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Event Promotes Racial Reconciliation on Virginia’s 400th Anniversary
By Kaytlin Nickens
Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Virginia — With art, music, dance and spoken word, a national organization that fights injustice is holding a two-day event in Richmond to reflect on the history of slavery in Virginia and to promote racial reconciliation.
The organization, Initiatives of Change USA, partnered with more than 30 nonprofits, businesses, artists and social justice activists to host “Something in the Water” at Studio Two Three in Richmond. The event began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will conclude Tuesday — the National Day of Racial Healing.
“This year is 2019, and it’s the 400th year of observance in Jamestown,” said Sionne Neely, the group’s director of marketing and communications. But she noted that it also is the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans being brought to Jamestown — the first slaves in what would later become the United States.
Slavery has left rifts in American society, and events like “Something in the Water” can help heal them, Neely said. “There are a lot of different perspectives being shown here,” she added, describing them as “portals, opportunities to experience something new and different.”
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation helped create Initiatives of Change USA and establish the National Day of Racial Healing to celebrate humanity, acknowledge racial division and increase understanding and communication among all ethnic groups.
Richmond is one of the 14 cities to receive a grant from Initiatives of Change USA to achieve those goals.
Sarah Workman, the organization’s program development coordinator, said she is concerned with how to change the narrative of Richmond, where slaves were once bought and sold. “I felt a certain heaviness that I really didn’t understand,” she said.
Workman left Richmond at the age of 18 and didn’t return until almost 16 years later. She said it was important for her to come back and understand what the people of color she grew up with went through.
“A big part of what racial healing means to me is finally unearthing that empathy and understanding,” Workman said. She said she is “trying to figure how I can be in this community using my privilege — my whiteness — to help this community.”
Also at Monday’s event was Eleazer Afotey Allnice, a native of Ghana and student at the University of Richmond. He said there is beauty in color.
“It helps us to reflect on the past and how to make our society a better place,” Allnice said. “Everyone is important.”
Christina Hairston, a local artist, also attended “Something in the Water.”
“I think people need something that just uplifts their spirits in these times but is also informative — even for the kids here,” Hairston said.
Amanda Barnes is the graphic designer and social media liaison for Initiatives of Change USA. She said she hope that each person at the event gains individual voice and power.
“There are people who aren’t aware that this is the 400th year that Africans were brought over,” Barnes said. “This is kind of a reflection point of where we are as a society and what changes should happen.”