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Communities Seeks Ways to Unify and Build Resilience in Wake of Charlottesville Violence

Elected officials, clergy and residents gather at Richmond's Reconciliation Statue
Elected officials, clergy and residents gather at Richmond's Reconciliation Statue to denounce racism and hate following the violence in Charlottesville. (Photo: Catherine Komp)

In the hours and days following the violence in Charlottesville, people responded to the trauma in different ways. They came together in parks and places of worship; they organized listening sessions and collaborated on self-care tool kits. Some are also seeking ways to do more to counter white supremacy. WCVE’s Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: Find information about the Virginia Anti-Violence Project and their upcoming listening spaces. The organization also offers a 24/7 helpline, in English and Spanish. Learn about he free counseling initaitive organized by Nicole O-Pries, and the Community Healing Network and Emotional Emancipation Circles. Find the crowdsourced Self-Care Guide, follow Revolutionary Self-Care and the Icarus Project.


Richmond resident Melissa Ansley Brooks watched the violence in Charlottesville unfold on the news and social media. She knew she had to do something.

Melissa Ansley Brooks: I’m always one to say what’s my part, what do I do in this? I have a small child important and it’s important to me to be in community and for him to be able to see what community looks like, to be modeled. So I said, it’s time to get neighborhood together.

Brooks announced a peaceful picnic on social media, and the next day neighbors shared snacks and sandwiches, as kids ran around Libby Hill Park. Brooks, who’s white, says following Charlotteville, she’s going to be more vocal about what she’s seeing.

Brooks: Hatred, segregation, racism, bigotry, these are concepts that we can come together and say this is absolutely not okay.

Brooks says another piece of advice she’s put into action - use your power and privilege to help lift people up.

Brooks: Tina so good to see you!

Educator Tina Bujno came out with a hula hoop and a sign she’d been working on since the previous night.

Tina Bujno: Love is love, love is real, powerful and inclusive.

Bujno said after feeling anxious on Saturday, she wanted to do something positive.

Bujno: This was a good way of being inclusive and having moment where people can come out and meet their neighbors and we can all get to know each other a little better, because it’s a lot harder to put people into boxes and stereotypes, so maybe you can have a more nuanced conversation later if you’ve gotten to know a wide set of neighbors.

A few hours later, several hundred people came to Richmond’s reconciliation statue for a vigil organized by Delegate Delores McQuinn and the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

Delores McQuinn: The people of goodwill who are joined at this place today, you get it, that this is about acceptance and not just tolerance. I’m tired of trying to tolerate people. I tolerate my children when they don’t wash dishes. (applause) It’s about accepting one another as human beings and treating each other as if they’re human beings, human beings that we love.

After the gathering, Delegate Jennifer McClellan said she came to show unity and for personal healing.

Jennifer McClellan: You know my father was born in 1925, my mother in 1932. We have family stories going back to their grandparents, it’s not that far removed and I think every incident makes you emotionally tired but it also rips a bandaid off a wound that never really heals.

McClellan said Charlottesville made her feel the same way she did after the mass shooting by a white supremacist in Charleston two years ago.

McClellan: It’s sort of a gut punch that I never expected to see in 2017 and I wish I could say I’m surprised but I’m not. I caught myself yesterday when I was out and about and I would see certain people and I would wonder, do you hate me too? And to feel a sense of insecurity that my parents felt 50 years ago, is on the one hand emotionally draining, on the other hand is empowering because I know we still have a lot of work to do. I owe it to them to keep up that work. I’m Chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and part of our mission is to keep doing work to achieve his beloved community so I go back to his words and the things he said when he got tired and if he can keep going, then so can I.

Another way the community is responding in Richmond - mental health professionals are volunteering counseling services for people who witnessed the violence in Charlottesville. Those following the events from a distance can experience trauma too.

Kathy Ryan: The interesting thing about trauma is that everybody really can react to it differently.

Kathy Ryan is a psychotherapist and social worker with Greater Richmond SCAN, which facilitates the area’s Trauma Informed Community Network.

Ryan: Some people will get more anxious and more aroused and worked up by it, and other people shut down by it. Some people you won’t even notice are affected by it but they really are or have been affected by it.

Symptoms might include difficulty sleeping and concentrating, loss of appetite, or becoming withdrawn. Ryan says friends, family and co-workers can be on the lookout for those experiencing trauma.

Ryan: I think the most important thing is to reach out to somebody and to your friends and colleagues and family members, just "How are you doing?" It can be an easy going conversation, it doesn’t have to get deep.

When children ask about the events, Ryan says parents and caregivers should communicate a sense of safety. She says young people might not show signs of trauma right away. When they do, she suggests using art or dialogue to give them a way to express what they’re feeling.

Ryan: We know that trying to shut down conversation about traumatic events never helps and it may not come out with language, we hope that eventually it will, that children will eventually talk about what’s on their mind. But really knowing it’s a healthy coping mechanism to externalize and to express things that are bothering us, it’s an important skill to develop and tool to have.

Advocates also point out that many people are responding to trauma, violence and structural racism that people experience on a daily basis. 

Stacie Vecchietti: I think that people in community, particularly black and brown folks in community, have been managing and navigating these things for centuries

Stacie Vecchietti is the director of The Virginia Anti-Violence Project. The non-profit provides support and resources for the LGBTQ community, while focusing on racial justice and intersectionality. That’s the term to describe the layering of discrimination and oppression, for example when someone is Back and Jewish, or Black, Jewish and LGBTQ. She says the symptoms of trauma and the strategies people use for self-care are going to be different depending on people’s backgrounds and experiences.

Stacie Vecchietti: There might be an introvert that uses journaling to navigate some of the feelings coming up, where as other folks might need to really push and be out in community and taking a very active, physical, kind of kinetic response and that’s how they’re going to managing the stress and anxiety of what they’re feeling. So really there’s no blanket answer, it really is up to us as individuals to figure out what we need community and then be able to communicate that to our friends, to our family, to our community, to the organizations that are working in communities so we can provide tools and spaces for a variety of people’s needs.

For Spanish-speaking immigrants that may want to talk about the event’s in Charlottesville, the group’s Flora Lopez says there are weekly gatherings called community reunions, where people come together to build relationships.

Flora Lopez: If there’s the need for people to process relevant events that happened recently, that they feel the need to process and talk about that would be a good space, and I would also say that space is centered in having conversations in Spanish.

Several impromptu initiatives emerged just hours after the chaos in Charlottesville. The social justice and mental health group The Icarus Project organized a listening space Saturday night, centering on people of color and those who witnessed the violence. The group Revolutionary Self-Care highlighted a crowdsourced document, where dozens of people shared their strategies for responding to trauma and building resiliency. Within hours it was translated into Spanish.

Vecchietti: This is really about exploring different ways that folks, as they’re doing justice work of taking care and doing healing work, that it’s individual and also a collective process. This is, in mirroring that spirit, this was crowdsourced, so many folks could opt in and share, this is works for me, this is what I do when I’m feeling angry or sad or when I want to build power, when I want to ground myself, this is the very least I can do in this moment. It’s just a beautiful collective and really shows the amazing work that’s been happening over generations.

The ten page document has hundreds of suggestions from using art to express anger or sadness, to unplugging and walking barefoot in the grass.

Vecchietti: There are self-care strategies that we can use that are short term self-care, and then there are longer haul self-care and I think important to have in our toolbox, because book are very necessary.

Vecchietti points out that for a white person like her, the response to Charlottesville or other racial violence can be a lot easier to navigate.

Vecchietti: Self-care is a privilege that I have everyday, I can take a self-care moment and I can opt in or out of conversations about racism. Folks of color don’t have that option to opt in or out, so there’s a responsibility that I have as a white person in this moment, that’s different than folks of color have.

She adds that this is a great opportunity for people to go beyond statements simply condemning what happened.

Vecchietti: I have been internally wrestling with this pull to say something, and it’s like - more “blah blah” - we don’t need more words, now is time for action. So our organizational focus is on how do we provide support and a response to folks disproportionately impacted by state sanctioned violence and white supremacy. So beyond a statement, what are we doing?

Elected officials need to prioritize these issues too says Delegate McClellan. After Saturday’s vigil, she said the General Assembly needs to address structural racism and discriminatory laws and policies.

McClellan: There’s still some systematic things that impact certain communities more than others that we need to address. I think we still have a long way to go to make sure we’re telling a complete story about Virginia’s history and I think those are some of the things we’re going to focus on.

Advocates say there’s a lot of work to do to respond to the trauma caused by centuries of white supremacy. This Friday, educator and peace activist Ram Bhagat and the national group Community Healing Network will bring people together at 6 Points Innovation Center to talk about the “emotional emancipation, healing and wellness of Black people and the role they can play in [building] that movement.” For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.