Conversations on social justice, inclusivity and reparations — in employment, property, finances and truth — wrapped the conference portion of the 11th annual Tom Tom Festival in Charlottesville on Friday.
“When you think about reparations, my guess is you probably think about money,” Gregory Thompson, co-executive director of nonprofit creative consulting firm Voice Underground, told an audience assembled at the CODE Building downtown. “That’s important and that’s true, but to make it just simply about money actually reduces the complexity of what we’re facing as a culture.”
Thompson said that, whether it’s white supremacy, Jim Crow or slavery, it’s not simply a matter of finances.
“They didn’t just steal the money. They stole the world,” he said.
Thompson was one of several Black community leaders to speak on Friday, a group that included the city’s vice mayor, Juandiego Wade.
Wade said that after years of silence on the matter there is now a distinct conversation about racial equity and the intentionality required to establish and protect Black community spaces.
Wade said that, for many in Charlottesville and elsewhere, the turning point was the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a white police officer.
Floyd’s murder sparked protests across the country.
It also sparked introspection at the local level.
Wade said several non-Black leaders of nonprofit organizations contacted him because they said their groups had not been “as inclusive as they needed to be.”
As nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders work to align their actions, funding and messages with the communities they serve, the speakers on Friday said that diversity without inclusive environments is counterproductive.
“I’m in a lot of environments where people say they want to hire persons of color but, once they get there, they don’t feel welcome and they leave,” said Scott Hamler, CEO and founder of the Charlottesville-based 4Z Digital agency. “Once people get there, if they don’t feel like they’re the only one or one of few, they’re not going to be there for long.”
Kori Price, the president of the Charlottesville Black Arts Collective, said all employers must commit to setting diversity quotas and maintaining the data for them.
“If you’re going to commit to something and if your organization is measured on metrics, then you need to be forthcoming about those metrics,” Price said. “Otherwise, I don’t see a commitment from that.”
Price said that, while diversity is important, it is also crucial to the overall equity of a business to ensure that that diversity is spread throughout rank and leadership. This will help establish an inclusive environment for all, no matter who created it, Price said.
“Some of us have to step outside of our comfort zones and see the wonderful results that can come from inclusive interactions and enhancement,” said Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and partnerships and director of the Men/Women of Color, Honor and Ambition organization at the University of Virginia.
The Tom Tom Festival continues through the weekend.
Saturday will bring more creative and active events, including an opportunity to paint a community mural at Ix Art Park and attend an Albemarle Ballet Theatre performance before resuming the Downtown Mall block party with reggae music and dance performances.
On Sunday, festival attendees are invited to a training session at the Wartime Fitness boxing gym in Charlottesville before going to watch the Tonsler League All-Star Game from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Tonsler Park.
To end the festival on Sunday, Tom Tom will host its own version of the popular West Coast music festival Coachella with “Porchella,” a series of free acoustic concerts and live music sessions from artists including Mike Younger, the Hot Mamas and the Tara Mills Band.
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