Group seeks to connect residents with area's history to Benin

Group seeks to connect residents with area's history to Benin
Visitors learn about the Reconciliation Triangle near the downtown train station. (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - How does a trip overseas to learn about your ancestors sound?

There is a meeting on Saturday to discuss how you can get involved with a new initiative based here in Richmond to educate people in the metro area about the history of Benin.

The meeting is for the group Richmond Revealed at 11 a.m. at the Richmond Public Library on Franklin Street.

Many Africans from the country were sold here in the River City - a large portion in Shockoe Bottom.

Shockoe Bottom is filled with history that Richmond Revealed leaders say can help everyone from young black students to curious retirees fully understand who they are.

"We make change by our choices and our choices come from the information that we have accessible to us," said Janine Bell, the vice chair of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission.

Bell and Jackson Miller are two of multiple people starting the new organization that seeks to education local residents about Benin's influence in the area.

"It also seeks to facilitate partnerships between Richmond leaders as well as counterparts back in Benin," said Miller, who became interested in Benin through his studies and travel.

He says he saw the ports Africans were captured and enslaved at in Benin.

Miller is from Richmond and says the documents of people from Benin brought to the area serve as a reminder that many people can find a direct link to their ancestors, if only they're given an opportunity to learn more.

Bell says there is a lot of history from Benin that people walk past, but don't understand, such as the Reconciliation Triangle across from the train station.

Richmond Revealed leaders say landmarks are a good start, but they want to incorporate history of Benin into schools. The group hopes to get the educational initiative off the ground next year.

"It marks 400 years since the first arrival on record anyway of when enslaved Africans reached U.S. shores," Miller said.

"To be sold into life-long bondage passing through this Shockoe Bottom," Bell explained, "not really knowing how or why and growing up from that place with the info about who they were being taken away."

Richmond Revealed hopes to give that sense of self back that has been seen in recent movies like "Black Panther."

"That takes direct inspiration from all female warrior troops in Benin," Miller said, "so as this moment takes the big screen, we need to make sure that Richmonders know that this is where they come from. Richmond girls come from strong women."

Bell says this isn't just a one time thing.

"When you can restore truth in this place, that's a beautiful opportunity," she said.

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