Slavery, genealogy meetings

The 'circle process' is utilized for Coming to the Table's 'deep dialogues' about slavery, racism, and genealogy.
The ‘circle process’ is utilized for Coming to the Table’s ‘deep dialogues’ about slavery, racism, and genealogy.

Slavery, genealogy, race, family legacy, white privilege and healing will be among the central topics discussed at the Coming to the Table (CTTT)-New York City Metro Chapter meetings.

As co-leader with Julie Finch of the CTTT-NYC Metro Chapter, I am extending an invitation to my friends and readers of my blog to attend our upcoming meetings. The next meeting is set for Saturday, April 11, noon-4pm. We hope to recruit new CTTT members and hold public meetings every two months. Our meetings are free.

Gather together with like-minded folks interested in the Mission and Vision of Coming to the Table. Share stories, build friendships, and help us plan future meetings together. As is our tradition, we usually eat a small meal together in a gathering of multi-racial people.

Many in our group have done extensive research and can identify and document their family’s involvement with slavery—either as a descendant of former en-slavers, formerly enslaved persons or both categories. I am a descendant of both! Some of us are expert genealogists and can assist you with your family search. Some of our white members have already attended family reunions with their ‘new-found’ African American linked-ancestors! Our members include descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Pocahontas, American Revolution and Civil War veterans and more.

For deep sharing, please review Touchstones prior to the meeting. We use the Circle Process for at least part of our time together. So, please review our circle process that is based on Native American tradition, sometimes with a talking stick or stone, for deep dialogue.
Coming to the Table provides leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery, a major part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Our approach to achieving our vision and mission involves four interrelated practices: 1. Uncovering History: researching, acknowledging, and sharing personal, family and community histories of race with openness and honesty. 2. Making Connections: connecting to others within and across racial lines in order to develop and deepen relationships. 3. Working Toward Healing: exploring how we can heal together through dialogue, reunion, ritual, ceremony, the arts, apology and other methods. 4. Taking Action: actively seeking to heal the wounds of racial inequality and injustice and to support racial reconciliation between individuals, within families, and in communities.

To learn more, and to RSVP, click here!
We’ll send info about the location (in Manhattan) to those who RSVP. We look forward to a wonderful afternoon together.

For more information send Email:
Phone: 1-877-540-CTTT (2888)
Toward peace!

Slavery book launch

A new slavery book is set to launch in New York. And I was thrilled to be asked to help. Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press) was written by dear colleagues Sharon Morgan and Tom DeWolf. The book chronicles a shared journey toward race reconciliation. The authors are traveling on a year-long national book tour that began at Eastern Mennonite University, birthplace of (CTTT).

Gather at the Table will have a NYC launch event, Saturday, October 20, 3pm at the Quaker Meeting House.

Their tour initiates and promotes conversations about race, slavery, social justice, and healing from the generational trauma of slavery at business, educational, religious and a variety of community venues.

As co-leader of CTTT-NYC with Julie Finch, I was thrilled to partner with the local Quakers to host Morgan and DeWolf at 3PM, Saturday, October 20, 2012 at the Quaker Meeting House, 15 Rutherford Place, New York City.

The authors will share excerpts from their book, introduce a model of healing and engage the audience in storytelling exercises. The event is free to the public and media is invited to cover.

In Gather at the Table, DeWolf and Morgan speak candidly about racism and the unhealed wounds of slavery. “The legacy of slavery,” they write, “is a combination of historical, cultural, and structural trauma that continues to touch everyone in American society today.”

“Schools, neighborhoods and churches are as segregated as ever; health disparities between black and white people remain significant and African Americans are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in colleges. Racism is more subtle now that in the past, but it still exists. Healing will happen and change will occur, when people start listening to one another and looking truthfully at their ancestral experiences.”

The importance of the book’s message, given the present climate of political and social discord, could not be more timely.

Endorsements: Nobel Peace Laureate, 2011, Leymah Gbowee hails Gather at the Table as “an honest exploration into the deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice.” John Paul Lederach, Professor of International Peacebuilding at Notre Dame calls it, “An extraordinary story of an honest, meaningful conversation across the racial divide.”

About the Authors: Thomas Norman DeWolf, author of Inheriting the Trade, is featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary
film Traces of the Trade, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and on the acclaimed PBS series POV. DeWolf speaks regularly about healing from the legacy of slavery and racism at conferences and colleges throughout the United States.
Sharon Morgan is a marketing communications consultant and a nationally recognized pioneer in multicultural marketing. An avid genealogist, she is the webmaster for, a founder of the National Black Public Relations Society and a consultant to the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

For more information about the book: http:// Send a message if you would like to book the authors as speakers at a New York City area venue.

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.

Monastery Weekend

Tears, libation flowed at Coming to the Table national gathering healing circle in Richmond.


My monastery weekend was about American slavery. I attended the Coming to the Table national gathering at Richmond Hill, a monastery and ecumenical retreat focused on prayer, healing and reconciliation. All of us in attendance were connected through slavery–descendants of slaves and slave owners. Descendants of America’s founders, including Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings were fully present.

We shared delicious meals at Richmond Hill.

The idea of a gathering and monastery presented two opposing concepts to my mind.  We were there to talk and be silent about a heavy topic–the legacy and aftermath of slavery. We did talk a lot. But we also had many moments of silence. The sound of bells rang out five times a day signaling everyone to stop and meditate. It became joyfully refreshing to take breaks for daily meditation. No reading, talking, working. We were encouraged to take meditative walks, sit in the garden, chapel. Phones, mobile devices were rarely seen!

Richmond Hill’s chapel was a beautiful, peaceful retreat.

There is something to say about place, time and ancestral spirits. This was my first trip to Richmond, known as the seat of the American Confederacy. There were huge monuments everywhere. I thought that I could feel the devil and angels there. I experienced a similar sensation while attending a Cherokee New Moon ceremony in upstate New york. The wind blew wildly, birds screeched and flew crazily and then everything stopped. No wind. No sound. Nothing.

Richmond River, site of one of America’s largest slave trading posts.

I didn’t expect my own tears at the healing ceremony by the river. The river looked rather plain and unforboding. We held hands in a huge circle. Each of us took turns to call out our ancestor’s names, pour libation and chant ‘Ashe!’ Four of us were moved to the circle’s center because we had a descendent who was lynched or had been a lyncher. I was among this group. I called out my uncle’s name and the names of other family members touched by slavery. A Rhode Island participant, whose family made a fortune from slavery, fervently called out her ancestors by name. “I know what you did. If you have a soul, I call you out!” Tears flowed throughout the afternoon as we chanted ‘Ashe!’ for each other. It was an amazing and powerful experience to be standing with 70 very diverse people who all long to heal our nation’s ‘hidden’ wounds.

Richmond’s St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech.


We could visualize slaves ‘sold down the river.’ Our host told us that this was the place where that phrase ‘sold down the river’ was derived. He showed us the place where the largest slave trading post existed outside of New Orleans. He also pointed to a ‘slave jail’ building used for unsold slaves. As we walked the cobblestone streets, we passed St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech:“Give me liberty or give me death!” We also passed a school building that was the site of Adam-Van Lew House, a Unionist underground site where two women, one White, the other Black, who performed some amazing espionage work that won the war, according to legend.

Adam-Van Lew House, Unionist underground site, Richmond, Va.


It was an amazing weekend of friendship, dialogue, hugs, laughter, tears, walks, shared meals, prayer, healing and meditation. Hearing a heart-felt apology for slavery from a participant brought tears to many. On  our last night together, we had a talent show. I got  to play a 7-year-old-girl in a play called ‘Southern Girls,’ by Sheri Bailey and Dura Temple.

Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center based on prayer, healing, hospitality and reconciliation. All faiths are welcomed.