Richmond, Virginia, has a long and complicated history. Catherine Illian is sharing the city’s honest and sometimes difficult-to-tell stories in a way that invites a communal response.
“We’re looking at the perspective of European Americans, African Americans, and the perspective of native peoples — because when we look at all of those perspectives, we’re able to see the story of what Richmond is.”
Richmond, Virginia — building community through biking.
Catherine Illian: The reason I started the bicycle sightseeing tour is because when you’re on a bike, you’re fully immersed in your surroundings. This is a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful city, there’s beautiful architecture, and you can really enjoy it when you’re on a bike.
We’re not just on a bike — we’re also telling Richmond’s story. And we’re not just telling it from one perspective, we’re looking at multiple perspectives. So we’re looking at the perspective of European Americans, African Americans, and the perspective of native peoples. Because when we look at all of those perspectives, we’re able to fully see the story of what Richmond is.
Richmond has a long and complicated history, and there are a lot of stories that it’s hard to tell — that are uncomfortable to tell. And as the descendant of Confederate veterans, there are stories that it has been hard for me to tell. And so part of what I’m trying to do is look at those stories and tell them in a way that acknowledges the parts that are good and the parts that have been really — wrong things have been done. At times, it has been hard for people to tell those stories in a way that invited communal response and invited communal contemplation. And so part of what I’m wanting to do is invite the community in a way that is positive, but also not running away from stories that are hard and stories that are hard to acknowledge.
I love hosting groups because I’m helping to build a communal identity with that group. And so we’re experiencing history, and then we’re talking about stories, and we’re creating a dialogue — a dialogue with the people within the group, and also a dialogue with the street itself. I am hoping that individuals can think about ways that they can contribute to the telling of Richmond’s story.