By Beth Foster, Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center director
I’ve told about my experiences in Charlottesville this past weekend over and over in the last couple days — on social media, in videos, and to reporters, family members, friends, and others in my community. That is one of the reasons I went, to bear witness to what would happen there; and, I am grateful to each person who gave me the opportunity to fulfill that reason by letting me tell them the stories. But, when I sat down to write this reflection, I started at least a dozen times. What else did I have left to say?
I saw evil like I had never seen it before in Charlottesville; but, I also saw love, solidarity and the power we have when we stand together like I’d never seen it before. But, I’d said that … at least a few dozen times. (Links to some of the news stories about Mercy Junction’s time in Charlottesville are below if you’d like to read more, or visit my Facebook page where I posted quite a bit as things were happening on Saturday and Sunday.)
I gave up on writing for awhile Monday night and started working my way through all the messages that had accumulated in my inbox over the past few days. There was one that I had received on Sunday night from a young mother, a woman who had been my employee for several years as an animal caretaker.
She wrote: “I’ve been in tears and sick at my stomach over Heather. Not in disbelief because I’m not blind to the white supremacy that still exists and is in power, but still heartbroken. But not just for Heather. For the fact that Heather literally risked her own life for the sake of saving someone else’s that may have been taken or destroyed by a white supremacist. It’s like watching a modern day crucifixion and I am both humbled and yet filled with such great sorrow. Please tell me things will change. That more will join at the next rally. That eventually rallies won’t be necessary.”
As I read her message, I was still — am still — processing all that I saw and all that happened in Charlottesville. I’m thinking about a woman murdered, a young man beaten, of men armed with shields and sticks and guns in the name of white supremacy, of a city occupied and held hostage. One of the reporters with whom I spoke asked me if there were any heroes from the day that she should talk with. I told her the streets were filled with heroes that day. Everyone who came out to confront the evil that was on blatant display was a hero. I was not hopeless, but I could not find words that didn’t sound empty to give the woman who asked me to tell her that eventually those heroes would not have to be in the streets.
Then I remembered the training we had on Friday afternoon with Rev. Osagyefo Sekou as he helped us prepare ourselves for non-violent direct action the next day when we would confront armed white supremacist with nothing more than our faith.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” Hebrews 1:11.
Rev. Sekou told us that the substance and the evidence of our faith might come in those whose faces we would never see and whose names we would never know. He told us, that by being present in Charlottesville on that day, by taking that afternoon to prepare ourselves for non-violent direct action, we were the substance and evidence of the faith of an enslaved person who had been working in fields just outside where we sat in church pews more than 150 years later.
I wrote my friend back and I told her that story. I told her that we had to do the work now with faith and that the substance and evidence of that faith might be witnessed by those whose names we would never know and whose faces we would never see, but that I hoped those faces and names would be her children.
Links to news stories about Mercy Junction’s involvement in Charlottesville: