Personality: Barbara S. Brown

Spotlight on Coming Together Virginia’s board chairwoman

9/8/2022, 6 p.m.
Coming to the Table was founded in 2006 when a small group of descendants of slaves and slave holders met …

Coming to the Table was founded in 2006 when a small group of descendants of slaves and slave holders met at a table in Harrisonburg with a goal of “Taking America Beyond the Legacy of Enslavement.”

Bringing people together for a shared meal was a way to establish relationships that would allow conversations to start. Since then, the organization has expanded to include dozens of local affiliates in 16 states throughout the United States.

The Richmond chapter started in 2014 and became a registered nonprofit five years later. This year the organization renamed itself Coming Together Virginia. It continues to dedicate itself to promoting racial equality and social justice by using what it refers to as the “four legs of its table” — uncovering history, making connections, working toward healing and taking action to dismantle systems of oppression.

This mission to improve race relations resonated with former principal Barbara S. Brown. The Henrico County resident first joined the Richmond chapter of Coming to the Table in 2016 after seeing a newspaper notice about the organization.

“The improvement of race relations was always a focal point of my 15 years as a school administrator, having provided leadership at four predominantly white schools,” Mrs. Brown said.

“At the first meeting that I attended that was predominantly white, I was in awe as they (participants) recited the ‘Pledge to End Racism’ and I was hooked.”

Mrs. Brown, who now is Coming Together Virginia’s board chairwoman, wants to use her relationship-building skills and ability to “organize an ant colony” to help Coming Together Virginia continue to grow.

“We are the largest [affiliate] by far and are expanding our programs to include the other eight affiliates in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Mrs. Brown said. “This will help us to address larger issues and agendas affecting marginalized communities such as housing, healthcare, public safety and education.”

To do this, Mrs. Brown sees the biggest priority and the biggest challenge as being one and the same — finding more committed individuals to serve on the board and further the mission of Coming Together Virginia.

“Sharing stories is a lot of what we do,” Mrs. Brown said. “Some of those conversations might be uncomfortable, but once people come together and share their stories it brings a level of comfortability afterward.”

Coming Together Virginia provides a safe space for shared learning experiences, whether through its Book Circle reading group, watching movies in the Movie Circle or sharing personal experiences around a physical table or in virtual breakout rooms. Many activities have a theme and often include guest speakers.

The organization’s monthly dinners on the third Tuesday draw about 60 attendees who are diverse by gender, age and race. Current and historical topics are discussed and personal stories are shared.

Mrs. Brown said sharing experiences like this makes participants think about the things that happened in the past and look for ways to make changes that show their support for just and equitable communities in Virginia and beyond.

A quote that Mrs. Brown often used to inspire her students as a principal can apply equally to making changes for the better to our society, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

promoting healing and systemic change, Coming Together Virginia’s chairwoman and this week’s Personality, Barbara S. Brown:

Volunteer position: Board chairwoman, Coming Together Virginia.

Date and place of birth: Nov. 13 in Farmville.

Where I live now: Henrico County.

Education: Proud “1960” graduate of Virginia Randolph High School; bachelor’s in mathematics, Virginia Union University; master’s in education administration and supervision, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Occupation: Former elementary, middle and high school principal in Goochland County, Petersburg and Prince Edward County. Currently Older Adult Program coordinator at the Peter Paul Development Center.

Family: Daughters, Martha (deceased) and Mary.

Coming Together Virginia is: A nonprofit organization dedicated to uncovering history and building relationships across RACIAL lines to move our communities toward the healing of people and repair of systems broken since the institution of slavery in this country.

Mission: To open hearts and minds through shared learning and bold truth telling. To connect people across the racial divide. To teach dialogue processes for healing conversations on difficult racial experiences. To promote action to dismantle the legacy of enslavement. To call forth just and equitable communities in Virginia and beyond.

Previously known as: Coming to the Table.

Reason for name change: We outgrew the old name! Coming Together Virginia is the largest affiliate of a national organization. We are the largest by far and are expanding our programs to include our other eight affiliates in the Commonwealth of Virginia.This will help us address larger issues and agendas affecting marginalized communities; such as housing, healthcare, public safety and education.

When and why founded: Our local affiliate, now renamed Coming Together Virginia, was founded by Martha Rollins and Danita Rountree Green in 2014, who were looking for a way to bring together Black and white people to heal our shared generational trauma and constructively work to repair it. Bringing people together for a good meal created the perfect atmosphere for these conversations. In 2019, our chapter received its 501(c) (3) status.

When elected board chair and length of term: Elected July 1, 2021, for a two-year term.

Why I accepted position: I have been a member of Coming Together Virginia, since 2016. During that time I have participated in a plethora of activities, including the Movie Circle Convener, the Facilitation Team, the Book Circle, an ambassador as well as a member of the Leadership Team. I was able to build sincere relationships with people who do not look like me. In Coming Together Virginia; we use a Black /white model for the CEO’s, chairs of circles, committees and the board. I was invited by Martha Rollins to join the CTVA board and I became the Black co-chair of the board.

Number one goal or project as board chair: To increase the size of the Coming Together Virginia board with balanced diversity.

Strategy for achieving goals: To share with a wider population the mission, vision and focus of Coming Together Virginia and to showcase our organization at the Leadership Metro Richmond Board Connectors Event on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

Biggest hurdle: Identifying persons to serve on the board who will embrace the mission and vision of Coming Together Virginia.

Reason for my involvement: I saw a notice in the newspaper in 2016 that CTTT was meeting at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church and the mission of the organization was improving race relations.

How to become involved: By visiting Coming Together Virginia on FACEBOOK and our landing page www.comingtogethervirginia.org, or contact us at info@comingtogethervirginia.org, for more information on our monthly activities.

What draws people to the organization? People are drawn to Coming Together Virginia because they are looking for a community of like-minded people searching for answers to current life-long issues: Why is there racial divide in our City? What leads me to believe certain things about people of another race? How can I, my friends and family be a part of repairing the breach between Black and white people? Many people in Richmond and throughout the Commonwealth are looking for a safe space to ask those questions. Coming Together Virginia provides that safe space by giving people an opportunity to learn about our shared history by reading together, watching movies together, listening to speakers together, traveling together, and more. We offer facilitated, authentic conversations where all voices are heard and respected. This helps us to build relationships and often heal old wounds caused by racism. Our participants also are able to discover actions they can take to make a difference.

Number of members: We have more than 2,000 subscribers who follow us regularly on social media and on our mailing list. However, we (have) had more than 4,000 people join us virtually from throughout the country and outside the United States who were interested in what was happening in the former Capital of the Confederacy.

Member profile: The average age is late 50s and early 60s. The majority of our members are white/ European Americans.

How to get involved:Visit the Coming Together Virginia website and sign up for our monthly newsletter that lists our activities and programs.

Today’s racial climate is: At a very toxic level since “Make America Great Again” became a focus of many Americans after the successful two-term presidency of Barack Obama.

How it affects Coming Together Virginia: European Americans who do not embrace the “Make America Great Again’ (rhetoric) are finding their way to our meetings, walks, movie and book discussions.

COVID-19 and Coming Together Virginia: During COVID-19 all circles and meetings were virtual. The virtual format provided the organization the opportunity to widen our audience in the city, state and the United States.

What is meant by white privilege: The inherent advantage possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.

Black Lives Matter means: All persons, even those whose skin is not white, are also human beings and should be treated fairly.

Upcoming events: Saturday, Sept. 3 - Sacred Ground Reclamation Project Walking Tour

Saturday, Sept. 10 - Trail of the Enslaved Africans

Tuesday, Sept. 20 - Dinner gathering, Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, 3601 Seminary Ave.

How I start the day: Always with a positive attitude and thoughts of my anticipated accomplishments for the day. The day usually ends with me reflecting on at least one good deed for at least one person.

Three words that best describe me: “Very Reliable Person.”

Best late-night snack: I keep KETO snacks handy. I like celery/cream cheese or pork rinds/cream cheese with a diet soft drink.

How I unwind: Playing bridge, teaching a bridge class or cooking a dish to share with others. As I am the co-convener of the Movie Circle, I also watch a lot of movies.

What I’m continuing to learn about myself during the pandemic: The isolation due to the pandemic did not discourage me from continuing to be productive and creative. I discovered that I enjoyed this time of personal reflection and filled my time with learning to paint and reading books to better understand our history.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I love fishing. My greatest fishing trip was to Alaska where I caught a large number of salmon. I am also very productive because I take one or two naps daily!

A quote that I am most inspired by: As a school administrator, I encouraged my students with these 10 two-letter words:“IF IT IS TO BE IT IS UP TO ME.”

As I approach my becoming an octogenarian; a quote that guides me every day is, “Learn today as if you will live forever.”

At the top of my “to-do” list: To attend the Grand Opening of the International African American Museum on Jan. 21, 2023, in Charleston, S.C. The museum will honor the untold stories of the African-American journey at one of the most sacred sites of Charleston. This will be an excellent celebration to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What I remember most about my parents: That they always had my back and supported my endeavors.

The person who influenced me the most: I was influenced by ALL of my African-American teachers from first grade to 12th grade. While they rarely talked about racial issues, they always kept me focused on my academic strengths and abilities to ensure my success in life.

Book that influenced me the most: “How the Word is Passed” by Clint Smith has a recent influence on me in terms of planning some future visits to plantations in the U.S. and particularly those with Juneteenth celebrations.

What I’m reading now: “Nice Racism” by Robin Diangelo, who also wrote “White Fragility.”

Next goal: Providing leadership for the Coming Together Virginia board as we prepare for our inaugural gala in October 2023. At the gala, we will recognize community persons/organizations who are working toward a racially-healed world.