Black philanthropy spotlight

Jazz with a higher purpose

We all love jazz. But what happens when you take a local jazz concert to a higher level in pursuit of a higher purpose? We know the answer: it is the award-winning Ocean City Jazz Festival. This jazz festival is an example of black philanthropy — and love! — in action.

Today we share the story of the award-winning Ocean City Jazz Festival to inspire readers who harbor a dream and haven’t yet realized it. We also share it as part of Black History Month in an effort to highlight Black philanthropy and the strength and assets of Black communities across the country.

This year’s Fourth of July weekend will mark the 10th anniversary of the Ocean City Jazz Festival, and it promises to be the best yet. The concert has grown from the porch of the Ocean City Community Center on the North Carolina shore to a four-day festival on the beach with nationally recognized performers, wine tastings, yoga, church services, and a gospel brunch.

Over the past four years the festival has grown from a one-day event with two performing artists and 150 people attending to four days with 10 artists attracting over 600 per day. In the past three years the number of sponsors has increased 20% and revenues from sponsors have increased by 50%.

Carla and Craig Torrey are the driving force behind this event. This husband-and-wife team — with a band of volunteers — have steadily grown the festival with consistency, partnerships, and a willingness to invest time in changing how they position the event before sponsors, how they communicate their value, and who they approach.

Bottom line: the festival recruits sponsors with a business case. They document their economic impact and provide attendance numbers and demographics including breakouts by gender, ethnicity, income, past festival attendance, educational attainment, age, household ownership, and household structure. They have developed and nurtured extensive media partnerships that allow them to offer event sponsors comprehensive exposure via print, radio, television, digital, outdoors, and social media. They communicate the business value of festival sponsorship so well that they were selected as the winner of “Best Sponsorship Packet” at the Showfest Excellence Awards, beating out 169 other North Carolina festivals.

This year is the festival’s 10th anniversary and the 70th anniversary of this historic African American community — Ocean City is the first place on the North Carolina shore where Blacks could purchase beachfront property.

This history was made 15 years before the federal Civil Rights Act mandated change, and Carla’s father was part of it. He was a contractor who built his home and went on to build many of the homes within the community. Carla’s experience spending summers in Ocean City and her love for her father drew Carla and Craig to invest their time, talent, treasures, and resources into the jazz festival.

“My dad would tell the story of how he paid $500 for the lot and how it took him 10 years to pay it off. We often sit on the porch and think about how that $500 investment came a long way,” said Carla.

Today the Torreys and the community are making another investment: they are ensuring the history is told and that resources will be available to help Black families retain their community despite the pressures of developers, an aging homeowner population, and the struggle to pay taxes.

Contact the Ocean City Jazz Festival to become a sponsor. Purchase tickets and join us and so many others over the Fourth of July weekend.

A Unique Part of African American History

The Ocean City Jazz Festival is a program of the Ocean City Beach Citizens Council and is run by an all-volunteer team with 30 people from the Greater Topsail Area community and 15 from the Single Marine Program of the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, NC. The mission of the Ocean City Beach Citizens Council is to promote the history of the community — and what a history it is!

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the community’s founding. Ocean City was established in 1949 and is the first coastal community in North Carolina where Blacks could purchase land. Fifteen years before the Civil Rights Act, a white businessman from Wilmington, NC, purchased land on Topsail Island, which had been a missile testing site during World War II. As he developed the island for potential white homeowners, he also worked with Black people in Wilmington to create Ocean City Developers corporation, which laid the plans for developing a community where Blacks could purchase oceanfront homes.

This was unique, but just the beginning. Next came the work of encouraging African Americans to invest in the community and purchase homes. The founders went to teachers associations and professional associations encouraging African Americans to make an “out of the box” financial investment. As Carla Torrey shared with us, this was an investment that “Black people weren’t supposed to make.”

Up until the time they created this community, there were Black beaches, but they were recreational, for day trips. The plan for the Ocean City community was that Blacks would own the land and have a place to stay and recreate.

Carla’s father was one of those early investors and homeowners. He was a contractor working in Fayetteville. He built his home and went on to build many of the homes within the community. “I remember when I was small he would spend the summers down there and they would build houses all summer long. I would go down there with him. He owned a house that he built and that workers stayed in over the summer. That was our family home. We still have that home.”

It was this history within the community that drew Carla and Craig to invest their time, talent, treasures, and resources into the jazz festival.

Contact the Ocean City Jazz Festival to become a sponsor. Purchase tickets and join us and so many others over the Fourth of July weekend.

Q&A with the Torreys:

Saad&Shaw: How long have you been involved with the jazz festival, and what got you involved?

Carla: We’ve been involved for five years. When my father passed in 2009 I wanted to do something that I felt would be important to him, and I felt the Ocean City community was that. That is how we got involved with the Ocean City Beach Citizens Council. After being involved with the council we moved to participation with the jazz festival. The first question we asked was, “How would you like to elevate this?” It began with 100 people on a porch and we wanted to know, “Do you want to reach a greater audience?” We felt the community needed more promotion and awareness about its history. The more people we reached out to the better our message would come across.

Saad&Shaw: What keeps you committed to the festival?

Carla: We are really excited about trying to make a difference in the community. We want to grow festival revenue so we can stop the land loss. Last year we had three properties that were “lost” because of tax issues. If we can get enough revenue from the festival we can stop some of that.

Craig: On the fun side, we really like seeing people have a good time and really enjoy the atmosphere of the festival. Part of us enjoys the challenge!

Saad&Shaw: Tell us about this award the festival won. What was the difference in you winning?

Craig: We were up against 169 well established festivals. Most of the other festivals had 20,000 and 30,000 in attendance, but we beat them out! No matter how big or small you are, if you pay attention to detail and you want to make people feel good about being at your event, that is a plus. The difference in terms of the sponsorship brochure was the detail in it, the amount of collaboration with partners, that increases our reach. And our story grabs you. The story of Ocean City grabs you like no other event. People see it and they want to experience it.

Saad&Shaw: Well that was our experience. As we got to know you two and learned about the festival and the community we wanted to know more and we wanted to experience the festival. So did our friends. When we came last summer, we fell in love. And speaking of love, we love that you call the festival “jazz with a purpose.”

Carla: It’s entertaining and yet it draws attention to the mission of our organization. This is a personal mission for us: we’ve turned the festival into an entertaining and fundraising event, full of pride and community engagement. It’s volunteers who make it happen.

Saad&Shaw: The festival is what we call a “start small, plan big” event. You have started small and practiced making the case locally, regionally, and now reaching across the country. Your commitment and dedication is infectious. You and your team are humble. You ask for guidance and put things in motion.

Carla: Another goal is that the history is not lost. It is important for future generations to understand the strength and faith it took to step out and say, “I know this hasn’t been done before and the world thinks I shouldn’t be here, but I’m going to do this.” That’s the history of our community, and the community has been here for 70 years. I grew up and I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be there. I would look to the left and see white people and look to the right and see white people, but I never felt afraid or that I didn’t have a right to be there. It was only as I got older that I realized that I wasn’t supposed to be there.

Craig: We want to be able to help members if they have any problems paying their taxes so they don’t lose their property. Our future vision could be a conservancy that purchases property and retains the legacy of the community.

Saad&Shaw: It’s historic what you are doing. It will impact the North Carolina African American community for generations to come. From a fundraising perspective you show what can be accomplished with dedication and sacrifice. You live what we teach: if you believe in a cause, go make the case. You live our motto: “keep pecking at the rock — sooner or later it’s gonna crack.” We take off our hats to you two and your volunteer team. We’ll see you at the festival!!

Ocean City Jazz FestivalContact the Ocean City Jazz Festival to become a sponsor. Purchase tickets and join us and so many others over the Fourth of July weekend.

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