Tre’Onna Brown spent part of Monday afternoon picking up trash from around gravesites at the Pine Lawn Cemetery.
The 16-year-old was participating in a service project on Martin Luther King Jr. Day through the Level Up program, but the effort also meant something personally to her.
“I have lots of family buried here,” she said. “I know how much it means to my people for me to come out and do something for them. I wanted to do something good.”
Helping Hands offers Level Up in Aiken through a partnership with the Columbia Urban League.
“Level Up prepares young people for the future by teaching them how to be career-ready and financially stable,” said Kandace Cave, Helping Hands’ director of community programming. “But we also want to make sure that they are good stewards. This community is where they live and where they go to school, so they should be willing to invest their time to make it a better place for all of us.”
Pine Lawn, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the only public burial ground for African-Americans in Aiken from the mid-1800s until the mid-1900s. Over the years, it also was known as the Aiken Colored Cemetery and Pine Lawn Memorial Gardens.
Coleen Reed, who is Pine Lawn’s historian, gave the more than 20 youth who took part in the service project a tour of the cemetery and told them about its past.
“Many people who were prominent in Aiken County and the City of Aiken are buried here,” Reed said.
They include E.P. Stoney and Josie Smith Hazel.
Stoney was a well-known figure during the Reconstruction Era. He was a U.S. Marshal and one of the first Aiken County Commissioners. In addition, he was an intendant, which is a high-ranking official.
Hazel, who died in 1991, was an educator, social activist and civic leader.
“You can learn a lot in a graveyard,” said Shannon Graham, 16, after listening to Reed.
A’Nya Walker, 18, also thought that the information provided by Reed was interesting.
“There are some people who were in World I buried here,” she said.
Reed was impressed by the enthusiasm shown by the Level Up participants while they raked and pulled up weeds.
“This is a nice group of young people,” she said. “Look how hard they’re working.”
When they finished, Reed told them, “Thank you so much.”