We are here to change who we are, how we think and why we instinctively react as we do when the subject is Race. What we see is created by what we believe. It is how we form the thoughts and biases we seldom acknowledge to ourselves or to others.
As talk of removing Confederate statues began across the nation, our initial focus was Monument Avenue. At that time, we came down on the side of adding content. Disturbingly brutal content. Stomach-turning content. There’s a reason people hide history and it’s not pride. Along with a lot of folks, we came to the “middle path” — neither glorifying nor tearing down the monuments. Adding context (including how the construction of the monuments themselves, the reasons for their being and impact they had when built and to today) might turn the avenue into one of many classrooms in a network of learning. At least that’s the hope of “Little Monuments in Grace Park.”
It became obvious that the monuments were a symptom; not the cause. That’s not to say that the monuments don’t feed and exacerbate a broad spectrum of “causes” but the sad underlying truth is we understand our Virginia history based primarily on our race. In no small measure, what we hold as truth as the story told us by grandparents and great grandparents and reinforced by schools, churches, media and our “group” is what we believe to be truth. In some cases, the all encompassing truth.
Which, of course, is not the whole truth and nothing but. In the aftermath of Mother Emanuel in Charleston, Charlottesville and Monument Avenue, the media typically concludes that we must have a “national discussion” on Race. And it never happens. Why, you ask? Because it’s a bit tough to have 325 million Americans begin such a discussion. We believe (perhaps naively) that a few hundred of the good people in Richmond might (in the spirit of “Little Monuments”) be able to create a local, grassroots conversation on the subject of racial healing, understanding and empathy.
Which will be not at all easy. We are facing a conversation about a scar sliced across America before we were America. Passions will run high. We have an abiding faith that people unlike in a myriad of ways can nevertheless understand, support and comfort each other. Not necessarily supporting the opinions of everyone in the room but to simply, honestly support everyone in the room. We are interdependent, social creatures and we must be willing to give and receive love.
Our discussions will be “original sin” difficult. Each of us wants to share. No one wants to be misjudged. It’s vital to remember — especially when the voices get louder, the tears flow, wounds feel deeper, and our frustration builds. We must remember. We all have pain. We all have sorrow. We must each say to the people near us, lean on me. I’ll help you carry on.