To my community,
A few weeks before we began to see the impacts of the COVID – 19 pandemic on our businesses and communities, I attended the Virginia Association of Museums Annual Conference. While there were many key focuses of this year’s conference, one that stuck with me the most was the responsibility museums and other cultural resources have to create community within their organizations and to support that community. Again and again, we discussed ways that our organizations have remade themselves into safe spaces, important resources for their local community, fun and accepting places of learning, and so much more. I think it is safe to say that many of us left with fresh eyes and fresh questions for further consideration such as: What is a community? How can we continue to facilitate a sense of community in our own museum? What does that facilitation look like?
Over the past few months, the difficult decisions we have all had to make and the stressful times that have united us, have put the meaning of “community” into perspective for me. We are all part of many communities, both small and large, that connect us and influence our lives every day. The staff at St. Luke’s are an example of one of the communities that I belong to. Over the last month, I have watched many of them step up, figuring out how to complete work digitally and creating new projects and content to keep our museum operational and relevant. I belong to the community that is Smithfield, Virginia and surrounding Isle of Wight County, which has been working tirelessly to create drive-through and pick-up opportunities to continue to support and protect our local restaurants, shops, and economy. I belong to the community that is the state of Virginia as all of us wait patiently for updates from the Governor, weathering his Stay at Home order “together.” I belong to the huge community that is the United States of America, where grocery store workers, mail personnel, restaurant staff, first responders, doctors, nurses, and many more are risking their health and lives every day to protect, support, and care for the estimated 331 million people living here. We belong to the extraordinary and complicated community that is humanity as we attempt to connect with, and support, people from all over the world, whether it be emotionally, economically, or even by creating light-hearted internet memes. In this time, when our communities have so many opportunities to divide us and remind us of our differences, I have watched them bring us together.
I have watched my local community get over the discomfort and embarrassment we feel wearing masks to the grocery store in order to protect ourselves and those around us from the spread of COVID-19. I have watched teachers recreate not only their lesson plans but rebuild the foundations of our Education System with creativity and forward-thinking solutions. I have watched friends and strangers who work as medical professionals who have continued to go to work every day despite stressful, depressing, and often unsafe working conditions in order to care for those in need. I have watched everyday people pick up their sewing machines and create thousands of masks to combat the shortages experienced by those medical professionals. And despite the confusing, stressful, and downright scary times that we are living in, it is beautiful and powerful to recognize that we are part of the communities I just described. We are proving the impact that each person can have on their community and the impact that community can have on the world. Every person matters. You matter.
To those of you who have been following our blog series, I want to thank you for taking this journey with us. You, as one of our supporters, donors, visitors, etc., are part of our community and we began writing these blogs with you in mind. Over the last several weeks, we have been researching and writing about many of the epidemics in our nation’s history, beginning with the deplorable conditions faced by the English Settlers who arrived at Jamestown in 1607. When we first discussed a potential blog series on epidemics, we brushed the idea off because we were concerned that it would be too depressing in a time when people needed uplifting. And in truth, I was worried that researching and writing these blogs could be traumatizing for me and my staff. Instead, we found researching, writing, and/or editing these blogs empowering. Our communities have been recovering from epidemics for GENERATIONS. Our nation has endured countless epidemics including Smallpox, Yellow Fever, and Polio. Was it easy? Absolutely not. But they endured and we would not be here today without their patience and strength.
This has not been easy. We are all experiencing a great deal of stress, anxiety, and grief. But we will survive this with the same patience and strength as those that have gone before us. We will lend that strength and patience to our communities, embracing this situation in a way that brings out the best in us. We will survive and recover from this together, as a community, while six feet apart. And 100 years from now, future generations will look back on the history we are creating right now and know that we tried, that we cared, and that we survived.
Wishing you all health and safety,
Various photos of St. Luke’s staff, volunteers, donors, board members, etc.
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About the Author
Rachel Popp has worked at St. Luke’s Historic Church & Museum in some capacity since Fall 2015 when she began researching the site as a student at Christopher Newport University (CNU). At CNU, Popp studied history and minored in Childhood Studies, graduating with a Bachelor’s in History in May 2016. Rachel Popp became the Education Coordinator at St. Luke’s a few months later. She grew up in the outskirts of Virginia Beach, close to the North Carolina Border. Growing up in Virginia, a state with such a profoundly rich history, encouraged Popp’s interest in history from the time that she was young. Today, Rachel Popp spends her spare time diving deeper into the Virginia Museum Community by partnering with, and participating in, organizations such as Virginia Emerging Museum Professionals (Hampton Roads Ambassador), Peninsula Museums Forum (President), and the Virginia Association of Museums (Member).