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(Richmond, VA) - Virginia Union University (VUU) hosted “Reflections on Faith, Community & Racial Reconciliation in the Commonwealth” during chapel service on Thursday, February 7, 2019. Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network (NAN), was the featured speaker along with other faith leaders. This was an important dialogue in light of the recent blackface controversy surrounding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
“For over 154 years, Virginia Union University has enjoyed a place in our society, where we discuss issues that are not only about higher education but also issues that affect the community,” said Dr. Hakim Lucas, VUU President and CEO. “Faith, community, race, and reconciliation are all words that are important to who and what we are. Like our history, from the Richmond 34 to the Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, to all the greats who have joined us in Coburn Hall, we want to again return to reignite that fire of passion of who we are.”
In a rousing, fiery speech, Rev. Sharpton emphasized that while it is important to discuss historical context for reconciliation, it is just as important to deal with the specific incident and where it comes from.
“Blackface represents a deeper problem where people felt they could dehumanize and humiliate people based on their inferiority,” Sharpton said. “Some try to act like blackface is a cultural thing, but blackface is the instituting of the denigration of black people to say we are nothing but shucking and jiving inferior beings. When we react, we are not reacting to the act, we are reacting to what the act represents.”
Among the speakers at the event was VUU Student Government President Jamon Phenix ’18, who told the audience people of African descent have been fighting for justice and equality since the first enslaved Africans arrived in the United States in 1619. He added that Virginia Union had been at the forefront of the fight since 1865, the year the school was founded.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia has arrived at a place where we must realize that while we have come a long way, we have further to go,” Phenix said. “Now is a time when we must have honest dialogue so that future generations can enjoy both liberation and freedom.”
As part of the 1619 commemoration, Virginia Union is undertaking an initiative to create a center for African-American history and culture inside Industrial Hall. Lucas says the center will serve as a place not only to preserve historical artifacts but also serve to educate and train people on the importance of discussing race relations and reconciliation.
“It is very important for you young people as you travel through your matriculation, as you encounter classrooms and great dialogue, that you not ignore what is happening around you in the larger classroom called the community,” Lucas said.
For more information about how to support the 1619 initiative and the future home of an African-American history and culture center, contact the VUU Office of Philanthropy at 804-342-3938.