
Florida State Rep. Larry Lee will be featured speaker for the prayer breakfast, beginning 9 a.m. Saturday. Although he grew up in Fort Pierce, Fla., where he now resides, Lee was born in Statesboro to parents Mary and the late Larry “Bobby” Lee Sr. Now, Rep. Larry Lee Jr. is also a member of the board of directors of the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center.
When first elected to the Florida Legislature in 2012, Lee became the first black legislator from St. Lucie County. He is a 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Citizen Award by the Boy Scouts and he is also a graduate of Leadership Florida program.
Lee attained his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., and played football. He is a Commemorative Black College Football Classic 2011 Hall of Fame inductee.
Tickets to the prayer breakfast are $15 and may be purchased at the door. The Pop-Up Museum, as well as oral history interviews on the integration of Bulloch County Schools in the 1960s, will be conducted by Sarah Napier, a graduate assistant in the public history program at Georgia Southern University.
The annual festival celebrates the history of the Willow Hill School, founded by former slaves for their children in 1874, and spotlights the Renaissance Center’s ongoing role in the life of the community. Tours of the permanent exhibits will also be available.
For the health fair, the Willow Hill Center is working in partnership with the East Georgia Healthcare Center, the Hearts and Hands Clinic, WellCare, the GSU Public Health Student Association and Jan and Myron House to provide health screenings and information. Dental screenings may also be available, as well as screenings for hypertension and diabetes, Jackson said.
Fun events for children and the whole family begin 1 p.m. Saturday. These include inflatables, an oratorical contest, a spelling bee, the Bible Bowl and a talent show. Food and other items will be available from vendors.
Pastor Frankie and the Rev. Jean Owens will host the Gospel Extravaganza beginning at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, also at the historic Willow Hill School at 4235 Willow Hill Road, near Portal. The concert is free and open to the public.
Edward Ellis Catering will be providing “all day” chicken and fish dinners beginning at 1 p.m., with $8 and $10 adult meal options and a $5 kid’s meal.
Performers include the Light Weights, Sons of Emanuel, Agape Worship Center Choir, Original First African Baptist Brotherhood Choir, Shaunta Ellis, Minister Kim Smith, Ethel Lane, Annette Holloway, Faye West, John Wiggins, Reginald ”SaxMan” Jordan, Agape Worship Center Praise Dance Ministry, Original First African Baptist Church F.A.I.T.H. Praise Dance Ministry, plus local ministers in “Preachers Praise Time.”