Since the death of George Floyd in late June, the topic of race relations and police brutality has become another dinner table conversation in households.
But what good is keeping a conversation like that in the dark?
Sometimes just having the courage to discuss race in a public setting is enough to get the ball rolling, some say.
Penelope Carroll, a long-time York County resident, is doing just that.
“We had to sit and be still at that moment,” she said in reference to why Floyd’s death caused such an uproar when there have been other deaths in relation to police brutality. “The world was ready for the shift and the change.”
Carroll, founder of Inner Haven Metaphysical Ministry in Williamsburg, has been an active leader in local discussions on race relations since Floyd’s death.
“But this topic of race, my goodness, it has happened since the beginning of time,” she said.
Throughout September, she hosted three virtual discussions open to the public via Zoom.
The topics of those discussions were race and power.
“Some people felt power was a two-edged sword,” Carroll said in a phone interview. “We talked about what power is, whether it’s personal, government, community, parent over child, or an authority with power.”
Through a list of 10 questions, she and a friend, Kathy Zeek, who is a local dental hygienist with an interest in race relations, moderated the discussions.
Some of the questions included, “What do you think of the concept of white privilege,” “Do you believe systemic/institutional racism exists in America,” and “Do you believe power can be redistributed in America?”
Carroll said she asked members of Inner Haven what questions they had and what they would like to know in order to come up with discussion questions. With the help of her daughter, Carroll made a list of 10 questions for the discussions.
“I think language is so important as to how we can learn to begin to trust what we’re thinking and trust what we’re hearing,” Carroll said. “For example, I want to make sure I’m using specific vocabulary to express a sincere thought.”
There were a total of three virtual discussion dates. The first one, titled “White on White” was a group meant for white identifying individuals to come together and answer the questions amongst themselves.
The second meeting, called Black on Black, was for Black identifying individuals to discuss the questions together.
Carroll, who also worked as a police dispatcher for many years, said, “It’s important that we notice color but that we don’t categorize color.”
Carroll wrapped up her discussion series with a third and final meeting called One Unified Group, bringing both groups together to talk about their findings from their small group discussions.
Although only one person attended the White on White discussion, Carroll said the last meeting had at least 20 people. She added she had people from as far as Alaska and Puerto Rico join.
“Kathy warned me that would happen, but I still think it was a productive conversation,” Carroll said.
The last time Carroll hosted a public forum on race, she had several leaders from the community join, including York-Poquoson Sheriff Danny Diggs and Maj. Ron Montgomery, also of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office.
As a result, Montgomery later reached out to Carroll and asked if she would co-chair the new Citizen Advisory Committee, a new initiative to get more feedback and strengthen community relations.
And Carroll said yes.
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Carroll is also collaborating with Ben Hahn, commonwealth’s attorney for York County, to establish a similar committee for the county court system.
“We can’t call ourselves a true democracy when we leave half the people out,” Carroll said.
As for the end of the virtual discussions, Carroll ended the meeting with the final question, “What actions can be done to end racism?”
“People came up with all sorts of ideas,” she said. “One of them was to make a new friend who is of a different race or cultural background than yourself.”
She added one person from the group discussions told her they walked up to a total stranger and struck up a conversation.
“They soon found out that they have more in common than they thought, and now they’re creating a more solid relationship,” she said.
Carroll said she plans to continue hosting virtual discussions on controversial issues. She plans to have another discussion series in January or February on sexism.
“Racism and sexism bleed in together,” she said. “I firmly believe we are at a precipice where we can decide either to come together as a whole or break apart completely.”
But as she said through her discussions, “I truly believe that each of us are the solution.”
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