Posted on August 30, 2013
How do you shape a community with 400 people representing 40 countries from across the globe? They have different cultures and speak different languages. Participants included representatives of academic, business, political and faith communities, international developmental workers, grassroots activists and youth leaders. They came from Canada, the United States of America, India, South Sudan, the U.K, Australia, Pakistan, Belgium, Germany, Colombia, Serbia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt, Ireland, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Lebanon, Chad, Rwanda, and Burundi among other places. Yet all of these countries have two pertinent factors in common, they bare the legacies of colonialism and ultimately racism, which most participants acknowledged.

The many discussions I was involved in included topics such as museums: instruments of acknowledgement and social inclusion, immigration and citizenship, increasing the capacity of our communities to address racism together, learning from Indigenous peoples, the transformative power of the arts, understanding unconscious bias, expanding the narrative of colonialism, social determinants of health, intergeneration multiracial organizing, dimensions of prejudice in Europe, the role of faith leaders in transforming racism from within and without: generational perspective, reflective practice: fostering openness and a culture of learning, listening to unheard voices, criminal justice, residential and school segregation and the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (CERD), human trafficking: the slavery of the 21st century, walking through the history of the other and the psychology of privilege and oppression.

These were the subjects foremost on people's lips at the Caux Initiatives of Change Healing History: Overcoming Racism, seeking Equity, Building Community Conference in which I participated in Switzerland in July 2013. This global wealth of information shared brought to mind the inclusive archive that tells everyone's individual story. The conference explored the history and legacy of racism, and how communities can work together to build trust, heal wounded memories, reprioritise socio-economic challenges and create cultures of inclusion for the benefit of all.

Participants were invited daily to join small groups of between 12 and 20 people, which were both interactive discussion groups and teams that contributed to the practical tasks of house in which the conference was held. Cooking, serving and cleaning were discussed and performed by the group themselves. Housekeeping became as much a part of your commitment to the community as standing on the podium presenting a paper on your respective topic of discussion to 399 delegates. This is the special characteristic of the conference.

Different voices resonated with mine as we identified commonalities like the effects of colonialism and slavery on our daily lives as survivors. And facing up to it in our respective countries and communities socially, economically and psychologically is what we all believed would be the solution. These open conversations almost always dominated our many individual narratives. A delegate in my group cried as I learnt her experience of being sexually molested, another man was adopted as a child. There was so much emotion I couldn't stop myself from wiping my tears away. We learnt much about each other's individual stories. I realized, however, that it was not much different from my own. I have been greatly enriched by encounters with people from other backgrounds and points of view.

Two individual women caught my attention: elder Doctor Maggie Hodgson from Canada, one of 412 registered members of the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation people which is a First Nations government of the Dakelh group. Their land is located in the Central Interior of British Columbia where half their members live on a reserve. The nation has seven reserves which Indian and Northern Affairs Canada refer to as Reserves 5 and 6 split from Nadleh Whut'en and make up Stellat'en First Nation. The nation has one elected government chief and four elected government council members. They comprise of five clans whose crests are the Bear, the Frog, the Caribou, the Beaver and the Owl. Maggie, as she humbly wants to be called, is co-author of four books, and has managed an Aboriginal education research and health promotions institute for eighteen years. Thirty-eight colleges and universities utilize one of the books, 'Nation to Nation'. She is known for her work in reconciliation and healing and is specifically recognised in Aboriginal communities for her pioneering work in transforming the Aboriginal Addictions System since it was set up in 1969. ‘Throughout her career and particularly as Director of the Nechi Institute on Alcohol and Drug Education, Alberta, Maggie promoted and supported the development of treatment and training rooted in Aboriginal principles and values, initiated and developed by Aboriginal people'. 'Within this framework trainers focus on encouraging counselors to improve their own cultural, emotional, physical and spiritual lives' she explains. What came to mind was just how similar the devastating effects of alcohol have on our lives back home in Cape Town, Western Cape.

Although the dop system (tot system) where workers were paid or part-paid in alcohol rations is illegal in South Africa, a 2008 Human Science Research Council (HSRC) household survey, 'Sober N Clean: Alcohol still the curse of the Cape', revealed shocking statistics. It said that 'Coloureds' had higher levels of drinking in their communities. Eighteen percent of 'Coloureds' abuse alcohol, compared to 11% of black people, 7% of whites and 1% of Indians. Drunkenness was responsible for 59% of violent deaths in the Western Cape, compared to 47% of violent deaths in Durban and Johannesburg, and 51% in Pretoria. Cape Town has the highest number of alcohol-related road deaths, a staggering 59% of alcohol related road accidents; compared to 47% in both Durban and Pretoria. The Western Cape has one of the highest rates of fetal alcohol syndrome in the world. Alcohol's association with crime, violence, and risky sexual behavior, trauma, and child abuse, high rates of TB, HIV, child and adult malnutrition, violence against women, job losses and family dysfunction is startling.

My next acquaintance was a fiery young African American woman, Juanita Capri Brown, Education Program Officer for the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. She had also co-produced 'Traces of the Trade, A Story from the Deep North', a 2008 PBS documentary about the legacy of the northern United States role in slavery and the slave trade. Over 500 people and institutions were involved in the making of the film and the dialogue process surrounding it.

In this PBS documentary founder Katrina Browne, Executive Director James DeWolf Perry, and other cousins appear in the documentary. They are descendants of the DeWolf family of Rhode Island, which from 1769 to 1820 brought more enslaved Africans to the Americas than any other family in U.S history. The DeWolf fathers, sons and grandsons trafficked in human beings. They sailed their ships from Bristol, Rhode Island to West Africa with rum to trade for African men, women and children. Captives were taken to plantations that the DeWolfs owned in Cuba or were sold at auctions in such ports as Havana and Charleston. Sugar and molasses were then brought from Cuba to the family-owned rum distilleries in Bristol. Over the generations, the family transported more than ten thousand enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage. By the end of his life, James DeWolf had been a U.S. Senator and was reportedly one of the richest men in the United States. The film follows Browne and fellow family members on a remarkable journey which brings them face-to-face with the history and legacy of New England's hidden past.

Through the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of slavery Brown attentively explains, 'We seek to catalyze permanent change in how public history institutions interpret slavery for the public'. They offer training and consultations for public history professionals at museums and historic sites, focusing both on content (in our case for instance, that the business of slavery shaped Cape Town and South Africa today) and methodology (how to convey controversial history sensitively). They are convening collaborative efforts to create a guide of lessons from the field on Best Practices in Slavery Interpretation and are conducting ongoing research. She believes this will give us a better understanding of our role as descendants and initiators of change. Their mission is to create greater awareness of the entire nation's complicity in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. In South Africa, however, and in particular Cape Town's case, the business of transporting thousands of slaves from Africa and the Indian Ocean was real. Acknowledging this history and its many legacies is a perquisite for promoting racial justice and healing for the benefit of all.

Following up on both women's work I discovered so many links that led me to sites, books, newspaper articles and blogs that created a space which I believe promoted a global, inclusive conversational archive around Slavery and Aboriginal issues with challenges similar to ours in South Africa.

Coming back to Cape Town South Africa I took time out to reflect on the inspiring words of one panellist, Dr Gail Christopher, Vice President of the W.K Kelogg Foundation: ' My dream for the 21 century is that the children grow up in a society that no longer clings to the mythology of the hierarchy of the human family. That fallacy is RACISM and we need to eradicate that fundamental belief. My dream is that, that will actually happen in this century. And the key to this is leading with LOVE'. These wise words I thought put Healing History: Overcoming Racism, seeking Equity, Building Community into perspective.


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Lucelle Campbell is an Archival Platform correspondent based in Cape Town