Virginia Humanities was awarded $899,435 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for “Changing the Narrative” in November 2017.  The two-year project has aimed to broaden and reframe narratives of Virginia’s past by engaging local communities and youth in addressing the present-day challenges of racism and bias. It is part of the Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) effort.

“Changing the Narrative” uses humanities-based tools of story and storytelling to help Virginians create bridges between the past, present, and future to advance racial healing in six key locales: Norfolk, Richmond, Arlington, Harrisonburg, Roanoke, and Charlottesville. These sites span the state’s urban geographical diversity. The project is focused on racial healing through a variety of Virginia Humanities programs. They are:

  • Author residencies coordinated by the Virginia Center for the Book to bring diverse-background authors to middle-grade and young-adult student audiences in the six designated communities;
  • BackStory podcasts and With Good Reason radio to contextualize contemporary issues of race and representation through the lens of American history, reaching hundreds of thousands of listeners;
  • Classroom visits in which Encyclopedia Virginia presented and explored Google Expeditions and other digital tools for place-based storytelling;
  • Summer teacher institutes in 2018 and 2019 with teachers, librarians, and educators from the six communities;
  • Six grant-funded programs to each of the communities to do TRHT work for a total of $100,000;
  • Panel presentations about the project at the 2018 and 2019 National Humanities Conferences to discuss and evaluate the work with humanities colleagues nationwide.

About TRHT

Launched in 2016 by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) is a comprehensive, national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism. It seeks to unearth and jettison the deeply held, and often unconscious, beliefs created by racism—the main one being the belief in a hierarchy of human value. As part of the “Changing the Narrative” project, Virginia Humanities adopted the following Truth Statement in 2018.

Truth Racial Healing & Transformation

In acknowledgement of a history rooted in enslavement, racism, and inherent bias against people of color, we commit to replacing the traditionally accepted Virginia narrative with a more complete truth. We stand firmly committed to fostering community-level transformations through numerous partnerships in our six-city purview. With a collective of dedicated initiatives, we will work toward changing the narrative to promote equity, to encourage empathy, and ultimately, to empower outreach and action.

Author residencies

The Virginia Center for the Book organized more than two dozen author residencies to bring diverse background authors to underserved middle-grade and young-adult audiences in the six communities. During the first two years of the project we brought programming to nearly 1,200 students. Community events were held in 2019 to reach students where they live: public libraries and boys and girls clubs.

Authors selected to participate in Changing the Narrative are primarily Virginia-based writers of color, including Charlottesville author Marc Boston (The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff), and Angela Dominguez author of Stella Díaz Has Something To Say.

Author/illustrator Angela Dominguez at the 2017 VA Festival of the Book. Photo by Peter Hedlund.

The Power of Audio

In addition to podcasting training at our summer institutes, Virginia Humanities’ radio programs developed content to “Change the Narrative.” In August 2018 With Good Reason did an episode called “Pilgrimmage” which included audio from the teachers who attended the 2018 Summer Institute. You can hear it here.

BackStory–The American History Podcast produced several shows that address the impact of racism on our history and how it has shaped our narrative, including an episode called “The Faces of Racism: A History of Blackface and Minstrelsy in American Culture.” You can listen here.

Encyclopedia Virginia and Google Expeditions

In 2019 Virginia Humanities staff visited three sites where they introduced the Google Expedition kits using virtual reality headsets paired with mobile phones. Fourth grade students from Richmond-based Linwood Holton Elementary School took a virtual field trip to Jamestown before embarking on a class trip to the site. During the field trip, students photographed and created their own thoughtfully annotated virtual tours of Jamestown.

With the support of their teacher, seventh graders at Richmond’s Binford Middle School used Google street view imagery to virtually experience the foreign landscapes and locations from the novel Refugee. Connecting with the characters in the book and then virtually exploring settings fostered empathy and a deeper understanding of diverse life experiences. In addition to class projects with students, at the district’s history fair, Encyclopedia Virginia worked with Richmond City Schools Social Studies Coordinator to document history projects using 360-degree imagery. The virtual fair experience highlighted a number of social justice-themed exhibits created by students who can now share their work via virtual tour long after the history fair has ended.

Teacher institutes

We held two Teacher Institutes as part of the “Changing the Narrative” grant in 2018 and 2019. We invited attendees from the 2018 institute to return the following year to help assess the work of the past year. We asked them to help us gauge the degree to which we were able to change the lives of their students using some of the tools from the institute, including:

  • Virtual tours of neighborhoods and personal places using Google Expeditions
  • “Where I’m From” book making kits inspired by George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” poems, which cleverly weave together personal narratives
  • Author residencies
Photo by Bellamy Shoffner

Grants

Six grants were awarded for a total of $100,000 to the Kellogg communities during 2018-2019, with some work concluding in 2020. Each city has an advisory committee designated to develop a grant request that would best serve their community’s needs and support the goals of Kellogg’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework.

Norfolk State University: “Changing the Racial Narrative: Using Drama to Heal Historic Divisions in Norfolk” (Norfolk). A two-part project using drama to explore the history of race in Norfolk, Virginia with a special focus on public housing in the St. Paul’s neighborhood. Faculty from Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, and Virginia Wesleyan University lead Norfolk Public School students in “close readings” of three contemporary plays, all dealing in some way with race and racial division. The three plays are Choir Boy by Tarell McCraney; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; and Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson. The students then attended performances of the plays and participated in post-performance discussions of the issues they raised.

Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities: “Community Dinners” (Roanoke). Six community meals were held in “geographically and socially diverse neighborhoods” throughout the Roanoke Valley. The events were designed to build relationships, facilitate open discussions, and elicit personal stories to expand and reshape past narratives of Roanoke’s history, especially with regard to race. The events included story-sharing; featured speakers addressing topics related to Roanoke’s history; facilitated discussions; and brief performances by local artists. The emphasis was on local food and/or foods made locally and representing diverse food traditions.

Arlington Career and Technical Education Center (Arlington). This grant funded five separate projects in the community, including one involving middle school students in Arlington’s Career and Technical Education Center in the process of building “cigar-box” guitars; writing songs and poems with local musicians of “diverse backgrounds”; and performing these songs and poems on the hand-made instruments in local concerts. More than 190 Arlington students from four middle schools built cigar-box guitars and used them to write and perform blues songs about the county’s racial history, culminating in a 2019 concert at Kenmore Middle School 

Storefront for Community Design: Gabriel Week (Richmond). The Gabriel Week celebration is a seven-day event held annually in Richmond. It is based on the principles of self-determination, intersectionality, and resistance. The week includes a parade, dances, visual art, and public ancestor altars (portals)—that commemorate the 219th anniversary of Brother General Gabriel’s daring attempt to establish a free and independent community for Black and Brown families, demanding the right to survive and then thrive in the 1800s and beyond. In late August, a partnership with the Richmond Public Library, Nerd Squad, and “Changing the Narrative” sponsored an escape room event. Participants received a copy of Richmond author Gigi Amateau’s young adult book, Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, the Gallows and the Black General Gabriel.

Jefferson School African American Heritage Center: Charlottesville received funding to coordinate the development of a community-generated, place-based, Virginia Studies curriculum and online resource for Charlottesville City Public Schools that reflect the city’s complex and diverse local narratives. Participants are holding monthly Teacher’s Education programs to acquaint teachers with moments in Charlottesville’s local history and the way in which this history relates to the larger racial narratives of the country. A five-month curriculum plus meetings designed to cover local history from enslavement to the integration of Charlottesville’s public spaces are now underway. Teachers will receive training on how to integrate this information so that it is in alignment with Virginia Standards of Learning.

Northeast Neighborhood Association: (Harrisonburg). This grant centers on under-recognized histories and peoples of African American descent living in the valley. It is a multi-tiered project and includes a Harrisonburg Youth Art Workshop, the creation of new painted works, a community dialogue lecture, an Art Intervention, a digital catalog of painted images with accompanying regional African American histories, a Harrisonburg TRHT project website, and the presentation of newly created art works featured in multiple exhibition venues.

The Kellogg TRHT grant period has been extended through 30 April 2020.

Get in touch: Sue Perdue, 434-924-4519, ssh8a@virginia.edu