Tom Tom panel discusses Ascension: Joining Together to Rewrite the Code

Including today, there are still two more days in the Tom Tom Foundation’s Race and Equity Conference, which has the name From the Classroom to the Boardroom. Last Tuesday, the first panel dealt how art and community can play a role in lifting up the Black community. 

Sarad Davenport, the first executive director of City of Promise was the moderator for Ascension: Joining Together to Rewrite the Code and he explained how the concept came up during the program’s development. (watch on YouTube)

“You know, what’s going on? Who’s doing amazing things, and this concept of ascension came up and who is like innovating at a higher level and taking the community to new levels that have never been seen before and who can offer insight to the rest of us?” Davenport asked. 

One of the panelists was Lisa Woolfork, who has risen to notoriety for her work advancing the art and science of sewing through her Instagram account and podcast.

“Black Women Stitch is the sewing group where Black Lives Matter and the Stitch Please  podcast is an extension and the official podcast of Black Women Stitch and Stitch Please podcast centers Black women, girls and femmes in sewing,” Woolfork said. “This may sound like a very niche type of podcast which I believe it is, but it reflects the larger need for Black women, girls and femmes to see ourselves, to be centered, to build community and among one another.” 

Woolfork said she did not see anyone else doing the work, so she took it upon herself to create the platform to craft a community based in creativity. 

“But is also committed to racial justice and Black liberation and radical self-love,” Woolfork said. “These are things that all work together in how we operate as a project.” 

Woolfork said at the end of 2019 she was approaching 10,000 downloads of the show. 

“And at the end of 2020, I was like, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get 100,000 downloads?” Woolfork asked. “That would be like ten times the amount that we started with. Wouldn’t that be great? And at the end of day we ended up with 125,000 downloads.” 

Sahara Clemons was a guest on the September 9, 2020 edition of Stitch Please, and went next on the Ascension panel.

“I think my approach to art is really centered, or where it started, is looking at the intersectionality between being a woman and being Black and also just my love of fashion and apparel and how those things kind of mesh together in creating works that really highlight Black women in these pops of color and these designs of these clothing that I work into the painting themselves to create this holistic narrative of lifting these people up in a way that I feel like hasn’t been show in this particularly light,” Wilson said.

The final panelist was William Jones, the creator of the Prolyfyck Run Creww which organizes early morning runs through Black neighborhoods three days a week. According to an article in Runner’s World that was published on March 23, Jones moved to Charlottesville in 2009. Davenport set up the introduction.

“Often times, Charlottesville doesn’t necessarily get good press in some of these national publications but the Prolyfyck Run Creww was a bright light and other national media organizations like running magazines recently did a feature on you all,” Davenport said. “Just to set it off for the Prolyfyck Run Creww, tell the people who might not know kind of about the origins and the conception of the Prolyfyck Run Creww movement.”

“It started just from running,” Jones said. “Honestly, I never really paid attention that running was like in there the way that I understand it to be in there now but in my journey to Virginia I stopped in Maryland for a week or two but when I was there I got to see Black people living really healthy lifestyles and part of that was running. Like they would just for no reason run on the street and that just seemed really weird to me.” 

But when he got to Charlottesville, he did not see Black people running. He worked at a barber’s shop on Cherry Avenue and was able to see people in the community. He later moved to a shop on Emmet Street that was not the same. 

“I was a little more disconnected,” Jones said. “I was only seeing my clientele but I wasn’t able to just see the young boys walking down the street and stuff. So unconsciously just like to fix that I just would go out at night, park at First Street, and I would just connect all of the hoods. I would go First Street, through Sixth Street, through Garrett. I would just run this route that one day I took Wes Bellamy on with me and it whooped him, and he was like, ‘man, this is dope though because I live in Charlottesville and I know these communities but I’ve never run through them.” 

Jones said if he had grown up in Charlottesville, he would have grown up in these neighborhoods. He needed to run on the streets to ground himself in the community. Working at a barber shop, he began to invite people. 

“So, I would invite brothers to come out and run, like, yo, you all want to do something, let’s take care of ourselves and I would invite brothers so many times that some of them just came,” Jones said. 

During the pandemic, the idea took off. Videos were posted on Instagram and number of people running grew. 

“I think white people were really looking for something to do with their energy to help answer some of the injustice issues that were going on, and to like put their energy somewhere to better learn about the community that they don’t know and I think this Black-led run group just fit,” Jones said.

You can watch the rest of the presentation on the Tom Tom Foundation’s YouTube page. The Classroom to Boardroom Race and Equity Conference continues through Thursday. (watch on YouTube) (watch all programs on YouTube)

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the April 7, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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