In the wake of #Charlottesville, in my hometown, #Richmond, permits have been requested for rallies against the removal of Confederate statues on the city’s grand, unequalled Monument Avenue. My beautiful hometown #Richmond, where, like everyone who grew up here, I passed these statues every single day. Where every street name, every corner, and many families I grew up with, breathe the history of bloodshed and the devastation of the Civil War as though it is still alive – barely concealed beneath a thin veil of muted lips, but where the history of slavery, and the continued poverty of African-American neighborhoods is unconcealable.
The symbolism of a potential “alt-right” or neo-Nazi rally taking place in what was the Capital of The Confederacy cannot be underestimated. Simply the presence of such a rally in the city will already be an overwhelming victory except for one possibility at all: Richmond and Virginia need to respond so overwhelmingly non-violently, surrounding hatred and bigotry arm in loving arm, such as with candles in silence ― so powerfully, as to crush it with the image and power of true love, forgiveness and togetherness. Anything less will be a failure of catastrophic proportions.
Imagine the looming spectacle and inherent statement that would be made by fascist flags and conflict on Monument Avenue, with it’s Parisian/Champs Elysees-esque grandeur. America may be just waking up to the divide in our country, reminded of just how important our choice of words and actions are again, but to those of us from the South, we have never forgotten why we must love one another with every syllable and gesture, and why non-violence for a more equal world must be our sword’s tip.
Those of us from the South have never forgotten why we must love one another, and why non-violence for a more equal world must be our sword’s tip.
We must reframe this argument not as us against them, not as a counter-protest to stop others ― that would already be a victory for those with lesser morals. We must make this instead about what we are FOR: a we and a world that includes all of us. We must reclaim the great unifying purpose of humanity ― where MLK left off knowing, and we have all known since before Christ’s time ― that the true struggle that unites all humanity is the struggle for economic and social equality, in which all of us, of every color and nation, are inextricably bound - including those who “know not what they do.”
From St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to Grace Church on Monument, and from every church in Jackson Ward, Church Hill and all of the city’s glorious seven hills to the city’s schools and social service organizations, the potential of the most glorious expression of healing and light are possible in this amazing city where slavery and the Civil War are not the only history. Richmond, and Virginia, are also where American diversity and interracial harmony have their origins. Let us seize and lift up that great history above all –- the history of Richmond as a place where integration is not only older than #Loving, but older than the Constitution itself.
While we’re at it, let’s also be constructive and think about alternatives, third ways to both recognize dark histories and opposing heritages and bring them together in one narrative that leads to salvation for all. Regardless of whether Monument Avenue’s current statues would be removed or not, what monuments would you like to see added that are not there now?
It is not hard to come up with candidates, just look at the unbelievable list of African American Virginians who have been American pioneers: Henry Box Brown, Nat Turner, Dred Scott, Ella Fitzgerald, Booker T. Washington, Maggie Walker, Richard and Mildred Loving, Adam Clayton Powell.
And imagine if the same day or day after any potential hate-filled rally took place, we organized a #BringTheLight concert and rally for unity and equality attended by 10,000s, one founded in nonviolent love and light ― with interfaith and civil rights leaders, and a host of current Virginian artists (Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliott, Dave Matthews Band) and a host of Virginian and American youth who’ve written poem’s, songs, dances in the name of unity?
We have the opportunity to reframe this situation, reclaim our country’s moral compass and rewrite history. And we must.