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Unofficial events memorialize 6-year anniversary of A12 in Charlottesville

Saturday is the six-year anniversary of the deadly Aug. 12 that shook Charlottesville. While the city is not hosting anything formal to mark the day, locals have organized a few unofficial events on their own.

Aug. 12, 2017, made Charlottesville synonymous with White nationalism after an avowed neo-Nazi plowed his car through a crowd during the Unite the Right rally-turned-riot in downtown Charlottesville. James Fields of Ohio, the driver of the car, was there with hundreds of others to protest the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments. He killed anti-racist counterprotester Heather Heyer.

Fields pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges and is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Springfield, Missouri.

Two others died that day. Virginia State Police troopers Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates. Cullen and Bates were in a helicopter “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” according to a police statement at the time. They lost control of the helicopter, which then crashed. They both died at the scene.

Six years later, the Charlottesville Clergy Collective will hold a forum at the Carver Recreation Center at 2p.m. Saturday. The event, billed as “Moving Beyond August 12 Together,” is described as an opportunity for open discussion about how the city has progressed since the events of that day.

“What’s our August 12 story?” a flyer for the event asks. “How do we look back at the events of that date in 2017 and how can the people and resources of Charlottesville’s faith communities contribute to the next chapter in racial justice work?”

Pastor Michael Cheung is the volunteer coordinator for the collective. He told The Daily Progress that more than 150 people from across many different faiths — including atheists — have RSVP’d to the event.

It will begin with a three-minute video about the history of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and why people advocated for it to be taken down. Then six people from the collective who contributed chapters to a book, “Standing Up to Hate: The Charlottesville Clergy Collective and the Lessons from August 12,” will speak about their experiences on Aug. 12, 2017.

Attendees will then have the opportunity to speak about how they experienced that day, giving people who were not living in Charlottesville at the time a chance to listen to the stories of the people who did.

“They may have heard about what has gone on but they might not have had the opportunity to listen to people’s stories first hand,” Cheung said. “We don’t want to assume everyone in the room was there on August 12.”

While the first portion of the forum will reflect on the past, the second portion will look toward the future.

The attendees will be split into small groups to discuss what individuals and congregations might be able to offer to meet specific needs of the community in the fight for racial justice and equity.

“Our hopes is to be able to clarify the kind of resources we have in that very room and hopefully break down congregational silos and create partnerships that could take place as result of that access and knowledge of the work that ministries and people are already doing,” Cheung said.

Afterwards, the collective will compile that information and ask for people’s contact details in order to connect individuals and congregations.

“It’s a way to look forward and not just look back on what happened in 2017,” Cheung said.

UVa described the forum as an opportunity for the greater community to reflect on the six-year anniversary of the tragedy.

School President Jim Ryan wrote on Twitter that the event will be “a great way to mark the anniversary and look to the future.”

“We came to realize that as August 12 comes around in past years, people understandably don’t want to necessarily commemorate it because it was such a heinous day, but to just acknowledge it,” Cheung said. “We really felt it was important not just to look back but also say, ‘Hey, what have we been doing and what are we doing and what can we do to actually make a concrete difference so that August 12 is not just a day that forever lives in infamy in Charlottesville but a pivot point to use something horrible to help create something more beautiful."

While UVa does not any official event planned for the day, it said it did plan to ring the bells on Friday just as it did Aug. 11 last year “in remembrance of those who lost their lives during those events six years ago,” a spokesperson for the university told The Daily Progress.

“As we approach the anniversary of August 11-12 this week, we remember the lives lost and the damage done six years ago. But we also remember the resilience and resolute spirit of the UVA and Charlottesville communities as we came together for healing and renewal,” Ryan wrote on Twitter.

The city does not have anything planned for the day.

“The City is not sponsoring anything itself directly, but we are a sponsor of the Soul of Cville event that is occurring this weekend,” city spokesman David Dillehunt told The Daily Progress.

The family-friendly festival at Ix Art Park will be held from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Billed as a celebration of Black culture and excellence, Soul of Cville will feature a teen fashion show, youth art exhibit, music, roller skating and the announcement of a winner of the “Let’s Intentionally Thrive” scholarship.

“Soul of Cville is a full weekend of amazing black intellectual energy revealed through creative artistic performances and community collaboration,” Sabrina Feggans, a member of the festival’s committee, wrote on its website.

“This partnership represents a shared commitment to celebrating diversity, supporting black excellence, and nurturing the creative spirit that thrives within our community,” committee member Lisa Capraro added.

The event, “aims to unite people from all backgrounds and walks of life to commemorate art, culture, and the spirit of community in Charlottesville,” Capraro wrote on the website.

The city of Charlottesville announced Friday afternoon that the Fourth Street crossing on the Downtown Mall, where Heyer was struck and killed in 2017 would be closed from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. Saturday "in memorial of the events of August 2017."


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