On October 18th and 19th, twenty-eight renowned caring and inspirational experts from multi-disciplinary backgrounds met at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for days of deep sharing, exchange and dialogue around the topic of “Healing the Wounds of Slavery”. The symposium included four observers.
At the Opening Session, Prof Thomas Banchoff, Georgetown’s Vice President for Global Engagement, welcomed the international experts to the Berkley Center where he previously served as the founding director. Prof Banchoff shared Georgetown’s recognition of this important UNESCO initiative, and expressed his good will for the outcome of the Symposium.
The participants and contributors discussed the following questions:
- What are the historical contexts, foundations and underpinnings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery?
- What lessons can we learn from these and other dehumanizing tragedies in world history?
- What are the latest research findings on the psycho-social consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery?
- How do the different approaches, experiences and processes contribute to the healing the wounds left by such historical traumas?
- What would be the necessary approaches to healing the wounds of transatlantic slave trade and slavery?
- What would be the appropriate strategies to communicate and inform the public for a better understanding of the challenges to the overcoming of these legacies?
- Who are the key stakeholders and partners to associate with the healing
processes and dialogues?
At the concluding session of the Symposium, a number of proposals were made and the group are working to identify strategic steps forward.
Symposium event photography is now available to share, thank you.
Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that can switch genes on and off. Recent epigenetic studies have shown that stress, socio-economic deprivation, racism and other traumatic experiences of our ancestors can play a part in turning on or off certain genes in our DNA. That is to say, for instance, the trauma of slavery can be passed on transgenerationally. See an example in the work by Professor Ariane Giacobino.
Several of the forthcoming UNESCO Symposium contributors have argued for the importance of healing the trauma of slavery, such as in the work of Professor Joy DeGruy, who maintains that the systematic dehumanising effects of slavery have continued to impact many African American people’s experiences in the world. Equally, Professor Aimé Charles-Nicolas has called for systematic healing of transgenerationally transmitted traumas inherited directly from slavery or passed down through racism rooted in slavery. Such an imperative has been reinstated in the International Scientific Colloquium on “Slavery: what is its impact on the the psychology of populations?” in Martinique and Guadeloupe on October 2016.
Professor Benjamin Bowser and others also urge our societies to pay more attention to how education might continue to perpetuate such trauma, and likewise, new approaches to teaching and learning about trans-Atlantic slave trade and slave history may contribute to healing and cultural transformation.
TRACES OF THE TRADE: A STORY FROM THE DEEP NORTH
In this Emmy-nominated documentary, filmmaker Katrina Browne discovers that her Rhode Island forefathers were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. She and nine relatives decide to retrace the Triangle Trade: from a port town in Rhode Island, to slave forts in Ghana, to the ruins of one of their family’s sugar plantations in Cuba. Step by step they uncover the vast extent of Northern complicity in slavery, and thus come to see that slavery built the nation, not just the South. They meet with people of African descent abroad and at home and grapple with questions of white privilege, healing and repair in the present day.
While still in rough-cut form, the film contributed to the Episcopal Church’s 2006 decision to issue an apology for its role in slavery and embark upon research, repentance, dialogue and repair processes in dioceses around the country that are still on-going.
Traces of the Trade premiered in 2008 at the Sundance Film Festival, and then aired nationally on PBS. The film has contributed significantly to the growing public awareness in the last 10-15 years about the role of the North in slavery. It has also been broadcast in Canada, Cuba and Bermuda, and has screened in numerous European, Caribbean and African countries. Family member Tom DeWolf published a book about the family journey: Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History.
The film is used extensively in schools, universities, museums, religious denominations, workplaces and professional conferences for education and heart-felt dialogue. A nonprofit was formed out of the film, The Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. It helps museums and historic sites improve how they interpret slavery for the public (including via a published collection of essays) and on helping teachers improve how they teach slavery. Another ripple has been the formation of the Center for Reconciliation out of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.
Ms. Browne specializes in bringing attention to “racialized emotions” and particularly the psychological legacies of slavery for white Americans and how those hinder restorative justice. She contributed a book chapter on how these legacies manifest in the classroom to: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: New Directions in Teaching and Learning. She is currently developing a multi-session film-based race dialogue series curriculum for the Episcopal Church and other interested denominations.
Coming to the Table is a national organization whose vision for the United States is of “a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past – from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.” It started its work in 2006 from the efforts of Susan Hutchison and Will Hairston, both descendants of European heritage enslavers who had formed bonds with descendants of people their ancestors had enslaved.
The name of the organization comes from the “I Have a Dream” speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King. The mission of Coming to the Table is to “provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.” Coming to the Table promotes four approaches to achieving its mission.
Coming to the Table holds National Gatherings every two years. There are also local groups around the country. Another national but virtual component of Coming to the Table are its working groups, such as the Linked Descendants working group.
Through the Coming to the Table website, anyone may have access to a set of recommended resources. STAR, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience, is a workshop. Transforming Historical focuses STAR on the trans-generational transmission of harms done by injustice and inequity. Other resources come from the domain of Restorative Justice.
In the local and national gatherings of Coming to the Table, two tools are used consistently: the Circle Process and These Guidelines for Sensitive or Challenging Conversations. The book, Gather at the Table, is an accessible entry into Coming to the Table’s work and a good starting point for conversation.
For over two decades, Initiatives of Change (IofC) USA has developed Hope in the Cities which aims to transform Richmond, VA, from a symbol of racial division to a model for reconciliation. Richmond was the nation’s largest interstate slave market in the first half of the 19th Century and capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
Hope in the Cities is a citizen-led effort which brings together a network of leaders in non-profit and business sectors, local government, media and education, from across the political spectrum and of all cultural and religious backgrounds. By facilitating honest conversations, by focusing on acknowledgement, healing and understanding, and by encouraging personal responsibilities, Hope in the Cities continues to help build capacity of community leaders who are working for racial healing and equity.
Rob Corcoran, founder of Hope in the Cities, is a facilitator and trainer, and the author of Trustbuilding: An Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility. The book captures the processes, experiences and learnings from engaging in the work and its application to other communities. His paper for the National Civic League entitled Building Trust in the Heart of Community reflects further on this deeply transformative and ongoing journey.
Richmond was selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as one of 14 locales to implement Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation.
Kellogg Foundation‘s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) enterprise has initiated a national process aimed at addressing centuries of racial inequities in the United States. TRHT seeks to advance racial healing in communities across the country to create environments where everyone can thrive. It is based on the understanding that the roots of slavery is the belief in a hierarchy of human value, and by jettisoning such a belief, and transforming our collective consciousness, we can re-envisioning a more humane, equitable and loving society.
The Design of TRHT focuses on changing narratives, enabling healing and relationship building, developing more systemic transformation through law and economy. For more information on the TRHT, please read:
The partners have intended for the October 2018 Symposium to be truly dialogic and therefore, the provisional agenda allows much space for in-depth conversations and discussions amongst the contributors.
The Symposium will begin with two important sessions, one on the historical contexts of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery, and the other on the psychosocial consequences of that slave history. These two sessions would provide the group with shared understanding of the trans-Atlantic slave histories and the resulting cultural and psychological traumas experienced by African Americans and their descendants. They help us to see more clearly the current deep-seated institutionalised racial prejudices, racism and discrimination in contemporary societies across the Americas.
For the greater part, the Symposium contributors will work in small groups for deeper and more focused dialogue about key questions concerning healing, and mutual recovery.
Most importantly, the participants will review existing healing endeavours in the Americas and identify meaningful and innovative ideas for possible grassroots and community-based projects.
UNESCO Symposium, October 2018, Agenda.
Entitled “Healing the Wounds of Slavery: Towards a Mutual Recovery“, the Symposium is co-organised by the UNESCO and GHFP, and hosted by the Berkley Centre at the Georgetown University, Washington DC. on 18-19 Oct. 2018.
This dialogue amongst carefully selected multidisciplinary experts is envisioned to address the root causes of racial prejudices, racism and discrimination derived from slavery, past and present. In particular, this symposium
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