I hope we can openly and honestly begin to address how historic legacy — especially the legacy of slavery and race relations in America — continues to shape our education, media, political, social, religious and (in)justice systems (“The Meaning,” Cover Story, Feb. 2).
To quote Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, my mentor and artistic director of the Conciliation Project, “Consciousness is temporary.” We must continue to redress history in order to undress the truth. History is living, and we must persistently re-evaluate its consequences.
For a moment, use your imagination to suspend any notion of your skin color and place yourself in these scenarios:
What would you do if:
1. You are kidnapped from your home and taken to a land where you don't speak the language and no one looks like you except for those kidnapped alongside you?
2. You, your wife and your children are all sold to different masters, then forced to pick crops in which you receive no financial benefits — in 100-degree Southern heat?
3. You are set free by declaration from the president after receiving inadequate education, little social welfare and limited access to “due process”?
4. You finally make a living off sharecropping or shoe shining, cleaning houses, working in a factory, but your civil rights are consistently attacked even though the federal Constitution affords you the right to vote, own property and gain employment wherever you choose?
5. Your house or your neighbor's house is burned, your uncle lynched, daughter raped or business destroyed by members outside your community after decades of successfully establishing a peaceful community?
6. You are finally able to rise up against injustice through many acts of nonviolent protest and pass strong federal legislation protecting your rights as a citizen, and the government bulldozes your entire neighborhood (including the businesses, churches and community centers), or builds a federal highway system through your backyard, kicking you out of your only home, without giving you any prior warning or explanations except, “Because” or “It's for the greater good?”
7. You and more than 10 generations of your family are forced to attend schools, live in a community and work menial jobs all disproportionately underfunded based on the color of your skin?
8. You live in a city “celebrating” the 150th anniversary of this history while many people in the community, some even your neighbors, say to you, “We need to stop focusing so much on the negative parts of history,” “Leave the past in the past,” “Slavery is an outdated institution that has no bearing on the present”?
What would you do?
Gaining the courage and strength to talk about what we have not honestly talked about for centuries is so vital to our nation's history and future. Today, I send a call to everyone to put aside the blame, move beyond the guilt and shame, take responsibility for the truth you do know and recognize there are many truths you do not.
We must allow space to grieve. Allow space to listen.
Start by asking someone who looks different from you about their experiences growing up in the former capitol of the Confederacy. Open up conversation with someone who has lived in Richmond for many decades and has had a chance to witness changes. Attend and participate in a community dialogue. Ask questions.
America has roots on the shores of the James River. Richmond can set a precedent of change for the entire nation. Let us use this rich history to lead the movement toward racial healing. For information visit theconciliationproject.org.
Director of Development and Community Partnerships
The Conciliation Project