After nine months of meaningful conversations with city leaders, Laura Hill and I witnessed a beautiful and historic moment at Williamsburg’s City Council session on July 8. The Resolution for the creation of a first-ever Truth and Reconciliation Committee (read the Resolution here) was passed unanimously by Williamsburg’s city leaders. There’s a necessary strength to the language of the Resolution and, with the TRC, an actionable next step with a concrete agenda. You can also read this article in the Virginia Gazette covering the meeting and offering more highlights and details.
Like many significant moments, this was not the result of any one single event or effort or person, but the convergence of several efforts, relational connections, mutual listening, and a history of collaborative relationships. All of this came together for “such a time as this” in a courageous commitment to truth-telling and an unwavering pursuit for reconciliation and racial healing. What matters is that moments turn into movements. May it be so.
Laura and I were encouraged to offer two five minute speeches prior to the vote of the Resolution. I want to share my speech here for two reasons. One, I want to be transparent in my wholehearted support of every word of the Resolution and it’s intent. And two, for my own benefit so I can have the speech saved somewhere.
With Laura’s permission I’m also sharing her speech. It was rich, poignant, memorable, and concise. Laura is my sister in Christ, a member of the WCC family, my friend, and the founder and leader of the Historic Triangle chapter of Coming to the Table (of which I am honored to serve on the leadership team). She is also a faithful co-laborer in the pursuit of neighborliness, peacemaking, and justice. It’s been a joy to share in this with her as we worked alongside our courageous City Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council Members.
First up, Laura’s excellent speech, followed by mine.
My name is Laura Hill and I am the founder and leader of the Historic Triangle affiliate group of CTTT, a national racial reconciliation organization.
I am honored to be here today as the Williamsburg City Council votes to create a Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
Last October, CTTT was the lead organizer and sponsor of the HW/HN rally held in CW. At that event Councilman Caleb Rogers read a proclamation that voiced the City Council’s commitment to racial healing.
Although Caleb Rogers did an outstanding job, the feedback that we heard from the community was the need for a tangible commitment from City leaders — something with teeth in it.
Today, nine months later, the creation of a Williamsburg TRC represents a tangible commitment. Something has been birthed today in Williamsburg – the Colonial Capitol of Virginia — that will reverberate throughout the state of Virginia and the nation.
Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown – America’s Historic Triangle — is the birthplace of our nation. It is also the birthplace of racial injustice in our nation, where earning profit took precedence over people — resulting in centuries of historical harm and trauma.
In the early 1600s English colonists chose profit over people, when Indigenous people were displaced to grow tobacco, the cash crop.
In the 1660s, laws were passed to codify slavery because it was more economically profitable to enslave Africans than to continue the indentured servant system that the English labors worked under.
A century ago, African Americans families and businesses were displaced when City leaders chose profits that could be generated by re-creating CW — over people.
The TRC is an opportunity to uncover and acknowledge truths about Williamsburg’s history and to work towards racial healing and reconciliation.
We understand that this will be a marathon, and not a sprint. We understand that the cliche “Healing is a process” applies to racial healing also.
I found out about the healing process the hard way when I broke my leg in 2019. The attending physician assured me that I would walk again:
— after surgery,
— after being confined to a wheel chair for 8 weeks
—- after inpatient and outpatient physical therapy stints
Since leaving my bone broken was not an option, I began the steps in the long, __ healing process. There are two principles that I learned that are imperative to a successful TRC
Number 1: Be willing to re-learn: After learning to walk as a toddler, I had to re-learn how to walk. Likewise there are historical narratives we have been taught as children that we must be willing to re-learn.
Number 2: Work through the pain: During grueling physical therapy sessions, I had to continue “working through the pain!” At times, uncovering and acknowledging truth will be painful, but the TRC will have to work through the pain. Allowing our community to remain racially fractured is not an option.
Dr. MLK Jr. once said: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
I applaud the Williamsburg City Council for standing during these challenging times and creating a TRC. The leaders of CTTT stand with you and we are committed to supporting you in this worthwhile work.
Here is my speech:
My name is Fred Liggin, I am the senior pastor of Williamsburg Christian Church and the founder of 3e Restoration Inc. I am also a part of the leadership team of Coming to the Table. I am honored to be here today as you vote to create a Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
What I love about Williamsburg is that we are a community of stories. We embody the stories we tell through dramatization and performance every day. We tell these stories because they explain the legacies we inherit and define our sense of truth and self-understanding. Story is how we make sense of the things that happen to us. Stories are our way of describing time. We are formed by story, whether we know the story or not. When we know the story we can discover where we’ve been and are going. We have a place to stand, a place connected to something bigger than ourselves. We understand the logic behind why we see the world the way we do. Stories help us make sense of ourselves and our place in society. We are the stories we tell ourselves.
We are also the silences we keep. That is why the stories we tell must tell the truth. And in a moment of great divide in our nation, of which Williamsburg is not immune, we must be sure we are telling the truth, because division cannot be overcome without the truth.
The healing from the past harms of our collective story of racial hostility and injustice, and how they presently impact the bodies, minds, and family systems of neighbors, cannot happen without a courageous commitment to the truth and an unwavering pursuit of reconciliation. We must reconcile the truth of our past if we are to uncover the truth of today and witness our community become a place where all can thrive.
Unfortunately, we don’t just ‘get over’ the past. It’s not what trauma studies teach us about how trauma works individually or collectively. A fundamental belief in trauma studies is that a harm done to any neighbor is a harm done to all neighbors, because pain that is not transformed is pain transferred. We know this to be true when we consider how our family systems work, and how they can be impacted for generations simply by one harmful family member. Unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving are transferred from one generation to another, unless someone courageously tells the truth, reconciles the past harms with present-day realities, and does the hard work of healing, which in-turn breaks the cycle for future generations. The same is true for society and the social systems we create that form us.
A Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s effort to uncover and acknowledge truths about Williamsburg’s history will make healing possible for Williamsburg’s present and future, for generations to come, especially if we value the truthfulness of the stories we tell about ourselves. It is a good and necessary first step, of no doubt, many steps to come.
It is also a step that advances the City’s new biennial goals, initiatives, and outcomes to create a vision of One Williamsburg. Among many things, it will take courageous leadership, which you outlined, to tell the truth, receive the truth, and do the work the uncovering-of-truth requires. And as also stated in the vision, if we are to prioritize the safety and wellness for all neighbors, we must address how collective racial trauma works and how it is impacting all of us, especially our neighbors whose lives, family systems, and generations were significantly impacted by racial injustice and the history sister Laura revealed of “choosing profit over people.” When our town’s approximately 700 African American residents were not allowed to have a voice by attending the meeting in 1928 concerning the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg due to the fact that Jim Crow laws prohibited them from entering the Whites-only school where the meeting was held, present-day neighbors and citizens still experience the impact of this decision. The question is “how” and “in what ways,” and “how do we address the impact in a way that is truthful, good, and just?”
This is why I believe your vision’s commitment to engage with partners, beginning with everyday neighbors and citizens, is critical. A Truth and Reconciliation committee is a wise, measured, historically proven and evidence-based approach to make the vision.
It will not only help us understand our story better, it will help us write new chapters in our story that insure all can thrive and flourish as One Williamsburg.
Thank you for your vision and for resolving to create a Truth and Reconciliation Committee.