#MySacredStory: Melody Porter, Virginia


Williamsburg, Virginia
Community Trustbuilding Fellowship Alumni 2017

Melody Porter_RC.JPG

As Director of the Office of Community Engagement at the College of William & Mary, I develop relationships with community members locally and around the world so that our students can contribute their skills and energy to work for justice. In this process, I am always learning new skills to build relationships with people across areas of difference, and teaching students to do so as well, so that all sides can benefit. Inevitably, issues of class, race, privilege, colonization, gender, and all kinds of identity differences and power dynamics are part of these conversations and relationships. I joined CTF because I want to do this work better.

I am most excited about the others in my cohort, and their commitment to racial justice and open conversation. It has been work for all of us, but I'm constantly inspired by their backgrounds and capacities for honesty. We've been working on racial justice for a long time in Richmond, but our city is still segregated and challenged in a lot of ways. The approach of doing heart-based, relationship-focused work is hopeful to me. I'm already seeing the power of it through conversations in our cohort, and I am eager to foster such work in larger circles. I know that I'll change, be challenged, grow, and gain a stronger community in the process.

I also really appreciate the focus on talking about history and being clear with each other about it, and owning how it applies to all of us and continues to function in relationships and larger power dynamics today. It's a good way to open up conversation about reality, when otherwise it can be easy for white people to gloss over the past and be incredulous about its power. 

Debriefing our walk of the Trail of Enslaved People one on one, in small groups, and in the large group, brought many of my stories, actions, and ancestral connections together. I was face to face with my privilege and responsibility, the stories I know about my family, and what it means for me as a white person to work for racial healing and justice today. These are not quick things to learn, and this is not my first time engaging in this work. It is a process that unfolds over time, through persistence and commitment to self-examination and relationship. It is the kind of work that forces me to look critically at my thoughts, actions, and words. It is the kind of work that calls me to speak my perspective clearly, and to accept and integrate feedback about how I affect others.

At one point during the weekend, a side comment came up that made me think hard about one question in particular: Am I proud to be a white woman? My response at that time is still true weeks later: “Well, that’s a longer conversation.” 

It is. And as I prepare for my daily work of justice in these areas, it is a conversation I will continue to have in my own heart and with others whom I trust to hold it, with challenge and grace.


MELODY PORTER is the Director of the Office of Community Engagement at the College of William & Mary where she advances community engagement efforts across the university, oversees student and staff programming, and develops strong connections with community partners to ensure that our work is community-driven and leads to positive social change. 

CTFAmanda Buffington