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Hopkinsville Community College unveils statue honoring bell hooks

Jennifer P. Brown
Hoptown Chronicle
Participants in the unveiling react to seeing the statue honoring bell hooks in Round Table Literary Park at the community college.

A statue representing an African American girl was unveiled Sunday in the Round Table Literary Park at Hopkinsville Community College to honor the late city native and author bell hooks.

The unveiling occurred on the 70th anniversary of her birth in Hopkinsville as Gloria Jean Watkins.

Widely recognized as one of her generation’s most influence intellectuals, hooks wrote more than 40 books — mainly about feminism, race and class. She was a professor at several colleges and universities. hooks died on Dec. 15, 2021, at Berea, where she was a distinguished professor at Berea College.

The HCC Foundation and college administrators announced plans for an art installation honoring hooks shortly after her death.

Jennifer P. Brown
Hoptown Chronicle
The Rev. Donavan Pinner and Gwenda Motley, sister of the late Gloria Jean Watkins, during a luncheon Sunday at Hopkinsville Community College.

She was “one of the great minds and thought leaders of the 20th century,” HCC President Dr. Alissa Young said during a luncheon prior to the unveiling.

The Rev. Donavan Pinner, a 2016 graduate of Hopkinsville High School and currently a seminary student at Princeton University, spoke about hooks’ legacy. The statue will be a site of “radical possibilities,” he said.

Despite hooks’ international acclaim, Pinner said he did not learn about her in Christian County Public Schools, which she also attended.

“There was no mention of her or her work or her 40-plus books at any stage … from kindergarten to senior year of high school,” he said. “However, today, we honor, reclaim and move toward reconciliation by unveiling a statue in the Round Table Literary Park for all students, citizens and visitors of Hopkinsville.”

Jennifer P. Brown
Hoptown Chronicle
Three boys who happened to playing in the park the day the statue was delivered to the college returned for the unveiling. They are (from left) Blake Burrus, 9, Demarein Gill, 10, and Ayden Brison, 11.

Pinner said he hoped the statue would help Hopkinsville “natives move from different social locations and begin necessary dialogue to build community of liberation and freedom for all.”

He concluded, “bell, you do belong here.”

Yvette Eastham, executive director of the HCC Foundation, said the college believes the statue is the first one of a child in Hopkinsville.

Averi Williams, a great-niece of Watkins and a third grade student at Indian Hills Elementary School, read from one of hooks’ children’s books, “Skin Again,” at the unveiling.

Three boys who happened to be in the park on the day the statue was delivered also attended the unveiling. They are Ayden Brison, 11, Demarein Gill, 10, and Blake Burrus, 9.

The statue portrays a girl with one arm lifted and a bird hovering over her open palm. It is not intended as a literal representation of bell hooks. Rather, it represents a young Black girl who is poised to become someone whose life is meaningful to the community. Although the statue was completed in time for the 70th anniversary of hooks’ birth, a granite base and bronze plaque will be added later this year to complete the installation. Other improvements are also planned in the park, which was established in 1974.

In another weekend event, several dozen women met at Virginia Street Baptist Church to celebrate and discuss the author’s legacy.

This story was originally published by the Hoptown Chronicle, a nonprofit newsroom covering Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

Jennifer P. Brown is the founder and editor of Hoptown Chronicle.
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