April 2015                                              Conference Report




It is just two weeks since the Healing History conference ended. Delegates dispersed far and wide carrying with them new hope, inspiration and commitment to action. 


Enjoy this short video that captures the energy, diversity and depth of the conference.


We want to thank all those who helped make the conference possible: The interns and volunteers. The partners who made space available and provided meals and transportation. The plenary speakers and the facilitators of breakout sessions and small groups. The international guests who brought perspective and global thinking. And the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its support.   


And thank you to Karen Elliott Greisdorf for the wonderful photographs, some of which you see in this report.  



Conference overview
A world dealing with historical pain
By Rob Corcoran

Senator Tim Kaine and Rob Corcoran
In the week following city-wide events marking the momentous days of April 1865 when a bloody civil war ended and when Emancipation became a reality for millions of African Americans, 300 people from across North America and from Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America gathered in the former Confederate capital. Recognizing that the wounds of history, systemic racism and discrimination along racial, ethnic or religious lines divide societies everywhere, they came to explore the connections between history, memory and social change.

"This year we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, 20 years since the Srebrenica massacres, 25 years since Nelson Mandela's release from prison, and 70 years since Hitler's death camps were liberated," said Dr. Margaret Smith of American University, at the opening plenary. "None of this lessens the impact of our remembrance this week of the ending of America's civil war and 246 years of chattel slavery. We are here to confront the fact that we still live with the repercussions of that history in the lives of millions of Africans, African Americans and white Americans, and in the psychic realities of the United States today." She recalled the phrase "dangerous memories" coined by theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman, which "urges us to confront in a personal manner the realities of race and class that prevent us from finding common ground."  

"You can't change the structures unless you understand the background narrative," said David Hooker, a mediator and scholar. Our primary work, he said, is "undoing the narrative of 'otherness,' which is the foundation of exploitation of labor." One fellow panelist was Tom DeWolf, a descendent of the most successful slave-trading dynasty in US history, who underlined new research from epigenetics that shows how genetic switches in DNA caused by trauma are passed on to successive generations.

Mayor Dwight Jones
"Hope in the Cities has for the past 25 years played a key role in helping the community learn that to transcend the past we must first honestly address it," said  Richmond's mayor, Dwight Jones, welcoming the international guests. He praised University of Richmond president, Dr. Edward Ayers, for his leadership in "ensuring that the sesquicentennial commemorations of the Civil War would be vastly more inclusive and accurate than any previous recounting of our city's shared history." But despite progress in race relations there are many "residual injustices that have not been put right." His newly created Office of Community Wealth Building seeks to address the entrenched poverty that is the legacy of racial segregation. Dr Ayers, a lead partner in the conference, underscored the need to talk about hope as we talk about history: "Richmond is at the beginning of the journey not the end." Read more

Read also Rob Corcoran's preconference op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch
The conference day-by-day
Talia Smith,working with Initiatives of Change, UK, arrived ahead of the conference and headed up a media team that produced daily stories and postings on Facebook and Twitter.
The beginning of the journey not the end
"We need to talk about hope as we talk about history," stated the president of the University of Richmond, Dr. Edward Ayers, at the opening plenary of the Healing History: Memory, Legacy and Social Change conference. Read more
Who owns the boat and the lake?
Lawrence Bloom, Chairman of Be Energy, remarked "It's not just about teaching someone to fish, but who owns the lake and the boat!" This was at a sessions on Sustainable Equitable Economic Development Read more

Never fully accepted into society
"The closest link to who we are is where the person who birthed us was born," said Mee Moua, president and CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, at a breakout session on "Identity, Immigration and Citizenship" Read more

What does inequality mean to you?
"Inequality deeply impacts all of us," said Ellen Robertson, a member of the Richmond City Council. "What does inequality mean to you?  How can we address it as we move forward towards a just society?"
Read more

The spark that keeps societies going
"In order to create equitable, just and sustainable communities we need to build trusting relationships across difference that enables people to have a sustained commitment," said Martha McCoy, from Everyday Democracy, opening a session on "Mobilizing the Moveable Middle." Read more
Reflections from the conference
A number of conference participants have sent pieces that they have written as blogs or articles about the conference, some of which have been published elsewhere. We encourage others to send their reflections which we will include in future newsletters.
Implicit bias and police-community relations
A reflection by Iman Shabazz following a public forum exploring the historical/cultural context that shapes police-community relations.
"Three cases involving white police officers and black male victims where the evidence under public scrutiny held that the deaths of these black males were not only unwarranted but pointed to a more poignant problem that has persisted in the relationship between law enforcement and culturally diverse communities."  Read more
Let us remember those who sacrificed
Reverend Michael Weeder, Dean of the Anglican Cathedral of St George the Martyr, Cape Town, South Africa. spoke at a forum on "Living in the aftermath of Slavery & Apartheid." This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus. "It is raining outside my hotel room. I am in Richmond, Virginia, in the US, attending a conference to 'learn about how to heal history, understand the legacies that keep us apart and generate energy for building healthy inclusive societies.' Many of us are from slave descendant communities." Read more
Sustainable, inclusive economic development
Michael Smith one of the organizers of the Trust & Integrity in the Global Economy conference on this theme at IofC's international center in Caux, Switzerland, June 26-July 1. He writes, "I was in Richmond recently with several British colleagues alongside US national and local partners for the Healing History conference organized by Hope in the Cities. One partner was the City of Richmond's new Office of Community Wealth Building," Read more
Was the "Beloved Community" an illusion?
Mike McQuillan, a founding member of the Hope in the Cities National Network writes his reflections following the conference."The Richmond conference restored my faith in good works by good grassroots people. But I believe institutional racism and our profit-driven capitalist economy prohibit equality." Read more
What comes next?
Trustbuilding forum series 
"Champions of change" - May 12, 5:30-7:30 pm 
YMCA, 2 W Franklin Street, Richmond, VA 23220

 Daryl Atkinson is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ). In 1996, Daryl plead guilty to a first-time, non-violent, drug crime and served 40 months in prison. Since his release, Daryl completed college and law school and has become an advocate for people with criminal records. In 2014, when Daryl was recognized by the White House as a "Reentry and Employment Champion of Change," Attorney General Eric Holder said "Daryl overcame his own involvement with the criminal justice system and has since worked to build a better future not only for himself - but for countless others who deserve a second chance."  To register 
Community Trustbuilding Fellowship
This unique five-part program held in Richmond, VA, increases the capacity of community leaders to overcome divisions of  race, culture, economics and politics. It offers tools to connect theory with practice; personal transformation with social change. In the context of understanding history and its legacy, it teaches skills to address critical issues of bias and inequity, and increases confidence to work creatively for reconciliation and justice.

Now is the time to apply! (deadline May 31). For program dates and more information.
Trust & integrity in the global economy
The Trust & Integrity in the Global Economy (TIGE) Conference, June 26-July 1, is one of several summer conferences held at the Initiatives of Change center in Caux, Switzerland (see calendar of 2015 conferences in the side panel) It   explores new models of leadership in business through workshops and case studies. It is a platform for all stakeholders in the global economy, who wish to inspire, connect and encourage businesses and individuals to act according to their core values, and contribute to an equitable society and humane world. Several Americans are planning to attend. Read more
The power of moral imagination

Alex Wise Alex Wise is Chairman of Initiatives of Change USA. He serves as Director of Advancement and Stewardship at the Church Health Center of Memphis,TN. He is founder of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, VA.

The timing of the recent Healing History international conference in Richmond was by no means accidental.  It was designed to explore how to realize the promise of equality never fully realized when the Civil War ended 150 years ago.  We were looking for some way to straighten out the tangled legacy of slavery, civil war and race in our country - and similar issues elsewhere in the world.  
I'll make a confession:  I am one of the privileged ones. I am white and my family were slaveholders and Confederates.  But as someone at the conference said, beware stereotypes.  

My great-great grandfather (same name as mine) was a general in the army that surrendered on April 9, 1865 - 150 years ago today! As Governor of Virginia in 1859, he had signed John Brown's death warrant.  At the secession convention in 1860, he had led Virginia out of the Union. He had led a brigade throughout the war, and a division at the end. And that morning at Appomattox he was not ready to accept the olive branch. When Union general Joshua Chamberlain paid his respects, Governor Wise famously spat out the words, "We hate you, Sir."  After the war, he never took the oath of allegiance to the Union and was therefore never pardoned.

Henry Wise's brother-in-law, General Meade, the Union victor at Gettysburg, was also at Appomattox. He was on the opposite side.

The youngest son of Henry Wise and Meade's wife's older sister was an eighteen-year-old Rebel lieutenant at the time. He was my great grandfather, John Sergeant Wise. Under personal orders from the Confederate President, he wended his way through converging Union troops to learn the fate of the Confederates at Appomattox. And after the decision to surrender, he dodged Yankee patrols to slip back through Union lines to report it to President Jefferson Davis, who was fleeing southward from the burning city of Richmond. John Sergeant Wise was proud of his Confederate bona fides all his life, and a full-length Hollywood film called The Field of Lost Shoes was recently made about him.  

In 2006 I learned that the first person of African descent to speak at a major-party political convention in America - the Republican convention in 1872 -- was also a son of Henry Wise of Virginia, and therefore half-brother to my great grandfather. Henry Wise emancipated the boy and his mother in 1827 so that they could live in freedom.  The young man - William Henry Grey - attended Wise when Wise was in Congress in the 1830s. And as a mature man, he was a political leader in Arkansas during Reconstruction.  

For my family the Civil War and its legacy has been a family affair. And I think in a sense that is also true for our nation. Sometimes we get so caught up in our frustration over events like Ferguson, that we forget we are connected by ties of language, culture, history and yes, blood.  We're not enemies - we're family.  And maybe that's why the frustration and rancor can be especially acute. But let's remember that we're bound by something much stronger than what separates us - our common prayer that America can live up to its founding promise - and even more basic, our shared need for survival.  As we search for answers, let us approach these matters the way Lincoln urged in his Second Inaugural, "with charity for all and malice toward none."   
Read more
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Photo gallery
Alex Wise, Gail Christopher, Rob Corcoran
Small group dialogues
The Reconciliation Statue
Preston Tisdale, lawyer from CT
Ellen Robertson, Richmond City Council
Valika Smeulders, NL, meets South Africans
Going deeper in a breakout session
Audience at a public forum
Dr. David Hooker, Tom DeWolf &
Dr. Margaret Smith
Table conversation
Photos by Karen Elliott Greisdorf
Caux Conferences
Exploring the human factor in global change

June 26-July 1
Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy

July 3-8
Just Governance for Human Security

July 10-14
Caux Dialogue on Land and Security

July 16-19
Addressing Europe's Unfinished Business
International Peace-Builders' Forum

July 27-August 2
CATS - Children and Adults - Partners for Change?

August 4-9
Seeds of Inspiration

August 10-15
Impact Initiatives Challenge

 More information


by Rob Corcoran


Read Rob Corcoran's latest blog

A movement for healing and justice


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Initiatives of Change, USA
is part of a diverse global network with an 80-year track record of peacebuilding, conflict transformation and forging partnerships across divides of race, class, religion and politics.  
Our vision
We inspire a vision of community where a commitment to reconciliation and justice transcends competing identities and interests. 
Our mission
We equip leaders to build trust in diverse communities through a process of personal change, inclusive dialogue, healing historical conflict and teambuilding 
Our focus
We connect core values with personal and public action with a focus on racial reconciliation, economic inclusion and interfaith understanding.
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