soil collection ceremony
FACING THE PAST HELPS US HEAL — At a 2021 Volusia Remembers Coalition event, members of the organization oversee a soil-collection ceremony in memory of Lee Snell, who was lynched in 1939 on the old brick road between Daytona Beach and DeLand. The screen at upper left shows soil collection at the lynching site. A Volusia County Sheriff’s Office representative is pictured transferring some of that soil to a glass jar as others line up behind him to do the same. Two glass jars were ultimately filled; one was sent to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The other is on display at DeLand’s African American Museum of the Arts. At the podium, at right, is Daisy Grimes, the chair of ceremonies. Volusia Remembers invites the community to an upcoming ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, 534 Osteen Maytown Road in Osteen. BEACON FILE PHOTO

BY EVAN KELLER

“Remember” is the middle name of the Volusia Remembers Coalition.

We exist to help our county to remember our history of racial terror with three types of memorials: soil collection from lynching sites, historical markers, and finally the Volusia County monument created by the Equal Justice Initiative.

These memorials ingrain a historical narrative into our collective memory. Monuments are important because they shape the memory of our shared history.

Previous generations of white Americans have erected hundreds of memorials to people who enslaved other people, but virtually none to remember and honor Africans who were enslaved.

This is part of a romanticized view of our past that pre-empts the honest self-reflection that could convict us Americans to live up to our highest ideals.

The work of the Volusia Remembers Coalition is a corrective to that carefully curated history.

We assert that the humanity and dignity of oppressed people are worth remembering, and that their courage is worth celebrating and emulating.

When we censor the difficult parts of our past, we have a hard time seeing why people of color continue to have difficulties. We hear “Slavery is ancient history; get over it!” “Rather than bear others’ burdens, we blame them for having burdens.” (Mark Vroegop in Weep With Me)

I’ve run across three metaphors that can help us understand the generational impact of the past:

• the infected wound,

• the abusive relationship and

• the old house.

These metaphors are so obvious that I’ll take only a minute to flesh them out.

A wound that was never properly dealt with will continue to fester and even get worse.

Moving from body to psyche: Emotional wounds from an abuser often wreak havoc for a lifetime, especially when the abuser shows no remorse nor attempts to make amends.

The old house image is from Isabel Wilkerson, who writes that “with an old house, the work is never done, and you don’t expect it to be. … The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. … Not one of us was here when this house was built. … We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now.” (From Wilkerson’s book Caste)

So, why do we believe it is so important to remember this hard chapter in our county’s and country’s history? We are asked “Why dredge up the past instead of pressing forward?” The Rev. Jim Wallis repeats what many historians have said: “We look back in order to look forward.” (America’s Original Sin)

Heather McGhee agrees: “We’ve got to get on the same page before we can turn it. It’s time to tell the truth, setting the facts straight so that we can move forward with a new story, together.” (The Sum of Us)

This is a profound example of “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Faith in the Jesus who spoke those words animates the life work of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which we of various creeds are honored to partner with.

This organization has uncovered the histories of more than 5,000 racial-terror lynchings, about which Stevenson says: “I am not interested in punishing America with this history. I want to liberate us. I think we have never truly sought truth and reconciliation. We are not going to be free, really free, until we pursue that.”

Unlike us, Germany, Rwanda and South Africa have each squarely faced the ugly truth of their racist histories and experienced healing in the process. In fact, 42 nations have undergone a similar “truth and reconciliation” process, resulting in substantive healing to both victimizers and victims of radicalized violence. So, let’s remember to heal, right here in Volusia County.

And it’s not about guilting or shaming, but about learning and growing together. “Remembering, acknowledging, and reflecting” upon this history enables people of all colors to be inspired by the character and perseverance of those who suffered oppression.

Uncovering this long history of harm can enable whites to move from judging whether people of color should be weeping — “they’re just playing the race card” — to actually weeping with those who weep. Shifting from judging to empathizing opens the door to authentic relationships across the racial divide: Remember to heal.

For example, after one of our Volusia Remembers meetings, a Black community leader and I (a white male) shared a healing moment. She relayed how one evening in a local Lowe’s parking lot, a white man she didn’t know hurled the “N-word” at her with a snarl.

With tears in her eyes, she shared how it was healing to have a white person share in the pain of that experience. And I shared how honored I felt that she risked trusting me with such a painful memory. It was healing for us both, and it strengthened our relationship.

Those are the kind of healing moments we want to multiply in cross-racial relationships across our county, as captured in our goal to “cultivate justice, healing, and reconciliation.”

Remembering to heal can help us shift:

• from denial at a distance to empathy up close,

• from suspicion from afar to enriching relationships,

• from us versus them to just us.

— Keller is director of Creating Jobs Inc., CEO of Tree Work Now Inc., and communications director for the Volusia Remembers Coalition. He lives in DeLand.

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