Stories to inspire a better community being told

7/15/2016, 10:15 a.m.
The Hippodrome Theater in Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward was buzzing Saturday evening as 400 people of all ages and races ...
From left, artist S. Ross Browne, Afrikana Film Festival founder Enjoli Moon, Feast RVA co-founder Josh Epperson and Untold RVA founder Free Egunfemi react to one of the stories during last Saturday’s storytelling event at the Hippodrome Theater in Jackson Ward. Sandra Sellars/Richmond Free Press

Storytellers shared portions of their lives as the program’s main feature. The passion each displayed moved the audience to respond affirmatively to the ideas they presented.

Nathan Burrell, superintendent of the James River Parks System, shared his story about his work. He described the history of Richmond’s river, detailing how it was used in the slave trade. Slaves were transported along the James River and brought to Lumpkin’s Jail, a slave holding pen owned by Robert Lumpkin. Lumpkin married and had children with a former slave, Mary, who eventually turned the jail into a schoolhouse. Today, that school is known as Virginia Union University, which produced the nation’s first African-American governor, L. Douglas Wilder.

“The healing process of what’s taken place here in Richmond mirrors what’s taking place in our nation. We’ve gone from the slave house to the White House,” Mr. Burrell said.

Dr. Sharon Gaunt, who is white, and the Rev. Paige Chargois, who is African-American, told the final story of the evening.

The women met when Dr. Gaunt needed a ride to the bank. During the drive, they began discussing their family history. Dr. Gaunt’s family owned slaves, but something she told Dr. Chargois really touched her. She said, “When I die, I don’t want to be buried with my family. I don’t want to be buried with the slaves. I want to be buried in between my family and the slaves.” It is a powerful symbol of racial reconciliation, as the last thing Dr. Gaunt will do is to serve as a bridge in her death, connecting her family with the slaves.

Dr. Gaunt’s family crest is tattooed on her leg. It contains a Latin phrase that means while I breathe, I hope.

Dr. Chargois encouraged the audience to believe in that motto. “Turn that breath to action and change,” she said.

Audience members left with a greater understanding of each other. Enjoli Moon, founder of the Afrikana Independent Film Festival, said, “This event helps us to understand each other on a different level as humans and have common ground. When you can get a diverse group of people in the same room who are open-minded, you can find the common thread of humanity.”

The funds raised from Saturday’s event will be used for the beautification of the African Burial Grounds at 15th and Broad streets. There will be an unveiling of current beautification efforts 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 27.