JAMES CITY — Members of the community gathered together this week to recognize the National Day of Racial Healing, a day set aside for communities around the country to confront racism.

At Tuesday’s ceremony at Legacy Hall in James City County, the message focused on how much the community has done to have honest dialogues about race, while getting to know one another better.

The Greater Williamsburg gathering was the fifth organized by Coming to the Table–Historic Triangle, a program of the Virginia Racial Healing Institute. Both groups work to heal “ourselves and our community from the legacies of slavery.”

Among the accomplishments over the past five years is the formation of a Williamsburg Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which presented its first report in July. The City Council has since identified steps that were recommended by the committee, including hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and offering student scholarships as two important starting points for the city’s DEI efforts.

Plans are also underway to establish an African American Heritage Trail, which would tell the Williamsburg story through the lens of African American history and run throughout downtown Williamsburg.

“We’re so excited about 2024,” Laura D. Hill, president and director of the Virginia Racial Healing Institute, said at Tuesday’s event. “We’re excited about the initiatives in the community.”

One of the initiatives is to find ways to bring more young people into the conversation. To that end, the ceremony included remarks by Miss Juneteenth USA, Smithfield high school student Sunshine Huggins. Huggins, 17, is also the inaugural Miss Juneteenth Virginia. The scholarship programs are based around the celebration of the day commemorating the freedom of all enslaved people in the United States.

“In bringing people together, the National Day of Racial Healing is a powerful reminder that our diversity is our strength,” Huggins told the crowd of more than 100.

“It serves as a platform to celebrate our shared humanity, to learn from our differences and to work towards a future where everyone can thrive without shadows of racial injustice.”

Tuesday’s ceremony — held, per tradition, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday — also included the Table Builders awards, which are given annually to people, businesses and other groups that epitomize the goals of what King called the Beloved Community, where racial discrimination is overcome.

Awards this year were given to Real People Educating Others, for providing educational and mentoring programs for youth; Williamsburg City Council, for funding the African American Heritage Trail; St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, for working with the community toward racial healing; The Prescription Shoppe, for its commitment to the care and well-being of the community; and to Steve Prince, the director of engagement and distinguished artists in residence at William & Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art, for his commitment to social justice, art and education. Sentara Health was recognized for sponsoring the program.

Tuesday’s event closed with a candlelight ceremony led by the Rev. Fred Liggin, a board member for the Virginia Racial Healing Institute and one of the pastors at Williamsburg Christian Church. As the overhead lights dimmed, those gathered held up candles together as Liggin encouraged everyone to commit to take their lights into the world and get involved.

“The brighter the light,” he said, “the more that will be revealed, the better we will all see the path to healing … but it will take all of us together.”

To learn more, visit varacialhealinginstitute.org.

Kim O’Brien Root, kimberly.root@virginiamedia.com