Slavery Group

Members enjoy soul-Caribbean brunch at Sylvia Lewis’ home meeting of Coming to the Table, NE Chapter.

A slavery group? Yes. I’m an activist about slavery education. “What happens in your slavery group?” I have been asked this question before.  On July 22, ten members from Coming to the Table (CTTT), Northeast Chapter gathered at my home to break bread together and share stories with one another.

This was the third ‘local’ meeting of  ‘my slavery group,’ the Northeastern CTTT, who are from New York City/NJ area, Boston and New Haven area. We are a joyful and loving group in support of healing and reconciliation. Our meetings are facilitated by two co-facilitators—one White and one Black. We eat first, then sit in a circle and take turns talking and listening to each other. We take a few breaks until the end.

As our mission states: The transformational nature of the CTTT approach requires that we meet face to face so that we can build authentic relationships, strong enough to withstand the challenges of honestly facing our past, present and future together.

Since we are mostly a ‘virtual’ group, the local meetings are a very special opportunity for bonding. We welcome new members.

I had already posted on this blog about attending the National meeting, ‘Monastery Weekend’ in April, 2012.  It was lovely experience for me. But it was expensive traveling to Richmond and logistically too demanding to provide enough opportunities for “in the flesh” connection and healing.

I can say honestly, we don’t wallow in guilt or anger about the facts of the American slavery system and  the Transatlantic slavery trade. On several occasions, I heard sincere public apologies for slavery.

Some in our group have spent decades researching their families. Others are descendants of notable slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson. A few people in our group stumbled upon the ‘slaves in their closet’ by looking at wills and deeds in family documents. That’s actually the typical way the Whites in this group found out about slavery in their family. Slave owners were not all rich people and everyone had slaves, it seems. Slavery was big business in the North, especially New York, New England especially Rhode Island.

In our group, we call ourselves ‘cousins.’ Our Face Book group topics are mostly amazing, educational, inspirational and enjoyable. Hanging out with this group has given me a whole new spin on American History. Our member’s personal stories fill in the blanks of our American narrative. Since joining this group I have found thousands of missing chapters from a book called ‘American History” that I thought I read already.

Our personal notes to each other are always supportive and signed with love and affection. We acknowledge that we are all connected in a human, spiritual, God-sense. Maybe, we really are cousins too.

Some of us are wrestling with ‘if’ or ‘when’ to contact our ‘linked descendant’—that’s a relative we found through genealogy who is linked through slavery. What if I got that call? I wonder what would I do? “Hello, My family owned your family…”

Black and White people have mixed feelings about slavery. In my family, they hate it. They never talk about slavery except in hushed tones. But, we are ‘race’ people—meaning that we discussed race all the time, everyday. This is true for most of my friends in my generation.

I became involved with Coming to the Table after learning details about my paternal African American great uncle, who was lynched in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1902. I actually was told about the lynching when I was very young. But I had forgotten about it because I heard not details. One I learned the details, I became traumatized. My healing journey began with a new friend who discovered her family member had lynched several Black people. Together we are on a mission, learning to sort through our feelings about our families and the atrocities that happened during slavery.

My mother’s Chinese ancestors were indentured servants who were ‘Shanghai-ed’  or taken from China and brought to South America and Caribbean. I am learning more about their history.

I found several White relatives who are 4th, 5th and 6th cousins through a DNA test. several reached out to me. Most of them were just as curious as I was. Only a few times did my White relatives ‘disconnected’ from me after learning my ethnic background.

So, in my slavery group, we talk about the manifestations of slavery in today’s society. We also look at models for storytelling from Third Reich discussions groups, Native Americans, South African and Rwanda reconciliation models. The first time I heard a White privilege discussion was at a CTTT event. It’s great to be able to talk about a wide range of racial issues and slavery-related topics in a safe place.

Slavery discussion group, Coming to the Table, gathered on Sylvia’s roof garden after chapter meeting ended.

We focus on accountability and reconciliation. Much of our work is difficult.  We are encouraged to bring a momento that can help us in opening our dialogue. Sometimes tears flow. In the end, we feel happy and close to each other.  I love the spirit, camaraderie and commitment of our group.

It is not all sad. Our gatherings are like group therapy. The fun part is the food where we literally ‘come to the table.’ I also enjoy sharing some my Afro-Asian-Indo-Caribbean-Soul-Creole food traditions. Yes, I will post more on food traditions soon!

It’s a blessing really that CTTT provides us a simple yet unique way to be more authentic than we dare be. We actually DO gather ‘at the table’ in our local meetings. Very few people sit down to talk and listen to each other like we do. So, I do believe that we are lighting the light for healing our nation.

4 thoughts on “Slavery Group

  1. Came upon this narrative quite by chance while sitting in a cafe in Auckland New Zealand. I have no connection, as far as I know, with slavery or convict transportation although my ancestors, both English and Dutch, were directly involved in colonization in India and Indonesia. I found your story of CTTT fascinating and inspirational. Thanks for sharing. Vivien

    1. Hello Vivien, Thank you for reading my post and for your thoughtful comments. If your ancestors were involved with colonization, an extension of slavery, then they might have some interesting experiences and encounters of society during those times. Sounds like you have an amazing family story to discover!A recent NY Times article just published an interesting slavery ship murder exhibit in Holland. did you see it? check out CTTT when you get chance. all the best.

  2. hi – what an amazing group this sounds to be! How can you be found on Facebook? My great great great grandmother ran a stop on the underground railroad in Oberlin OH, and also brought up 2 children whose mother was a slave and whose father was their master (Cole Younger–was also the father of the guys who formed the gang that Jesse James was in—the Younger/Dalton Gang) — when the father died he released his lover Elizabeth (who he called his “wife,” tho he had an official white wife and white children) and their 2 children, Catherine and Simpson, from slavery, and arranged for the children to be sent to a Free State to be educated all the way through college, which they were. My great great grandfather on another side of the family was an abolitionist and lawyer, who published A Treatise on the Unconstitutionality of American Slavery, in 1849. I was recently contacted by the great great granddaughter of Catherine Younger, who had only learned about this part of her history recently—it had been a shameful secret in her family, and her mother didn’t even know—and we are now in correspondence. I was also reached out to by a woman whose forebears she believes may have owned the Kentucky plantation from which a slave woman and her 9 children escaped and took refuge with my family in Oberlin (she saw my story about this on the internet somewhere), and she said something about how wonderful the slaves must have been to have built such a beautiful plantation that stands even today. My feelings on this subject are so strong—and the role my family played then significantly informed those who came after, including me—it was interesting but difficult to hear this person’s perspective. But reality is in fact a mosiac of myriad realities–and that’s what stories helps us to see, and hear, and experience. For the past and also for making sense of the complexities of today. I have thought for 20 years—when I started digging into my history–I would love to be part of (as participant or helping build) a network bringing together or facilitating communications among fore4bears of slave owners, slaves, abolitionists, and others. Hope I can be a part moving forward. This is important and amazing work (and play) you’re doing, filled with depth and richness 🙂

    1. Hello Susan, Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I am glad that you are learning more about your family history and their involvement in slavery. This is important healing work. Have you checked out Coming to the Table? They are amazing group of informed, supportive, kind people.

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