This week Charlottesville will recognize the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally that culminated in a summer of white supremacist intimidation. Like many of you, I watched in disgust as mobs of angry demonstrators converged on the streets of our city shouting slogans of hate and terror. The images of friends and neighbors being attacked came as a surprise to some, but for others the events were a painful reminder of the exclusion and fear they often face.
Earlier this summer, I was selected as president of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. After eight years as the Foundation’s director of programs, our board of directors entrusted me to lead this organization of dedicated professionals. For more than 50 years the Foundation has partnered with community-based organizations to provide human services and enrichment opportunities in the greater Charlottesville area. The images and impact of last summer’s rallies, however, made it clear we needed to do more to address the lack of racial equity in Charlottesville and attacks on our Jewish community. Led by our board, the Foundation decided to move beyond debating the challenges we face, and instead craft and financially support solutions that inspire acts of healing, reconciliation and education.
After last August, I begin witnessing a disturbing trend – a trend where many are tempted to dismiss visions of unity as unnatural or weak. We can best witness this in the never-ending debates on cable news and social media. It seems to me we are living in a world where anger is mistaken for strength, while retaliation is mistaken for action. These views, I believe, have set the stage for us to clarify our voice, elevate our leadership and hopefully inspire others to see and embrace the unstoppable winds of change.
I strongly believe that to combat our racial fears and issues of intolerance will require more courage, hope and patience than we see today. To begin, we have to see and denounce acts of bigotry – even in Charlottesville. We must admit that historically and structurally our community does not work the same for everyone and be willing to dismantle the systems that hold inequity and injustice in place. We also have to see with compassion those who would oppose or oppress us. We make this choice, not because the oppressor deserves compassion, but because we are striving for something greater—a place where our love for humanity outweighs our tribal interests.
As we remember the deeply painful loss of life and violence of last summer, I pray we choose compassion over chaos and engage in the selfless and hard work of healing our Charlottesville.
Brennan Gould is the president and chief executive officer, Charlottesville Area Community Foundation in Charlottesville, VA.