BRUNSWICK – Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement recently received a $2,500 grant from Georgia Humanities for its latest work in a nearly decade-long research-based, service-learning project to document African American history in Coastal Georgia.

For the past nine years, Dr. Melanie Pavich’s students have conducted interviews with members of the African American and Gullah Geechee communities on St. Simons Island in collaboration with the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition. These interviews are used to produce digital stories that are presented in free, public programs on the island.

The project and public programs have been supported by multiple grants from Georgia Humanities, in addition to grants from Mercer’s Office of the Provost and the University’s Center for the Study of Narrative.

“We are incredibly appreciative of the support we have received from Georgia Humanities,” said Dr. Priscilla Danheiser, dean of the College of Professional Advancement. “This grant will allow us to expand this longstanding project through which Mercer students are playing an important role in documenting and preserving the rich history and impact of African Americans living in Georgia’s coastal region.”

Binya, cumya buttons on table
Pins depict the Gullah Geechee words “cumya” and “binya,” which mean “come here” and “been here,” respectively. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith.

This year’s project, titled “Binya, Cumya (Been Here, Come Here): Gullah Geechee Life and Culture on St. Simons Island and in Brunswick, Georgia,” will culminate in a public program on Saturday, May 20, 1-4 p.m., at Nalls Auditorium at Epworth-by-the-Sea on St. Simons Island.

The program will focus on family histories as well as on Union Memorial Cemetery, also known as Strangers Cemetery, and will combine student-produced digital stories with a performance by the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices.

The Washington Revels Jubilee Voices is an ensemble committed to the preservation of African American history and traditions through songs and stories of struggle and perseverance, trials and triumphs, as expressed through a cappella music, drama and dance.

Since 2010, the group has performed regularly at heritage sites throughout the Washington, D.C. area, singing, sharing and learning the stories of the people in those communities. In addition to music, the ensemble also explores poetry and writings, along with first- and third-person portrayals of African Americans whose stories are a vital contribution to American history.

“Binya, Cumya (Been Here, Come Here): Gullah Geechee Life and Culture on St. Simons Island and in Brunswick, Georgia” is supported by Georgia Humanities in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, through funding from the Georgia General Assembly.

About the College of Professional Advancement

Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement is committed to serving post-traditional learners. Undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs are offered to adult learners seeking professional advancement into leadership roles in and beyond their communities. Programs provide students with distinctive, multidisciplinary experiences that integrate theory and practice. In addition to providing general education and elective courses for various colleges and schools at Mercer, the College of Professional Advancement offers degree programs in areas including technology, public safety, public and human services, leadership and administration, health care and liberal arts. Programs are offered on Mercer’s campuses in Atlanta and Macon, as well as Regional Academic Centers in Douglas County and Henry County, and online. To learn more, visit

Featured photo: A group from Mercer, including Dr. Melanie Pavich, fourth from left, looks at a grave at Strangers Cemetery on St. Simons Island in August 2021. For the past several years, Dr. Pavich’s students have been learning the stories of African Americans buried at Strangers and elsewhere on the island. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith.