Social Justice and Family Constellations
September 1st, 2017

The North American Systemic Constellations Conference is just over a month away, in Virginia Beach during the first week of October.  In addition to being a workshop presenter, I’ve had the honor to help create the opening and closing ceremonies, and to hold sacred space for the process of organizing the conference and for the event itself.  Rani George, a constellations facilitator in Washington D.C, and I have partnered for these efforts since January of this year.  

Rani and I both had a vision of honoring the original Native people who lived on the land around Virginia Beach, as well as the Africans who were brought to North America as slaves almost 400 years ago.  We hoped to invite some descendants of all these groups to be part of our opening ceremony.  We wished to honor them, and ask them if they would be willing to bring blessings from their ancestors for our meeting on what is the land that holds their roots.  In the inclusive principles of constellations, it is also essential to recognize and honor the European colonists who began occupying what became the United States just over 400 years ago.  For balance to be restored to any system, all elements must be included.

In doing research, Rani was led to connect with a group of people who are of mixed Native and African heritage in Hampton, Virginia, close to Virginia Beach.  They are part of a powerful cultural and musical group called the Weyanoke Association, founded by Anita and Hugh Harrell.  The Weyanoke carry their history, and also perform chants and folksongs with drums, percussion, flutes and other instruments.  Rani began to meeting with Anita this past spring to establish a relationship, hoping to build enough trust that the group would be willing to bless our gathering.

Near the end of August Rani, Jim Shine (another constellations facilitator in D.C.), and I traveled to the Virginia Beach area to meet with the Weyanoke and visit the conference center where we’ll gather next month.  One great surprise was seeing Dr. Arthur Carter, who Kelly and I met at the Coming to the Table national conference in 2016.  He is a close friend of the Harrells, it turns out.

It was an open-hearted meeting and in addition to visiting the venue we enjoyed food, socializing, and sharing about music, our travels, their deep knowledge of history and the current state of relations in US society.  We played drums together and taught each other songs.  As planned we also shared an introduction to the healing methods of Family Constellations in two sessions.  One was held at a museum and cultural center dedicated to Joseph Thomas Newsome, who was an African-American attorney practicing in Newport News VA in the early 20th century where he prospered as part of the new urban black middle class.  Mr. Newsome advocated for civil rights and fought for social justice while representing African Americans, and was one of the first black attorneys admitted to plead cases before the state Supreme Court.  

During the introductory sessions Hugh, Anita and other members of the group were willing to move deeply into their family lineages and share very openly about their experiences.  Our second meeting included a very powerful constellation which touched everyone there.  They all have hope that the methods will help them in their continued healing, both personally and collectively.  It’s possible that Rani will return to lead future Constellations sessions with them.  I presented them with a Fulani flute, which I received from one of my Guinean drumming teachers, as a way of showing my respect.

In the opening ceremony of the conference on October 5th, after the Weyanoke perform several songs, they will bring sacred objects that represent their African and Native heritages to a common ancestral altar.  My friend Lea Gerlach and fellow facilitator and conference organizer Harrison Snow will represent the European lineage, as they each have ancestors they trace to the Mayflower as well as to colonists that landed in Virginia previous to the Mayflower.  They will also contribute sacred objects to the altar.  Nadia Kimmie, a facilitator born in South Africa, has contributed a Zulu water bowl to represent the roots of the work with Bert Hellinger living in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa for many years, and Rani will place a Zulu necklace around the bowl.  The altar will remain on the main stage of the ballroom as a focal point for healing throughout the conference.

It’s become clear through the recent events leading to and including the rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, that deep and unresolved dynamics in US history are rising to the present-day consciousness of all Americans in visceral and unsettling ways.  We may be in a liminal situation similar to the one in which, as Gregg Braden has pointed out, there is great turmoil, pain and fear many times as a new baby is about to be born.  Or as Kofi Anyidoho, a Ghanaian poet and professor at the University of Ghana stated, “Slavery is a … living wound under a patchwork of scars. The only hope of healing is to be willing to break through the scars, clean the wound properly, and begin healing."

Kelly and I have seen the great healing powers of this work in numerous constellations involving descendants of slave-holding families and descendants of enslaved people.  We hope to contribute to creating more peace as well through our participation in the national Coming to the Table organization and the local chapter we’ve helped start in Atlanta.  As a citizen I’ve come lately to recognize there are direct ways of action that are also needed.  In an essay by the brilliant writer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from August of last year, he addressed the ways the football player Colin Kaepernick was protesting what he saw as injustice in the US.  Mr. Abdul-Jabbar reminded me that, under the Constitution, it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that the same rights are provided equally to all citizens.  And wherever the government fails in that effort, it’s the responsibility of each participant in this democracy to hold the government accountable to do its job.  I invite you to consider how you feel about your own responsibility in that process.
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