Virginia Commonwealth University Community-Engaged Research, a part of the Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES), has announced the VCU fellows for the East End Cemetery Collaboratory (EECC) for 2021-2022. These include five VCU Faculty Fellows and one VCU Community Fellow.
The EECC, a learning community overseen by the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond, has brought together a rotating cast of faculty members across multiple departments and disciplines at VCU and UR to engage with Richmond’s historic African American cemeteries. The EECC’s mission is to support the years-long effort to restore these cemeteries by engaging students, faculty, community partners and descendants in the documentation of African American history and culture in Richmond, as well as the reclamation of the cemetery sites. The EECC aims to produce place-based knowledge that contributes to a community dialogue about our collective past.
The Collaboratory’s community partners include the Friends of East End Cemetery as well as a 40-member descendants council recently organized around the cemetery. The Collaboratory received the 2020 Collaboration for Change Award from the Bonner Center for its deep commitment to collaboration, to documentation of African American history in Richmond and to the reclamation of historic cemetery sites.
In collaboration with University of Richmond, VCU’s Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES), Office of Community-Engaged Research (CEnR) will assist in funding and designing a framework for an EECC CEnR Faculty and Community Fellows program. Each fellow will receive $1,000 for their contributions.
“Working with the Collaboratory has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. It has introduced me to community members that I might not have known otherwise, and it has helped me and my students learn alongside them in exciting ways on an essential project of recovery,” said Ryan Smith, Ph.D. “I have been inspired by the way my colleagues from different departments and institutions have engaged the historic cemeteries and have helped our group build new tools and relationships. This is a long way from where we started and I look forward to the possibilities ahead.”
The 2021-2022 VCU East End Cemetery Collaboratory Fellows are:
Bernard Means, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of World Studies and Director of the Virtual Curation Lab. Means will create 3D digital scans of grave markers to be placed in online archives and tied to a digital map of Richmond’s historic African American cemeteries. He will also train other members in aspects of 3D documentation and create 3D replicas of select markers.
Meghan Gough, Ph.D., associate professor, Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Gough will work on a writing project that examines the role of white institutions and planners engaging in Black sacred spaces and explores the structures that are rooted in white supremacy which create inequity in access and power in order to offer alternative models for a more ethical engagement.
Michael Rackett, Ph.D., associate professor, Interdisciplinary Studies/Living-Learning Programs. Rackett will start a research project on the resident’s addresses for many of the people who are buried in East End Cemetery and other historic African American burial grounds to chart neighborhood changes and population shifts in Richmond. He will also relate information about cemetery volunteer opportunities to VCU Living-Learning Programs students and staff and pilot an Engaging Richmond course that might provide opportunities for students to be involved with research or service related to East End or other Black cemeteries.
Ryan Smith, Ph.D., professor, Department of History. Smith will work on a writing project related to grave marker designs found at East End and Evergreen Cemetery. He will also continue a mapping project of the historic grave markers at the Barton Heights Cemeteries and guide student research while teaching courses on the cemeteries.
Ywone Edwards-Ingram, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Focused Inquiry. Edwards-Ingram will conduct archival research related to individuals buried in or associated with Richmond’s historic African American cemeteries and add those contributions to the EECC’s online community archive. She will also mentor student contributions and community outreach in a potential service-learning course.
Loretta Tillman, Richmond resident and member of the African American Cemeteries Descendants Council. Tillman will work on a project to connect historicized segregation in Richmond to today’s current landscape of gentrification and systemic racism. This project will include photographic documentation highlighting the connection between these histories and the current state of Richmond’s African American cemeteries. Ms. Tillman is a retired local educator and a participant in the “Growing Up in Civil Rights Richmond” project.