Pew’s Center for Arts and Heritage has funded Reconstruction, Inc. to match an African American story teller, psychologist along with historians in the field of African American history together with a group of African American men who are members of Reconstruction’s Alumni Ex Offenders Association. The purpose was to continue the personal transformation and organizational growth. In practice, this means various historians have come in to share information with them about (for instance) the early laws of Virginia, and how the colony worked to separate Christians (whites) and Africans from each other and to enforce evolving regulations controlling black behavior. In this case, the purpose was to look at the origins of state controled of racial issues and of structural racism. We had four history sessions, facilitated by: Steven Hahn, Allison Dorsey, Peter Kolchin and David Silverman.
This experience was disturbing for many of our participants, specially the younger ones who
didn’t have much exposure to African American history. However, we also provided group counseling with a Psychologist to help people sort through their anger, confusion, and curiosity, as well as any personal issues this psychically charged material might bring up. These sessions with the African American Psychologist (Dr. Thomas Gordon) also exposed and reinforced the participants existing personal and political power.
In working with the storyteller, they gained from her some excellent tools and culturally beneficial ways to take their new-found awareness and put it into action. Soon they’ll be going out to speak with members of our communities with profound excitement.
To provide a modicum of measurement, a volunteer from the Positive Psychology department at the University of Pennsylvania, has completed both a prior & post-testing with a variety of change and self sufficiency instruments. In general, the administrators, historians, story teller, advisors (Griot & Ms. Denise Valentine) as well as the members of the cohort are more grounded, able to interpret most situations and the environment and its risks, everyone remains to be very energized by this process.
If there is a quick takeaway for the project, it’s that all of us knowing the truth about our history can be very jarring—even traumatic—but that having support in the form of open discussion and a guide to action makes it possible to absorb the new material and thrive at the same time.