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About 115 Richmonders attended the final #UnmaskingRVA session, held Thursday, Feb. 9, at Dogtown Dance Theatre. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Brian Gullins, CAO of Civitas Health Services, shared an analogy with attendees, likening the Olympic tradition of passing the torch from one athlete to the next to the way Richmonders have passed down biases from one generation to the next. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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LeMar Bowers of Civitas Health Services (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Yewande Austin, founder/CEO of the Global Institute for Diversity and Change, presented a mini-seminar in the second half of the program. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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#UnmaskingRVA attendees participating in one of Yewande Austin's group exercises (Photo by Jay Paul)
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#UnmaskingRVA co-creator and Richmond magazine Arts & Entertainment Editor Samantha Willis closed the event by sharing lines from Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "We Wear the Mask." (Photo by Jay Paul)
"A traumatic event requires a therapeutic response. Richmond's transgenerational trauma – that is, multiple decades of race-based conflict, that's really based on fear — is traumatic. We all have to start healing ourselves from that."
This statement by Brian Gullins, CAO of the Richmond-based counseling agency Civitas Health Services, Inc., pinpoints the purpose of the final session of Richmond magazine's three-part learning series, The Unmasking, Race & Reality in Richmond, held Thursday, Feb. 9, at Dogtown Dance Theatre. This event was about finding a way forward.
Gullins, together with Civitas founder/CEO LeMar Bowers, presented a workshop in the first half of the event with historical and contemporary examples of Richmond's racial trauma, from the city's past as a major slave trading hub, to the woeful forced sterilization of "mentally unfit" Virginians (most often, poor people and/or people of color) through discriminatory legislation like the Sterilization Act of 1924. Coupled with this information, Civitas gave strategies for dealing with racial trauma, and encouraged attendees to reflect on the beliefs instilled in all of us since birth — and revise them, if necessary.
LeMar Bowers (left) and Brian Gullins of Civitas Health Services presented data outlining Richmond (and Virginia's) history of race- and discrimination-based trauma. (Photo by Jay Paul)
"The things our parents and grandparents taught us about other people, those messages probably contained bias, because we all have biases," said Bowers. "Many of us don't even realize that we're carrying around these beliefs; it keeps the cycle of discrimination, bias and distrust going. You have to make the choice, as an individual, to stop that cycle." Learn more about healing our community at Civitas' upcoming workshops.
In the second half of the program, Yewande Austin, founder/CEO of the Global Institute for Diversity and Change, gave a dynamic presentation on understanding bias, diversity and inclusion, and offered strategies for racial conflict resolution. She told the audience that there are more than 230 documented forms of discrimination, that true inclusion is about fostering an environment where everyone — regardless of race, sex, lifestyle or background — feels safe and empowered to share their views and opinions, among many other lessons. She walked attendees through several exercises designed to show that we're all more similar than not, and to recognize and celebrate our differences rather than allow them to divide us.
Yewande Austin talks with #UnmaskingRVA attendees about understanding the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond. (Photo by Jay Paul)
"Discrimination still exists because we want to oppress and control people," said Austin, "and that need is born out of fear. But there's a way out of that: Fight that fear, exercise empathy for others, accept others and their purpose, and reevaluate your perceptions."
The end of the #UnmaskingRVA series marks a beginning, we hope, for the city of Richmond. Out of it, an opportunity for authentic change and growth arises, for all of us. We can continue to be defined by our past, or we can learn from our history, work to heal ourselves from past racial wrongs, set our minds and hearts toward creating a better Richmond for our children and the generations of Richmonders yet to be born. As a next step, we invite you to do a few things:
- Peruse our resource sheet (distributed at the last Unmasking event), featuring the racial reconciliation, equality and advocacy work of some of our community partners. Get involved and take action in building a better Richmond.
- Check out the Life in 10 Minutes #UnmaskingRVA creative writing workshop on Thursday, Feb. 16, from 7 to 9 p.m., co-facilitated by me and Valley Haggard. It's a creative, therapeutic response to racial trauma, and proceeds benefit the Richmond Young Writers scholarship fund; find details and register here.
- Reflect on what you've learned through the #UnmaskingRVA series and decide how you can apply it to your life. I'd love to hear your feedback, too: samanthaw [at] richmag [dot] com.
Thank you, Richmond, for listening and learning with us. #UnmaskingRVA