Keeping culture alive

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Local man uses the Harriet Tubman cultural center as a vehicle for urban ministry and community outreach.


A set of stairs at the back of a small, brick office complex on North High Street lead you down to the hub of Stan Maclin’s mission.

The stairs dump you out to a door which opens to a hallway where, to the left, resides the main room of Maclin’s Harriet Tubman Cultural Center. The room is adorned with pieces such as a painting depicting Tubman’s work on the Underground Railroad, with escapees following her step, and a November 1968 issue of Life magazine, with a story on Tubman inside.

Even if Tubman never set foot in Harrisonburg, here is where Maclin works to keep some of her legacy — her journey on the Underground Railroad — alive today.

“That journey was to help get people to the sweet land of liberty,” Maclin says. “Well I do … the same thing, except that I just do it in a modern sense today. To help get people from A, B, C to X, Y, Z — where they want to go in life.”

Maclin opened the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center in March 2010. The center is a vehicle for what he’s working toward in the community. He went to Eastern Mennonite Seminary and looked into doing something new with urban ministry and community outreach. Tubman is a symbol for that.

“She was always thinking about people, and that’s what’s wrong with us as a people,” Maclin says. “We sometimes forget what we come from and we stop helping people, you should never stop that.”

While maintaining his center, Maclin has worked to become involved in multiple organizations around the Harrisonburg community. He’s on the board of On the Road Collaborative, which aims to help children with their education; is the vice president of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, which works toward the upkeep of the community; and is a chapter leader for Virginia Organizing, which challenges injustice. And that’s not even all of it.

“I’m practically connected with most everything, I’m plugged in,” Maclin says.

Maclin also pushed for the renaming of Cantrell Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Way two years ago. The proposal was approved by the Harrisonburg City Council in August 2013.

Maclin, 61, grew up during the civil rights movement and considers King the main influencer of his adult life, which is something he carries with him in his daily work.

“What I’m really doing is building a beloved community,” Maclin says. “Dr. King talked about that. That’s what we’re doing.”

In addition, one of the major yearly events Maclin is involved in is People’s Day, which is centered around Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will be this Jan. 18.

Another major event for Maclin is the Harriet Tubman Cultural Celebration, every March 10. The date was designated as Harriet Tubman Day by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 because of Tubman’s death on March 10, 1913.

Back at the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center, Maclin says his favorite initiative is his cultural learning tour. The tours can either be a half day or a full day, and are based on the former neighborhood of Newtown, which was established by ex-slaves in 1865 in an area northeast of Harrisonburg. In 1892, Harrisonburg annexed the area into the city.

“We just tell them about the history so when they come down to that area, they’ll know the significance of that area,” Maclin says. “ It’s a historical area, and it gives them a greater appreciation for it.”

Maclin’s influence has also extended to Africa, where he’s frequented in the past. His time there taught him about the bond of family.

“In Africa, it’s about the family,” Maclin says. “In Africa, what’s it about? The village. The village has the chief. The chief, they have the village council, the elders and they take care of the village.”

With all that he’s involved in, Maclin can’t do it all. And that’s where he leans on that concept of family. His family runs the local business Commonwealth Cleaning Company LLC. The business, spearheaded by Maclin’s wife, Diana, helps to provide the funding to keep the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center open and allow Maclin to focus on his work in the community.

“One of the important things is that, to me, I try to display the characteristics of Harriet Tubman and helping people as a devoted leader and commitment as a wife, a mother and a businesswoman for the family,” Diana says.

Commonwealth Cleaning Company also uses some of the space at the office on North High Street for meetings. The location is fairly new for Maclin. His center’s original location was on the sixth floor of the downtown low-rise at 2 South Main St. But, last October, he closed that up and found his current spot, which doesn’t facilitate walk-ins. 

“To me, I think this is even better,” Maclin says. “Because it’s more intimate. I’m more focused down here now because it’s by appointment only.”

Settled in his new spot, the next major project on Maclin’s agenda is a joint program with Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. According to the proposal, the aim is to “train and mentor 10 to 12 young community leaders in peacebuilding, justice building and community building.” It’ll target those ages 18 to 30 from the Harrisonburg community, aims to highlight reflect the diversity of the city and “will seek to develop young leaders who will make positive change in the city.”

“It’s about developing … peacemakers,” Maclin says. “Peacemakers who work to promote peace and get to know neighborhood groups and empower additional peacemakers.”

Perhaps it’s opportunities like these that’ll spawn the next crop of community activists. The spirit of it all seems to boil back down to Tubman.

“I love Harriet Tubman because … she didn’t have a lot of the opportunities that we had,” Maclin says. “But that didn’t stop her. She still kept on doing things.”