2nd annual UGRR freedom regatta weekend

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
A group of Dorchester County youths took part in the 2nd Annual Underground Railroad Freedom Regatta Weekend in Cambridge. One of their stops was an impromptu visit to Yacht Maintenance, where Foreman Scott Matje, far right, guided the students around the yard and spoke to them about safety and jobs on the water.

CAMBRIDGE — A group of Dorchester County teenagers learned about the history and contributions of African Americans in the maritime trades, over the weekend, as well as opportunities they may one day wish to pursue.

The 2nd Annual Underground Railroad Freedom Regatta Weekend featured tours and activities at the Ruark Boatworks and Yacht Maintenance on Friday, followed by a regatta on Saturday.

“We want them to be aware of marine trades and recreation,” Omeakia Jackson said. As one of the organizers of the event, she said part of the concept was to teach the young people that they are not limited to factory work when they enter the workforce.

And though some might associate boating and working on the water with European Americans, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, Black folks were even more involved in the trades in the past.

“At one point, it went away from us” 50-60 years ago, Ms. Jackson said. “It’s a real business opportunity for many young people.”

Marcus Asante is the director of Marine Arts Workshop and founder of the Universal Sailing Club. He taught the group technical terms related to boats, and told them about the variety of good jobs available in the field, as the students busily took notes.

“Marine Arts Workshop is excited to return to Cambridge to serve teenage students with marine skills training and their own regatta,” he said in statement online.

Hands-on activities such as building models and operating machinery put the teens in contact with shipwrights, marine technicians and recreational boaters to give them a taste of life on the water, whether as a career or for relaxation.

They also got a military perspective, during an impromptu visit to Yacht Maintenance. Foreman Scott Matje – who is retired from the Coast Guard – noticed the group, and offered to escort them around the yard.

Regarding learning about vessels and safety, he said, “If you grow up on the Shore, you need to know.”

As for the regatta, Ms. Jackson posted a video of the race, showing young people at the helms of sailboats on the river. “What a great experience for the youth,” she said. “Five boat owners volunteered.”

One parent, Melva Bolden wrote, “Thanks Omeakia, I’m so glad my kids got the opportunity to participate.”

It proved to be a lively time, all done in the heat and humidity of high summer. “There was teamwork, teasing, and impatience but they had fun,” Ms. Jackson wrote. “Last year was the first regatta with African-American youth.”

“Why is the Underground Railroad Freedom Regatta important? Our youth need to know about the marine trades and recreation,” she wrote. “They are surrounded by water in our county, the Choptank River. Watermen have been important in our community for centuries especially with blue crabs and oysters. We have no black watermen who own their boats and make a living off of the seafood in our waters. The last one retired years ago. There is honest money to be made. Our youth get to see the value in this career field.”

“Get them interested,” Mr. Matje said. “I’m glad to see it.”

Sponsors and partners of the weekend were Richardson Maritime Museum, Harvesting Hope Family and Wellness, Cambridge Yacht Club, Eastern Shore Sailing Association and Composite Yacht Company.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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