“Who are we as Americans?” was the question at the center of the three-day 1619: Making of America Summit at Norfolk State University. This year the Summit, held September 25-28, was a signature event of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution.
Diversity, democracy and opportunity, the three pillars of the commemoration, were highlighted throughout the summit. Scholars, thought leaders, artists, filmmakers, dignitaries and students analyzed those themes by exploring the three founding cultures of the 400-year journey: Native, African and English peoples.
“When we talk about evolution, I think more minds might quickly go to the idea of change. Because that’s what we’re really talking about is change,” Juan Williams, New York Times Best-selling Author, Fox News Political Analyst and Award-winning Columnist, said at the summit.
Williams, who moderated the second day of the summit, continued to say, “And when you talk about change, well that invites the whole concept of memory, and you know memory can be so tricky. Because so often when you deal with memory, then you have to confront forgetting, and sometimes the forgetting can be intentional when it comes to difficult, painful situations.”
Sessions of the summit included movie premieres and roundtable conversations such as “America’s Narrative Reframed” and breakout conversations entitled “Reimagining Representations of Colored People”. Pressing issues were explored in the sessions including portrayals of people of color in history books, novels and movies and how the legal system has treated people of color within the last 400 years, since 1619.
Another session included the world premiere of the HBCU Storytellers Project four-part docuseries, “400 Years Later…’free-ish”. It was created to raise awareness about the 400 Year Commemoration of the first Africans that arrived in the US in 1619 and the continuing legacy of racial inequity that still exists today.
The Nate Parker Foundation partnered with the Kellogg Foundation to create the HBCU Storytellers Project. The partnership provided college students from Hampton University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University and Norfolk State University the opportunity to learn the art of filmmaking while receiving a culturally enriching educational experience that prepares them to use film as a vehicle for racial healing and reconciliation. Over 18-months, those college students created “400 Years Later…’free-ish”.
When asked about the effect of the English peoples and enslaved Africans inserting themselves into the already established Native communities in 1619 during the roundtable discussion: America’s Narrative Reframed, Chief Lynnette Allston of the Nottoway Tribe of Virginia gave the Native American perspective. She explained how the economy, education, family and social, religion and all other aspects of the culture were disrupted.
“The thing about history is that we should learn from it, we don’t want to repeat it and we have to heal from it because we’re suffering, all of us are suffering from historical trauma,” Allston said.
Some other speakers and panelists included former Representative of the 4th Congressional District of Utah Mia Love; Silver Professor of History and Middle East and Islamic Studies at New York University Michael Gomez; Actor, Writer, Director and Producer Nate Parker; Former Governor of Virginia Robert F. McDonnell; Director of Film Office with the Virginia Tourism Corporation Andy Edmunds; Executive Producer and Radio Host Barbara Hamm Lee, who moderated the summit on the first day, and many more.
Justin Fairfax, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia gave an inspiring speech and shared his own personal story about his family’s history and how they got the last name, “Fairfax”.
He then said to the audience, “I believe that our calling as a community right now is to determine how the next 400 years will look in our nation. It is a heavy responsibility for us all, but I believe that if we rise to the better angels of our nature, if we build people and communities up and do not allow people to tear others down, that we will set a tone for the next 400 years that will make it look very different from the prior 400.”
To view some sessions of the summit, visit the American Evolution YouTube channel for the 1619: Making of America Summit playlist.