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She’s Trying to Heal Racial Wounds In the Former Capital of the Confederacy
Once Innovation Fellow Mariam Sankoh learned the true story of American history, she felt compelled to work on creating more equity and justice in her community.
What is Coming Together Virginia and what inspired you to start it?
Coming Together Virginia is working to acknowledge and heal the wounds of racism that are rooted in our nation’s history of slavery. Our vision is of a radically healed world of thriving,equitable and just communities.
I first got involved with Coming to the Table, a national nonprofit focused on this work, as a volunteer and stayed over the years — building relationships with elders and wisdom-bearers in the hopes of becoming the healing bridge for future generations.
I felt that Virginia provided a unique perspective on healing the wounds of racial enslavement, particularly with Richmond being the former capital of the Confederacy.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The lack of equity and justice in our communities, which prevents communities from thriving in the ways they could. We want to open hearts and minds through dialogue, promote action and bring that equity and justice.
This goes back to Martin Luther King’s original vision of how we build just communities. We start with having the conversations to help people understand where they want to start.
How does Coming Together Virginia work?
We have several events, and many of our community members come back repeatedly and become increasingly engaged. Every third Tuesday is a community dinner. We have a monthly movie night and a book circle. We also have an event series called Racism at Work, where we invite speakers who talk about workplace equity, housing or other topics. Everything is co-led with individuals from different racial backgrounds.
Why choose a cogenerational approach?
We believe in order to do this work, it has to be younger and older individuals working together. Just like it was with the Civil Rights movement. The olders come to it with wisdom and knowledge and the youngers come to it with a lot of enthusiasm, and are often about to turn knowledge into action.
Why do you feel called to do this work?
I’m West African and when I came to Richmond, I wasn’t completely ignorant of American history. I had taken advanced history classes while in High School and College dealing with international perspectives on American History. But I didn’t have the local knowledge.
I was surprised to learn how much Black individuals had contributed to American history. It took joining Coming to the Table, visiting places like the home of Maggie L. Walker, and talking with people. I would have stayed ignorant had I not joined this community.
What’s your big audacious vision? If you succeed, what change will we see?
A racially healed world? That would be ideal, but I question whether it’s achievable and worry that the difficulty in measuring that might lead to lack of accountability. My personal goal is to reduce racial disparities in education, equity and income. To bring generations together to reasonably close the gap, and better support Black people in what they’re creating.
How can people get involved with your work?
They can go to ComingTogetherVirginia.org and sign up for our newsletter. That way, they can learn about our upcoming events and our facilitator training.
Probably Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Both of my parents passed away within a year of each other. I understand that sometimes in life, there is no “good” decision to be made, but you still have to make it. And I like the idea of taking care of someone else through those difficult situations.
Learn more about Mariam Sankoh here.