“A MOMENT, IF ANYONE WOULD ACCEPT IT”
Heal Fund Grant
Vivian Feggans, a Charlottesville writer and teacher, is interested in stories.
“When the Heal Charlottesville grant round was announced,” she said, “I thought, ‘I don’t know much about many things, but I know literature.’ And I kept thinking, ‘How can I respond to what happened, and have it with a literature twist to it?’ That’s how I wrote the grant.”
Feggans called her project, “Writers Remembered: A Literary Collective of Black Women.” Her idea was to introduce to the group a series of readings on other black women as a means to educate and inspire. Everyone knows Harriet Tubman, of course. “I mean, I’m telling you,” Feggans said. “It’s almost like it couldn’t have been possible for Harriet Tubman to do what she did.” But they also investigated lesser-known women. Women more like themselves.
Among other books, the women read A Forgotten Sisterhood: Pioneering Black Women Educators and Activists in the Jim Crow South by Audrey Thomas McCluskey. Considering these stories helped Feggans and the Collective formulate a new historical narrative—one that included them.
Atalaya Sergi, one of a dozen or so women who joined Feggans’s project, works with young children. “I feel like in my own education and the education I observed children getting,” she said, “they don’t learn about African American history as part of history. So it was interesting to me that we would be reading about black women or about things that impact women.”
It was not just a way to look back but an opportunity to look forward. “I was like, ‘Okay, this is something I can take back to my organization or incorporate into the work that I do,’” Sergi said.
Atalaya Sergi and Vivian Feggans
On September 14, 2019, the Collective presented a theater piece as a way of integrating those stories into the larger community. "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For" was written and directed by Mariela Edwards, a member of the Collective. “I didn’t realize she was a theater person,” Feggans laughed. “So she conceived it and put it all together.”
There were drums and music. And members presented some of the stories they had read about. An actress delivered a dramatic monologue that, by the end, felt like a church revival.
“You know, I think that was our gift to Charlottesville,” Feggans said. “It was a moment, if anyone would accept it, to be educated. It was a moment to be uncomfortable and yet to celebrate with us. To reconcile certain things with us.”
The positivity in the room that night felt important, as if Charlottesville were inching toward something like a new understanding.