It's a dream come true for her!
Eola Dance is making history as the first Black woman superintendent of Fort Monroe National Monument, 10 Wavy news reports. The Hampton Roads native was born into a military family. Her father retired from the U.S. Army at Fort Eustis before Dance was born. She is no stranger to Fort Monroe and often spent time there as a child. She received her bachelor’s in history from the Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Southern University and A&M College, finding her way to the park service through an HBCU recruitment program.
"I played everywhere you can imagine here at Fort Monroe. I learned to swim at the YMCA and at the Officers' Club. I attended vacation bible school at the Chapel of the Centurion. I'm so thankful for the community of people that shaped my thinking. Without question that military environment, I think my father wanted to impart in me the freedoms that were fought for," Dance said.
Now, she's been with the National Park Service (NPS) for the last two decades, recently being promoted to the superintendent by NPS Regional Director Gay Vietzke. Dance said being the first Black woman to hold the position is unbelievable.
"It is definitely surreal. I think that is one way of describing it. It feels like an honor, a privilege certainly... I've been with the National Park Service for 20 years. It's a shock to me to realize that much time has gone by, but time flies when you're having fun. That's definitely true. This work is a joy. Sometimes there's challenges. There are difficult topics we deal with, but I have to say I love working with the National Park Service and communities that care about the sites we manage," Dance said.
The seasoned NPS worker said it's a privilege to oversee the monument at Fort Monroe, the site of the first African landing in 1619 and the place where enslaved people sought refuge from the Confederacy during the Civil War. The monument was established by former President Barack Obama in 2011 and holds a special place in her heart. She hopes to help share and preserve the area's historical legacy that spans more than four centuries.
"Fort Monroe is so, so special. It's so special. I feel really emotional even thinking about it. What I hope to accomplish is to help people tell their own stories. When you think about Fort Monroe, you have over four hundred years of history that's significant to the making of America," Dance said. "We're standing here on the parade ground, and the Algernourne Oak in the background is a witness to that 400-year history. I really hope I can help people tell their stories here. Oftentimes as the government or land manager, we're synthesizing the stories. We've done a lot of that work. We've done a lot of that documentation. I think this is a time when communities will be here, be present, and be able to tell their own stories and we'll all share and learn. I hope that's part of the legacy I'll leave."
According to NPS, as of 2020, only 6.7 percent of their full-time employees are Black, less than 420 of them being Black women.
Dance is a doctoral student at Howard University focusing on the colonial era, women's history, and Black experiences. She said she's grateful to make history as the first Black superintendent at the monument and hopes she can pave the way for more diversity and inclusion in the organization.
"I shared this opportunity to serve as an African American woman in the National Park Service to heart. It's part of my identity. It's the lens I look at the world through and certainly my job. I'm hopeful through my example that others [who] might not have thought there was an opportunity in the park service, they'll see there are lots of jobs in the organization," Dance said.
Congratulations, Eola! You're making our ancestors proud!
Photo Courtesy of 10 Wavy News