Preservation Virginia Blog


An Interview with Dr. Lisa Winn Bryan, Community Outreach Manager

1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career, and what led to this role at Preservation Virginia?

I’m a preacher’s kid who grew up in the Black church. That statement will resonate with some right away. I felt like a military child growing up. Wherever my father pastored a church, that’s where we lived and attended school. I’ve lived in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Amherst, Harrisonburg, and Richmond. It’s a random fact that I was born in Baltimore, Maryland but we moved to Virginia immediately after I came into this world so I have no memory of Maryland at all. My life has been Virginia.

I’m a two time graduate of JMU (BA and MEd) and VCU (BA and EdD). I love school, college, language, culture, travel, and African American history. African American Studies is what led me to Preservation Virginia. I interned with PV to complete the requirements for my degree in African American Studies, with a concentration in African American history and literature. I saw the position and applied immediately.

2. What first got you interested in history?

As a child I loved looking at old photos and documents, and listening to my elders tell stories. I loved spending time with my grandmother, who was an awesome cook, and learning about the history of all of the communities we lived in. I wish I had asked her more questions. So many secrets and clues to our Virginia history are left with the ancestors, so I will have to dig deep to get those answers from the people that I meet and the communities I visit.

3. What do you hope to accomplish? Is there specific work within the preservation community that you would like to highlight and support?

Where do I begin! The assignment and responsibility are huge. I’m passionate about the historic preservation of African American and Native American communities and spaces; it means a lot to me personally. The Virginia story is a direct reflection of me and my family.

Aside from discovering all of the AA and NA historic spaces Virginia has to offer, I want to really connect with the people and communities that live and have history in the cities and spaces that I will visit. I want to formalize programming to tell the stories of the sites that PVA has oversight over. The stories of the enslaved, Rosenwald Schools, Native and Indigenous communities, cemeteries, and organizations are all priorities for me.

There are also organizations and schools in these communities that are in jeopardy: masonic orders, the history of the Divine Nine, civil rights organizations, and churches. Programming can be created through digital platforms to tell the stories: podcasting, social media, blogs/newsletters, webinars, programs for Native American Indian Indigenous Heritage Month, Black History Month, Juneteenth, Virginia HBCU recognition, and a formalized internship program, not just for the African American Fellows program but all PV internships. I think there is a lot of, “Did you know?” programming that we can produce.

I also want to help Development identify families, organizations and foundations that will support the programming our constituents want to see and experience. I have over 21 years of development experience that we can also leverage at PV.

I know…these are bodacious and ambitious goals but not impossible. I’m thinking of a name that will encapsulate the programs that will speak to these very specific communities. If you think of anything I’m open.

4. What would you hope folks will have a better understanding of after attending Preservation Virginia programs?

I hope everyone participating knows what we do as a statewide organization- that we serve as a resource to so many. I also hope we can attract untapped audiences, all audiences. I want to expand our Preservation Virginia Family to know and understand who we are. I’d like to share the full story of all Virginians, especially those that have been disenfranchised.

5. Do you have a favorite historic site?

I have a two part answer to this question:

I am extremely partial to preserving the legacy of Black schools, particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). It is my life’s goal to visit them all. I have visited at least 50% of the more than 113 HBCUs across the country. I have worked with three HBCU campuses throughout my career. HBCUs have been the focal point of my research. I collect HBCU tee shirts and will soon have to make a quilt out of most of my shirts. I like it when I’m wearing a tee shirt and people are asking me, “Did you attend Spelman? Did you attend Bennett College? Hampton, VSU, or VUU?” I did not attend an HBCU but many of my family members did and you can’t speak of any Black leader or historic figure in this country without considering an HBCU: Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T. Washington, Katherine Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Kamala Harris, Chadwick Boseman, Toni Morrison, and Nikki Giovanni.

I hate to say this out loud because it’s not under the purview of Preservation Virginia, BUT I would have to also say Monticello. I am embarrassed to tell you the number of times I have been there over my lifetime. I appreciate how they have transformed and evolved over decades to tell the full story of life on the “Little Mountain.” The decisions and writings of Thomas Jefferson greatly impacted and influenced the direction of America. What they’ve done to illustrate the full story of Jefferson regarding the enslaved people of Monticello has been transformational as a historic site.