Gabriel Week: Exposure to the Past

The Gabriel Week event that took place at the African Burial Ground and the site of the Richmond Gallows activated the space through dance, music, and theater. Those organizing the event truly believed it is their mission to honor and lift those spirits and ancestors that preside in the African Burial Grounds and through this belief they also engaged the audience. It became a performance piece with everyone in attendance engaged and actively commemorating the space through movement. We started by cleansing ourselves; rubbing herb water on ourselves while saying, “wash me, cleanse me, make me rich.” Then we participated in a march along the side of the burial ground and the gallows all the way up to the sign acknowledging Brother Gabriel’s murder in 1800 at the gallows. We then finished the march facing the Gallows for a passionate and powerful telling of Brother Gabriel’s story. Shortly after we watched a commemorative dance performed on the green and then settled around smoking herbs and candles to meditate. What surprised me most about this event was how much audience participation was required and that everyone that was present participated as they were able. It showed a sense of community that is hard to build and nurture. The audience consisted of both young and old members and although the majority was African American there were also a significant number of Caucasian members as well. Although we may have all come from different backgrounds, we were all connected by our engagement with the history that had taken place where we stood. One of the most inspiring aspects of the night was marching beside a stranger in search for justice. It’s something that I had never experienced before but knowing we were all there with a united goal made it feel like we were making an impact.

 

How to: Commemorate

The Gabriel Week event was a well-organized event, with a focus on community engagement. The event took place in the African Burial Ground and ensured that all attendees were also participants and students of the experience.

The event commemorated the week of Gabriel’s Rebellion and focused on Gabriel’s journey. I was shocked by the lack of markings or information given at the site in remembrance of Gabriel and others who were hung at the site. The location itself was not used by many to commemorate our Brother Gabriel, but I felt honored to be one of few to do so at this particular time and event.

The use of the arts (dance, music, and theater) was well-selected and gave just enough information about the location, event, and main character, Gabriel. The dancing was particularly my favorite part because it spoke to us all, while not saying a thing. The passion and feeling conveyed to the audience, through the Buju Banton and DJ Khaled collaboration, was one of the best modern hip-hop pieces I’ve ever seen.

I would agree that the goal was to commemorate Gabriel and his actions. For one, we were all encouraged to wear white. When we arrived, we were taught a march, which was another form of commemoration. We then walked as a community to the plaque on the highway where the location was briefly described. Walking back to the ground site, we were greeted by a touching performance that included a short skit and clips of songs, to remind us of Gabriel’s presence here in Richmond.

Participating in an event like this speaks to the importance of historic knowledge, acknowledgment of the past, and willingness to extend the truth. This event ensured that at least one of the parts of the event would affect every participant in one way or another.

The ritual at the end of this event truly tied it together and reminded us that everything we do has meaning, no matter how simple. We should be aware of our intentions and determine the best way to execute these intentions. I learned of more information on Gabriel and ways we can lift him up in incredible honor. I was also reminded that a moment of peace and silence before action never hurts. Since this event, I’ve tried to implement intentions in my everyday life and strategically plan out my time and energy before proceeding to immediately follow my thoughts or heart’s desires.

I think it is incredibly important to collectively commemorate important dates and people in our history and I am excited to continue doing this in our class and beyond. My only question would be, “What are some additional ways to commemorate Brother Gabriel?”

Of Strangers in White

The Gabriel event held on September 30thwas a new learning experience for me as I had never participated in a march driven by a purpose or solid intent. When we first arrived at the burial ground we were greeted warmly by Free Egunfemi and she briefed us about our purpose for that day. That helped to clear some hazy ideas I had prior to the event. We were then passed on to Amina and Christine who taught us some moves for the march. Honestly, I really enjoyed those moves and how purposeful they were – it was a simple dance but interlaced with a message, a fight. At least that is what I thought it was. When the marching started, I was totally engrossed with the beats echoed by the djembes (and other percussions). It moved me. It moved everyone else present there. We moved together, I think we might have had the same purpose in mind. The energy emitted was contagious. We were mostly strangers but we smiled and flowed together. Not forgetting that we smothered parts of our body with fragrant water which was meant to cleanse ourselves and protect us from getting “moved” by the spirits at the burial ground. This whole experience was super rich for me.

As we got on the highway shoulder, it came to my realisation that “whoa this could be dangerous!”. Being a virgin at any activism-related events (at that time), I was for one moment, scared for my life and everyone who was there with me. There were a few cars that slowed down to observe us and I was worried that our march might have upset someone. Coming from a country where freedom of speech is unpopular (and also frowned upon), I was genuinely surprised at where I was that evening; with a group of people in white, marching on one of Richmond’s busiest highways.

What I learned from this experience was empathising with others’ struggles/fights and knowing that any forms support from outsiders is welcomed and appreciated. I’ve learned back home how dance/movements can be a powerful instrument to move people when armed with intention and purpose, but I had never seen how powerful it was like during the evening of the Gabriel event.

After that night, I was wondering how would the rest of the event fall together on October 10th? What is more to our role as UR and VCU’s students?

 

 

Gabriel Week Event

     The Gabriel Week event provided me new insight to what the project was about and what it was going to be like. The Reverend, the march and shuffle, the meditation circle, and the community coming together created a great experience for me.

     The Reverend, or the women who did most of the speaking provided disturbing knowledge such as, “Most of the lynchings were state functioned”. She also provided nourishing information such as, “Our ancestors can be commemorated and live through our bodies as we dance and not just as statues”. 

     The march and shuffle that was taught to us was very powerful and unifying. Everyone was able to do the movements, so professional dancers and community members with no technical training could stand as one for a good cause. We traveled through the burial ground up into the streets where cars passing by could see us. The cars were honking as they drove passed us. At first, I felt insecure as the cars were honking because people generally honk when they feel anger or fear. However, I finally realized that they were honking to support what we were doing.

     At the end of the ceremony, we participated in a meditation circle which made me feel in-tune with myself and spirits near me. It was a beautiful and important addition to the event. I felt that the meditation added a peaceful aspect to the event which could have brought out anger and sorrow. 

     I want to keep learning about the event and the history behind it so that I can inform others about it. Also, I want to be informed of other areas that have been neglected under the state and how we can commemorate those areas.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

css.php