Soul of Second in contrast to Charlottesville events

Published 8:09 am Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Dear Editor,

The events in Charlottesville last weekend shocked and saddened a nation. For some of us, the sight of young people marching in the streets of an American city, carrying torches and openly wearing swastikas and hoods, felt like a crater opened in our psyche, exposing a reality that we naively hoped would remain largely relegated to obscure websites and drunken rants. We know that hatred, racism, and fear still exist in our society, but the marchers in Charlottesville showed that this dark tide may still rise to the surface with unabashed and enthusiastic supporters, enabled by shameful apologists. 

There can be only one reaction to these bigoted and paranoid sentiments: unqualified condemnation. Anyone who cannot unambiguously call out such hatred as unjust and entirely unwelcome only facilitates future expressions of it. It is not difficult, but it must be clear.

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On the other hand, while this tragic weekend unfolded in Virginia, Danville hosted an altogether different expression of community: the Soul of Second Street Festival. Locals and visitors that turned out for this gathering at Constitution Square enjoyed music, food, comradery and conversation that was inclusive of all backgrounds, political leanings, faiths, and races.

Our community, like any other American town with over 200 years of history, has had its share of dark periods of racial and social divisions and missteps. The celebration of Second Street, tinted by the sadness over what was lost in the name of progress, demonstrates one element of this complicated history. However, the willingness of our people to gather together and remember our history’s high times and tragic losses, while celebrating our community’s bonds and common heritage, shows that our humble town has made progress and is home to people committed to a better future. 

Of course we have a long way to go, with many prejudices and divisions still to heal and overcome. But the organizers of this festival, the volunteers and staff that worked hard to pull it off, and anyone that turned out to enjoy each other’s company, made something happen that gives me hope. Hatred will undoubtedly bubble up in Danville again, but gatherings like this weekend give us something to build on to combat those darker forces in our society. Thanks to all who made the Soul of Second Street an encouraging contrast to the despicable displays that happened not so far away on the same day.

Ben Miles