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Black residents take retreat in rest in response to deadly violence

Black Charlottesville and Albemarle County residents gathered in retreat in the sanctuary of Music Resource Center in Charlottesville Saturday for collective restoration and relaxation.

Yolanda Coles Jones, the host of the retreat, said she chose to hold the event this weekend in an “emergency response” to the murder of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who was beaten to death by five Black police officers in Memphis last month, and Eldridge Smith, a 36-year-old Black Charlottesville resident and Brothers United to Cease the Killing, or B.U.C.K., Squad volunteer.

“This is a resistance effort,” said Jones, founder of Empowered People, a multi-faceted practice that offers courses and counseling in love, communication, rest and healing. “It’s resistance because our programming is to keep going and going all the time. Having intentional rest interrupts that patterning and programming and enables you to stop and really be with yourself and restore.”

The invitation that appeared on Jones’ Instagram page earlier this month emphasized that the retreat was a community care experience for Black individuals and asked non-Black people to “respect the space by accessing the many other resources that are available.”

The space of intentional rest is designed to invite sacred rest and a pause from back-to-back trauma responses, said Jones.

Born and raised in Charlottesville and a graduate of the University of Virginia, Jones offers private, group, business and community coaching to help clients set the foundation for healthy relationships with others and with themselves. The retreat, which continues on Sunday, is the beginning what she feels is a labor of love that she wants to bring to the area.

“One thing that’s happening in 2023 is the charitable branch of my work, and it’s called the Restore Project,” Jones said. “It’s a mindfulness-based intention for BIPOC Charlottesville.”

The Restore Project is Jones’ way of giving her expertise back to the community that raised her, she said. Through the project, Jones said she will host more experiences like the weekend retreat that stem from her professional practice.

Attendees on Saturday were invited into the room with calming music and a blend of herbs that were specially crafted by Shankari Goldstein, a Black woman and the founder of Wayfinder Holistics Apothecary.

Security for the event was provided by the Peace in the Streets Group of the Uhuru Foundation and the B.U.C.K. Squad. Both groups work to bridge the gap between anti-violence programming to minimize violence in Charlottesville.

The room Saturday was decorated with yoga mats, resting blocks, blankets and chairs, but all of the attendees elected to lie down on the yoga mats Jones provided.

Jones said the second and final day of the retreat on Sunday will be similar to the first but that attendees can look forward to some extra guidance that will “help people come into their bodies.”

“For some of us it’s hard to relax, so I wanted to make an offering to make it more easeful for people to lean into a rest practice,” Jones said.

Jones will wrap the retreat at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.


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