In the summer of 1976, IBe’ Bulinda Hereford Crawley (B.A’ 81; M.Ed’88) arrived at VCU from Danville, Va., a mill town in south-central Virginia along the North Carolina border. The profound impact of growing up during the Civil Rights movement, coupled with the influential role her family and the women in her community played in the movement, left a lasting imprint on her life and work. 

In 1963, members of her family led and participated in a demonstration of some 250 people who confronted the local government about racial inequalities in the city. That action, spurred in part of the closing of the public library in defiance of a court order to integrate, became known as Bloody Monday. Danville’s political action group was affiliated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Dr. King made several visits to Crawley’s hometown for speaking engagements. His assassination was a transformative event during her youth. These early experiences ignited her lifelong dedication to community empowerment.

Passionate about her education and learning, Crawley graduated from high school at age 16. Initially, due to financial constraints, she made plans to work at the local mill. However, after meeting a VCU basketball player at church she was prompted to follow her dream of higher education. With the support of her community and family who provided the funds needed, she was able to attend VCU.  

“I remember the day my father drove me to Franklin Street. I remember the day we drove up to Rhoads Hall and we unpacked my things and my parents went home. I loved it here from the very beginning. I felt at home!” 

To support herself during her time in school, she took on several work-study jobs. Her favorite was at Cabell Library. In this year-long position, she found joy in restocking shelves with books. This role allowed her to immerse herself in a wealth of information as she examined titles and delved into the content within the books. 

After earning her English degree from VCU in 1981, she briefly worked in accounts payable at the then-Medical College of Virginia in the supply department. She then embarked on a fulfilling career in social work, dedicating a decade to leading instructional programs for recently released prisoners to help them reconnect with their families and successfully rejoin society. Additionally, she contributed to equally important causes by working with the local battered women’s shelter and The Daily Planet, providing assistance to those navigating mental health challenges.

After many years working with adults, she felt a calling to advocate for children. She returned to VCU to earn a Master’s degree in early childhood education in 1988. She served as an educator in various schools within Henrico and Fairfax counties including Chamberlayne Elementary School, Hayfield Secondary School and Weyanoke Elementary School. She continued her work in social services during the evenings. As a lifelong learner, she also pursued additional certifications in special education and history, along with serving as an International Baccalaureate coordinator at Walt Whitman Middle School.  

Identifying herself as a storyteller at heart, Crawley secured a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities to formalize her passion in 1989. This grant enabled her to share her gift with students across the state by facilitating African American History Month storytelling assemblies.

After dedicating 30 years to education, she retired in 2015 and embraced a new career path. With a passion for art and an interest in community-based initiatives, she seized the opportunity to explore how to work with them both. Wanting to understand how to better engage communities and inspire learning through art, she decided to start the IBe’ Arts Institute

Building upon her educational background, she returned to schools and communities, engaging with children and young adults to create artist books centered around their personal stories and family narratives. Working in communities affected by violence, she discovered that the process of creating book art served as a healthy and creative outlet for students to process their experiences and improve connections with their families. 

In 2021, Crawley was introduced to a historic 1830s school building in Hopewell, Va. that was originally constructed by enslaved men for white males. It is located a block away from General Grant’s Headquarters at City Point. She transformed the dilapidated property into a warm and inspiring art gallery and studio. Her gallery has evolved into both a sanctuary for her creations and a welcoming haven for visiting artists and community members. 

She leveraged the proceeds from her first book, 11033, to establish her studio. 11033 serves as a contemplation of the emotions and experiences of Mary Morst, a pregnant African-American woman confined to the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1921. Out of the 52 copies produced, 45 have been acquired by universities and galleries, including VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.   

Looking ahead, She is scheduled to give a lecture on April 25 at Penn State University for the 2024 Charles W. Mann Lecture in the Book Arts. Additionally, her work A Dwelling for Her Story, 2023, is featured in an exhibition at the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington. 

Categories Alumni, Community