Last week, VCU leaders and members of the East Marshall Street Well Project Family Representative Council (FRC) participated in the unveiling of four panels outside the Kontos Auditorium, which relate the history of the 19th-century human remains discovered in an abandoned well on our campus.
As you may remember, the remains, uncovered 27 years ago during construction of the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building, are believed to be largely of African descent and were sent to the Smithsonian Institution for further study. They were recently returned with solemn dedication that involved the FRC and our medical students. The remains are now held at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources while the recommendations from the FRC are implemented.
We were privileged to have Drs. Michael Rao and Art Kellerman join us for this past Friday’s commemorative event that served to remind us all of the story of a group of people whose identities have been lost to a problematic and difficult history. Also, two of our medical students, Miles McConner and T’keyah Vaughan, made poignant remarks related to their involvement with the return of the remains. With compassion and contrition, our community came together to put in place initial educational panels that tell the powerful story and history of these individuals.
These beautiful educational panels offer visitors the opportunity to understand the significance of the place and the space. As individuals enter this building where our students learn contemporary health science practices, it is important that we all understand the significance of the EMSW in our current context. A more permanent memorial also is planned based on the FRC recommendations.
Today, as well as in the past, the remains have brought us together in a hopeful opportunity to deepen our understanding, to recognize their humanity and to honor and demonstrate our respect for the lives of these Ancestors. While there is much more to do, our community has taken this next step of recognition and education, and we will continue on this journey together. I encourage you to take a moment to view and reflect on the panels when you are next in KMSB.
As we incorporate our past into our present and ongoing academic activities, we recommit to our comprehensive School of Medicine plan for diversity, equity and inclusion.