Genealogy, Storytelling and Racial Healing – Baltimore & D.C.

During the reporting period, Baltimore and Washington D.C. both worked through Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs), led by Executive Director Dushaw Hockett, to achieve their goals. SPACEs, an inter- disciplinary social justice organization that unleashes the capacity of people and organizations to create communities of HOPE (Healing, Opportunity and Possibility for Everyone). It partnered with Baltimore-based United Methodist Church to deliver the Beloved Community Initiative (BCI). A national movement, the initiative seeks to create trans formative spaces where people who don’t look, think, live, or learn alike can come together and, through the power of storytelling, see themselves in the story of the perceived other. SPACEs partnered with Highland Dwellings, a Family Resident Council in Washington, D.C

The specific goals of the initiative were to: 

  • Contribute to the creation of the Beloved Community by bringing together diverse lay and clergy leaders for relationship building and dialogue; 
  • Practice the Ghanaian concept of Sankofa to use history as a vehicle for healing and to glean insights identifying a way forward; 
  • Provide tools and skills for participants to research their family history/background/origins in order to better understand where they come from; and 
  • Promote connection and racial healing as a community, not only by revisiting stories of harm, but by upholding and honoring those of resistance and resilience as well. 

These goals were achieved through a four-part process that include: 

  • A healing/community circle; 
  • A guided tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture; 
  • A guided visit to the Underground Railroad site at Woodlawn Manor in Sandy Spring, Maryland paired with a facilitated discussion, with historian Tsione Wolde-Michael, on the formation of the concept of race; and 
  • Training, guidance and support to enable participants to research their family history. 

BCI was 92% Black/African American, 6% Hispanic, and 2% white. The group ranged from 40 to 75 years of age, and all were lay or clergy leaders affiliated with the United Methodist Church. This intentional community of 25+ plus persons convened monthly from February 2018 through August 2019 (split into two cohorts) to address personal Implicit Bias and learn more about racial healing, reconciliation, Individuation and Perspective Taking.

Each workshop centered on building community, understanding identity, ancestral roots, and race and racialization. Sessions began with dinner, followed by a circle for reflection—signifying lack of hierarchy and that all people were equal had significant perspectives and contributions. Participants were paired up with people they perceived to be different and answered questions about each other.

To build rapport and community among the group, the practice of individuation was implemented. The science of individuation suggests that if human beings take the time to regularly learn detailed information about people who are different from them or perceived to be – the brain can be retrained to interrupt the automatic behavior of forming stereotypes.

To practice individuation, participants answered the following questions in pairs during the sessions:

• What’s a nick name that people called you when you were growing up?
• What’s the name of a person who shaped and molded you into the human being you are today and/or the person you’re becoming?
• What did you want to do and/or be when you were growing up?
• Share a story about a time you laughed hard and/or smiled wide?
• What’s the title of your medicine song?  That song you listen to over and over again because it lifts your spirit and heals.
• What’s one thing in your life that you’re attempting to do more of these days?
• What’s one thing you’re trying to do less in order to make time for the things you want to do more?