Global Racial Equity Community Empowerment Consortium

There are two main reasons why this consortium aims to push Piedmont Housing Alliance’s initiative forward from a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) perspective: The first would be how our staff and Charlottesville community, especially the youth, could learn and benefit from this experience, through our Ambassadorship. The second is supporting our sister-city community, whose everyday residents struggle to build ownership and wealth in Ghana for similar reasons people in America can’t- systemic issues stemming largely from colonialization. Our goal is to empower both of our communities in a mutually supportive sister-city relationship between Charlottesville and Winneba.

In Ghana, similar to communities in the U.S. and Charlottesville, there are huge disparities when it comes to generational wealth and opportunities. That issue is magnified in Ghana and Africa because of how destructive colonization was to their government, infrastructure, and finances. Our sister city, Winneba, Ghana, is more rural with average people, similar to the everyday blue-collar Charlottesville worker (but Winneba is on the coast so the average person or their family likely fishes or farms). There are a few issues that Winneba residents feel they could be supported in, but cannot currently due to lack of government support and resources. We aim to bridge the gap of resources and support we may already have with their needed resources. There are Winneba members in the community that are passionate about forming this connection to find ways to improve the environment while putting money back into the Winneba community. Drinkable water is at a shortage and many children could use newer clothes. There is also the issue in the lack of sewage and trash system in Winneba which leads to environmental and health issues. While on the Charlottesville-Winneba December 2022 delegation, a good question was raised as to why we (Charlottesville) aren’t trying to support our sister city, especially in ways we already know how to? Given the funding and resources in our town versus in our sister city, supporting this global relationship to empower and enlighten both communities seemed like a tangible opportunity. Then, Charlottesville members of the group will be JEDI Ambassadors, helping with the execution and development of this work and research. This is the first part of the Global Racial Equity Community Empowerment Consortium, to work on how we can support our sister-city community in a sustainable, healthy way that will impact future generations in a positive way. In these service initiatives, we will be working with local Winneba residents and organizations directly, hand-in-hand on these projects.

Similarly, our hope is that this trip will be an opportunity to empower and enrich the youth of Piedmont Housing properties and Charlottesville, through the Youth Ambassador program. Not only would this trip be an unforgettable experience for them, but it would also open them to global relationships, see how they work, and will be supported through pen-pals. For Charlottesville youth growing up in a still fairly polarizing area, to visit the root of the problems many of them are fighting or are aware of (racism, classism, environmental issues, etc.) would enlighten them to U.S. and Virginia history that they may not know. We hope this will push and empower them in their path, especially in their ambassadorship. For African-American youth to connect with their roots in a way that is normally not offered to them will empower them in their journey by giving those who need it a sense of their history and who they are. For our youth, we aim to uplift them to see beyond Charlottesville, providing an impactful experience.

What can we, at Piedmont Housing, and our community members benefit from this? There are deeply respected relationships in Winneba ranging from the Paramount Chief (essentially the mayor),

his staff and working members of the Winneba community. They truly see us as family and respect us as such there and the feeling is very mutual. I would like this sense of community to go beyond Global boundaries and be supported on our end through this consortium. Our initiatives aim to empower the Winneba community through a collaboration of resources we already have and empower the Charlottesville community through educational and learning resources they already have. This trip not only aims to serve our sister-city community but also provide educational and possibly life-changing opportunities for our community while there. Any activities done with the Winneba and Ghanaian communities are led and under the instruction of the residents there, so it is an all-around culturally informative experience.

Virginia had a big hand in the slave trade and our state often comes up in Ghanaian history as it relates to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. We see the trickle-down effects of this in both of our communities. In Charlottesville, it can be seen in the class and racial disparities set by generational wealth or lack thereof in families. In general, slavery and its effects are talked about in the U.S. as if it was very long ago and isn’t relevant today, even though these events changed the state of the entire world. Many African-Americans don’t know, can’t, or don’t want to relate to our roots because it was stripped from us and then purposely not taught. Africa feels like a very distant concept to many African-Americans, especially those in Charlottesville, where there are very few of us and whiteness is the norm- we don’t get to truly embrace our culture because we don’t know what it is.

This trip teaches all members the true history in the exact places enslaved people were kept, dungeons they starved to death in, you walk in their final footsteps in Africa before being shipped off and never returning. Then to come full circle, many enslaved people that came to America, many of our ancestors, were either taken to Virginia or the Carolinas; sold on blocks just like the one that used to exist on the Downtown Mall. It can be a very full-circle feeling for those of us whose history was taken through enslavement, visiting Africa is like visiting long-lost family.

For anyone involved, it puts things into a different perspective- Confederate statues, protests, movements, even issues that arise at Piedmont Housing – everyone involved will have a new foundation of knowledge for handling these situations. The trip puts all of our privileges into perspective, whether it be race, class, or simply because we are American. You put your own life into perspective- how are we using these privileges to preserve and cherish a history that we all share while moving forward better with this knowledge? Through these experiences, you see it wasn’t that long ago that this history happened. It brings to light the trickle-down effects colonialism still has, especially in our own homes and in our day-to-day. We feel this experience would be beneficial for everyone on our team from the board to staff to residents. This is not only a valuable experience but also an educational one for anyone that represents Piedmont Housing. This trip allows them to see and develop their knowledge on the roots of our systemic issues. Members are able to see and collaborate on systemic issues globally that, again, share the common theme throughout the diaspora in that systems in place make it harder for people everywhere to build generational wealth. To have the youth of our community experience this in their formative years would be life-changing and help their decision-making in the future. Even for adults of any race, you learn so much, you learn the real and see it for yourself, it puts your own life into perspective. It changes your view on this part of history that is usually taught as being so long ago when really 400 years is about 4 generations- we still see the direct effects of it everywhere in the world.

As we know, change for everyone does not come quickly; but it starts with one community at a time. America restricts Black people and many minorities (in the U.S.) to one piece of our history. We have one month to acknowledge Black history when in actuality you can’t talk about American history without mentioning African people. Slavery changed the entire world and Black people are everywhere because of it (Americas, Caribbean, Europe, displaced people in Africa, etc.). This gave us countless different cultures that connect Black people everywhere in the diaspora. Despite history and everything we go through, Black people continue to dominate in cultural influence globally, especially African-Americans. We have a rich history that predates and extends far beyond colonization, past and present. There’s nothing oppressing about that. So, I ask you- what are you doing during this Black History Month and every day after?