When the Rev. Patricia Jones Turner retired and moved back to her hometown in 2017, she had a more laid-back lifestyle in mind.
Stepping back from her role as domestic and sexual violence coordinator for Chesterfield County Correction Services after a demanding career in social work and ministry, Jones Turner lived the dream — until the Unite the Right rally roared into Charlottesville in August 2017.
“I was drinking lemonade and eating cookies and feeling retired — for about a week,” she said. “And then the alt-right came. And God asked, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
Jones Turner drew on a lifetime of experiences to step forward as coordinator of White Feather Historical and Educational Project and trainer and developer of the anti-oppression curriculum for White Feather Project at Charlottesville’s Trinity Episcopal Church.
The violence local residents endured in August 2017 included multiple serious injuries and the death of Heather Heyer. It also trained a spotlight on generations of traumatic experiences, including the destruction of vibrant Black communities in the Vinegar Hill, Pearl Street and Gospel Hill neighborhoods — and societal structures seen and unseen that created compounding barriers to recovering from loss after loss.
The past cannot be changed, but ignoring its toxic half-life interferes with creating a better future. Anti-oppression training helps people acknowledge trauma they may not have recognized in neighbors, the community and themselves, making it easier for people to move forward together with new understanding and respect.
“Our goal is to create conversation that will lead to peaceful coexistence,” she said, adding that it “is challenging, healing and emotionally enhancing the quality of life for all residents.”
Anti-oppression training helps community members “reach an understanding of how people became discouraged by oppression. By having these discussions, my prayer is to create a space for peaceful coexistence.”
“Our ideology is to look at the water the fish are swimming in, as opposed to the fish, and change the water so the fish can thrive,” Jones Turner said. “We don’t blame. We don’t criticize. We don’t yell and scream. We listen. We hear.”
The longtime Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP member knew that only greater understanding of what people had been through would enable healing to begin. She was the servant with the skill set. And she knew Trinity was a safe space for honest dialogue.
“I grew up in Trinity,” Jones Turner said of the multicultural congregation. “I’m also an ordained Baptist minister. Christ has been the focal point. You grow through grace.”
She paused. “I haven’t always been a happy camper about desegregation,” Jones Turner said.
That’s because Jones Turner isn’t bringing an ivory-tower approach to her anti-oppression work; she understands firsthand how deeply people are affected by situations in which they feel powerless and unheard.
In 1967, a teenage Jones Turner looked forward to attending Jackson P. Burley High School. Her father, revered Burley football coach Clarence “Butch” Jones, had news for her; she would be attending Lane High School instead as a result of desegregation plans.
“When he told me I had to go to Lane, I was like, ‘No!’ I said, ‘They can’t do that.’ He said, ‘They are,’” Jones Turner said. “When they shut down Burley, I was angry. All these things caused me to grow.”
When asked what advice Jones Turner would give her younger self today, she said, “It’s going to be OK.” She can’t help thinking back to the daily doses of Carter’s liver oil administered by her mother.
“Mother said, ‘It tastes awful now, but when it gets in your system, it will help you,’” Jones Turner said. “I was the oldest, and so I had to set the example and take that nasty medicine.
“What’s happening today is the same message. It doesn’t feel good. But if I walk away, who am I helping? Who’s helping me?”
Anti-oppression training demands work on the part of its participants for the dialogue to be fruitful. Jones Turner takes care to make sure the experience stays constructive for everyone.
“We try not to send people home angry and discouraged,” she said. “I attended a training once and one person said, ‘I’ve never experienced racism,’ and the leader said, ‘You’re lying.’ The leader did not encourage her by saying, ‘Your truth is your truth.’
“I’m here to show another way. I can’t change people’s truth, but I can show forgiveness, love and acceptance.”