Organization hosts conversation about race, slavery

MIDDLETOWN — A local organization met Saturday at the Belle Grove Plantation to discuss the contemporary implications of slavery and how its unhealed harms manifest themselves today.

Coming to the Table is a national organization that works to build a forum to discuss the ongoing problems that stem from American slavery in an attempt to build understanding, perspective, progress and healing.

Will Hairston, who works with Eastern Mennonite University, and Judith James, program coordinator with the Warren-Page County branch of the NAACP, co-chair the local chapter.

During the meeting, James said she became involved with the organization as a means of healing and improving racial relations in America after seeing the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown.

“I have to be a part of the problem-solving process where the people are,” she said.

At their meeting, participants, both white and black, discussed their ancestral roots as both enslaved and slave-owning peoples, and swapped perspectives on an oftentimes-taboo subject.

Like James, Hairston said because the conversations about race and painful family history can be uncomfortable, they’re too often avoided, which leads to important history becoming marginalized.

“There’s a tendency to sweep African-American history under the rug, like it never even happened,” he said.

One woman, who requested her name not be used due to harassment she’s faced from local hate-based groups, shared her personal journey of tracing her genealogy back far enough to discover her family’s ties to the Royal African Company, a slave-trading outfit.

Alford “AD” Dennis Carter III, president of the Warren-Page County NAACP branch, attended the meeting as well. He said building these dialogues is the only avenue to progress, and encouraged any and all to come and sit in on the meetings.

“The more people we get in this circle to dialogue and hear each other’s stories, the more we hope to mitigate these harms and damages,” he said.

Looking forward, Coming to the Table will continue to host meetings and foster dialogue. The Shenandoah Valley chapter’s next meeting will take place at 10 a.m. Aug. 10 at a location to be determined in Harrisonburg.

Additionally, the Northern Virginia chapter of the same organization will meet at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Belle Grove Plantation for a meeting as well.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com