On the sixth anniversary of Aug. 12, 2017, a day that will live in infamy after White nationalists flooded downtown Charlottesville leading to the killing of one and the injury of several others, nearly 150 people packed into an assembly room at Carver Recreation Center in the city for a more peaceful gathering: an afternoon workshop that culminated in sharing ideas on racial healing and harmony.
Organizer Michael Cheuk asked if anyone learned anything, and there was a sea of upstretched hands.
“That was really inspiring to me to see every hand go up,” Cheuk told the Daily Progress a few moments later.
The volunteer coordinator for the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, a group of religious leaders, Cheuk organized the Aug. 12 event as both a celebration of a new book published by the collective and as a sort of brainstorming session by mixing religious strangers at 24 tables.
“We randomized all of the tables,” said Cheuk. “They’re able to talk to folks who are not in their congregation.”
As Cheuk called on each table to ask for their ideas, participants jotted them on green sheets of paper and read them aloud:
Someone said the local synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, might offer its space for meetings.
Someone wants to convene an event to give greater attention to existing nonprofit groups.
“Lovely, thank you so much,” Cheuk said to one table.
It was a racially diverse gathering, and Cheuk noted that the crowd contained a wealth of knowledge, but toward the end of the idea-sharing, a woman named Linda Goldstein noticed something.
“As I look around the room, most of the faces are over the age of 40 or maybe over the age of 50,” said Goldstein. “We need to be broad enough that young people are comfortable working with us to resolve the problems of the community because it’s their future too.”
Earlier events included personal remembrances of the day that rocked the national conscience due to the naked expressions of racism and the murder of anti-racist counterprotester Heather Heyer in a car attack downtown.
“Standing Up to Hate” assembles many remembrances into a book. It’s a collection of first-person accounts by collective members on how they deal with the day that Heyer died and dozens more were injured.
“I am totally thrilled,” attendee Richard “Freeman” Allan told the Daily Progress, “to see the gathering and the creative, thoughtful interactions of 150 people in the community reacting to the Clergy Collective’s phenomenal book, ‘Standing up to Hate’ and the creativity of community members working vigorously toward healing the divides that we are still faced with in Charlottesville.”
Allan sparked headlines in 2020 for removing a public plaque that he found too small in its commemoration of the slave trafficking that took place on the city’s Court Square. Now he has a book of his own coming out: “A History of Racism in Charlottesville.”
Cheuk said that there’s no firm roadmap for next steps but added that participants were encouraged to exchange contact information with each other to follow up on their action ideas.
The collective’s president, Apostle Sarah Kelley of Faith, Hope, and Love International Healing and Deliverance Center, told The Daily Progress that Aug. 12 still means trauma for many people.
“It’s trauma that I’m hoping will be healed,” she said, shortly after delivering a closing prayer.
“I ask God right now to anoint each and every one of us that we won’t change our hearts towards anything except racial reconciliation, and he wants that unity in us,” she said.
Don Gathers, a deacon at First Baptist Church, took another approach.
“It’s important that we continue to have events like this,” said Gathers. "but it’s important that we don’t let anyone else forget.”