Healing Continues in Charlottesville

Apr 6, 2022 | Stories from the Diocese

The Rev. Pat Jones Turner (left) and The Rev. Ayuko White

The people of Charlottesville could never have prepared themselves for the violence that descended upon their city with the gathering of the Unite the Right Rally in the summer of 2017. In the space of a few hours, one woman was killed, dozens of peaceful protesters were injured and the residents of the city were left emotionally devastated by the horror visited upon their hometown.

The Rev. Patricia Jones Turner, who was raised at Trinity Episcopal Church, Charlottesville, wanted to help the city heal. She decided to leverage her skills as a social worker to create a safe space for people to share their experiences and learn how to have courageous conversations. Rev. Jones Turner, who is an expert in trauma-informed care, applied for a grant through the Charlottesville Area Community Fund and received funding to launch the White Feather Historical and Educational Project. The name White Feather is borrowed from a Native American tradition, in which the feather is a symbol of trust, strength and freedom.

The Project, hosted by Trinity Church, aims to enhance the perspectives of people of color by openly discussing local history and its racist implications. It also seeks to enlighten those who are unaware of past historical oppressions that contribute to the city’s present reality. The Project offers training designed to help participants understand societal biases, recognize systemic oppression and overcome distrust and avoidance of hard topics.

To date, more than 250 people have participated in the discussion groups and workshops, and 60 people have participated in the anti-oppression trainings. People from the congregation and beyond say they have learned much about the history of racism and oppression in Charlottesville, from the segregated schools to the use of slave labor to construct UVA.

The Rev. Ayuko White is a Baptist minister, former Trinity parishioner and a current member of the White Feather Leadership Team. “What I appreciate most about the White Feather Project” says Rev. White, “is that it is led by a BIPOC, the Rev. Patricia Jones Turner…. She has established a culture of respect and deep listening in the White Feather sessions. This allows BIPOC to share more freely of their experiences of pain and suffering while also receiving, with compassion and grace, white participants who have the courage and commitment to sit with difficult truths.”

“Everyone who attends our sessions has a right to own their “truth,” says Rev. Jones Turner. “None of us has the right to attack or negate anyone’s truth….Harmful beliefs can be altered as individuals are exposed to rigorous honesty and truth through in-depth conversation, which include historical and educational facts.”

The White Feather Project also produces an impressive podcast series that brings history to life through storytelling by local residents who lived through racial and cultural oppression before and during the days of segregation in Charlottesville.

Helen Plaisance, another Trinity parishioner and member of Leadership Team of White Feather, says prior to participating in the Project, her knowledge of racism and oppression in the U.S. was virtually non-existent. “It wasn’t until I moved to Charlottesville 40 years ago that I became aware that people who lived here had experienced it, and it wasn’t until I participated in the White Feather sessions that I fully understood that it was still part of the daily experience of my brothers and sisters here. I’ve come to understand that desegregating the schools did nothing to affect equal treatment or opportunities in banking, in business, in health care, or in our government.”

“When you are born white,” Helen adds, “you have no more idea of the privilege that accrues to you …than you have of the suffering that white privilege infuses in… those who don’t have it. The White Feather History and Education Project has opened my eyes in a way that no prior experience has to the failings of the American democracy, and the importance of revisiting the pillars of those systems to create a society that truly offers liberty and justice to all.”

Bernadette Whitsett-Hammond, a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church and the White Feather Leadership Team, says, “Even though individuals do not have the same life experiences within a society fraught with systemic racial inequities, there is much to learn from one another if one is willing.  In acquiring such knowledge, it is dependent upon each individual to do better whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

To learn more about the White Feather Historical and Educational Project, visit whitefeatherproject.net and Trinity Episcopal Church at trinityepiscopalcville.org/white-feather-project.

Helen Plaisance (left) and Bernadette Whitsett-Hammond

Images and documents from the White Feather historical exhibit