By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Obviously Leonardo da Vinci was not describing the upcoming Berkley Reunion, when he said, “I love those who can smile in trouble, gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.” Da Vinci was not describing the 22nd annual Berkley Reunion which will be held Aug. 5-7 in Berkley Park; because he died in May 1519 after completing scores of masterpieces. While the Berkley Reunion will not feature priceless masterpieces like those Da Vinci crafted, it will include many precious human masterpieces. This means at least a thousand people will set up tents, settle down in lawn chairs, and reflect on the neighborhood’s past and future including Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, who grew up in Berkley.
“Sunday will be Kenny Alexander Day,” said Lisa Wilder, who chairs the Berkeley Reunion Committee. “We have several events planned for that day. And he will speak that day.” Records show Alexander, a business owner, a former state senator and a former Norfolk state delegate is one of many individuals that Berkley helped shape into a masterpiece. Established in the 18th century by what is now called the General Assembly, Berkley moved from being a port facility and a shipyard, to being a rail terminus for Norfolk Southern Railway in the 19th century, according to Wikipedia.
Other human masterpieces from Berkley are Mary Pinkney Hardy “Pinky” MacArthur, the mother of Army General Douglas MacArthur. She was born, raised, and married in the neighborhood. Another person from the old neighborhood is Broadway actress Peggy Hopkins Joyce. Another masterpiece from Berkley is William Henry Lewis, the first person of color to be admitted to the American Bar Association. A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School, he was the first person of color to serve as assistant U.S. attorney in Boston. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the post in 1903, according to Harvard Magazine.
Eight years later, President William Taft in 1911 appointed Lewis to the post of U.S. assistant attorney general. He was the first person of color to hold the position. Lewis, who worked as a waiter to pay his way through college, and coached 12 seasons at Harvard, was born in Berkley and died at age 81 of heart failure in Canada. Describing the therapeutic benefits of the knocks and bruises he received while playing football at Harvard, Lewis said in the Boston Herald on July 3, 1905, “If it hadn‘t been for football there is no telling what I would be today. … It gives you a general hardening and training which stands a man in good use in later life.“
Many will probably say the same thing about their experiences in the old neighborhood during the reunion. The weekend will kick off on Friday, Aug. 5 with Old School Night starting at 5 p.m. Dignitaries from the community will also speak. Later that night, a band will perform. To encourage harmony, Saturday’s festivities will begin with a Walk for Life. The walk will begin at the Berkley Recreation Center, proceed down Liberty Street, and end at Berkley Park. Saturday will also include a mini carnival. The carnival will begin at noon and feature, slides, contests, races and more. Sunday will begin with worship services at First Baptist Church of Berkley at 10 a.m.
The event is free. It is sponsored by the Berkley Civic League, Berkley Reunion Committee, Beacon Light Civic League, Berkeley churches, and other organizations. “It is always free,” Wilder said. “About 70 families or more cook by their tents. We will have at least seven food vendors. Some people celebrate their family reunion at this time. People come from all over every year. There is a man from New York who comes down with his business associates each year.”
Wilder said many plan to attend the event this year. “When we call and ask if they are coming, people say, ‘I’m coming. Don’t give my spot away.’ This will be our 22nd year.”
But some will not be able to attend. For example, Wilder’s brother, Ronnie Wilder passed away in January at age 51. “He was one of the founders,” she said. “People should come this year because they are going to have a good time. It’s just like a family reunion. You get to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a long time. With so much going on in the world, you don’t want to wait and postpone having fun with anyone.”
For more information, please phone (757) 701-6365.