by Brittney Robinson
(A personal reflection on walking the Slave Trail)
“The road is made by walking.” These words from Spanish poet Antonio Machado came to my mind as our group stood at the entrance of Richmond’s Slave Trail. I could have easily taken it for granted there was always a path there or that it was always as clear as it was that day. I imagined that slither of land by the James River being even less manicured. I imagined denser woods and the ground inhospitable for the barefooted.
Mercifully, we were not made to walk in silence like our predecessors. I could hear reflective conversations taking place sympathizing on what our ancestors true experience was like. We recognized the bridges that carried us over abrupt ditches weren’t there for them. They wouldn’t have heard even the sounds of the highway, the cars, or the occasional bystander that we did. Modernity made the woods seem closer to civilization, but what did they hear? I suppose whatever they heard it wasn’t really a “sound”. I imagine being in a strange land turns sound into noise; unwanted, indiscriminate noise.
According to our guide the trail in its full length was 3 miles long. She graciously condensed our travel to 1.5 miles. We knew this was another courtesy that was not an option for our ancestors. I could go on about the water we drank, the shoes we wore, the bug repellent we used, breaks we took, the chains that didn’t bind us, our friends that we travelled with us. All these were not options for the dehumanized captives. They walked in the dark, separated from family, in silence yet surrounded by noise, chained in a single file line facing the unknown. I considered the trail experience as part of the psychological making of the slave.
Yet, I believe we could also palpate the strength of those survivors of the Middle Passage. Machado also wrote,
“I thought my fireplace dead,
And stirred the ashes.
I burned my fingers.”
Perhaps as they walked they considered their lives only ashes. Nonetheless, as we walked I believe we could feel their God-given resilience and deep-seated hope for survival and revival burning still. Personally, I was challenged. Knowing this present life is filled with changes we didn’t want or ask for, but still must face. Knowing for some moments difficulties may afflict and bind us. Knowing life may ask of us more than we think we have to give or could possibly handle. My challenge was to remember we are not the first generation to come this way nor are we the first God has maneuvered through unknown places. We won’t be the last either. There lies also in us an ember of resistance against the struggles we face. The same ember called hope, placed in us by God. Deeply rooted within where it is continually guarded from wind and wave. We can never fully travel where our ancestors have been, but we each have our own trail to blaze. If we walk that path as conscious of our freedoms, privileges, identity and responsibility as we were that day, then we can honor the memory of those in whose footsteps we walked.
2017 Summer Reflection
by Samantha Cain
STREAM YTI 2017 was absolutely amazing! To say that STREAM was a life changing experience is an understatement. Serving as a resident mentor for the program was truly a rewarding experience. Sitting down in an open and safe space with our youth to share in dialogue with one another as well as other leaders was encouraging to all of us. The minds of the young people were extraordinary; they pour out so much knowledge and wisdom.
STREAM created a space where we could all be open, honest and authentic no matter who was in the room. We got to do so many great things within this week. We were enriched by so many great presenters, each other and even people within VUU that we came in contact with. We got the chance to explore our heritage together by walking the Richmond slave trail. We got to act out biblical scriptures that made us feel like we were literally apart of the text; utilizing the book, Theater of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal, taking our lead from instructor Ms. Tiffany Trent. We got engage in conversation on topics that are often brushed over such as social justice and what it REALLY means to define me. We (the resident mentors) got to beat all the youth in laser tag and a water balloon fight. We even had the opportunity to celebrate a birthday together which caused us to celebrate the journey of life. Mentors and youth created a bond that was nothing short of being God ordained. STREAM definitely created a new family.
I don’t think any of us came to STREAM with an expectation of losing so much, but we did. We lost fear, doubt, hate, low self-esteem and so much more; we lost it and left it in the STREAM. However, we gained so much more from the STREAM. We gained things that were far greater than what we lost. We left with an appreciation of who we really are and who God has called us to be. We all left knowing that no matter what obstacles we face in life, we are good enough. I could share 1000 stories but STREAM allowed us to see that there is God in every manner of life, from the smallest of insects to the biggest disputes. There is always God!
I highly recommend this STREAM program to any high school junior and senior. STREAM will blow your mind! Can’t wait for STREAM YTI 2018, see you there!