Community Engagement Expansion Initiative

The Community Engagement Expansion Initiative seeks to reinvigorate community and VCU faculty involvement in three areas: Public education, community research and ongoing public communication around the East Marshall Street Well’s history of structural and medical racism. 

Funded by the American Council of Learned Societies' Sustaining Public Engagement Grant, this initiative engages and supports the ongoing involvement of our community per the EMSW Family Representative Council’s recommendations.

To learn more about the Community Engagement Expansion Initiative and how to become involved, email


Our community engagement expansion focuses on three innovative initiatives: 

  1. Creating a Community Engagement Advisory Board, to assist in and oversee a one-year intensive phase of education, outreach and research.
  2. Supporting broader community educational involvement, by funding three K-12 Community Scholars in curriculum development and additional community archive researchers.
  3. Developing and implementing a multi-pronged communications strategy, by creating platforms to support sustainable and ongoing community involvement, including a project newsletter and an accessible research database, and engaging local high school students to work with VCU faculty and staff to devise approved social media interventions.

Focused initiatives

Community Engagement Advisory Board

The EMSW Community Engagement Advisory Board is led by three senior community consultants. Each of them supports different and necessary dimensions of re-engaged community involvement with the project. 

  • Ana Edwards, M.A., Interim Education Programs Manager, American Civil War Museum; Director, Sacred Ground Project; EMSW Planning Committee member

    Edwards will develop innovative public programs and community gatherings that engage how reclaiming African American human remains catalyzes new approaches to historical preservation and community development. 
  • Lenora McQueen, community historian

    McQueen will lead archival work to examine historical records linked to the burial ground at Shockoe Hill and other cemeteries active between 1844 and 1860 where free and enslaved Blacks were buried, as well as church and other records relevant to this period.
  • Gwendolyn P. Whiting, community outreach lead

Whiting will develop a series of community engagement events, dedicated to re-engaging the RVA community in the work of EMSWP’s Implementation Committees. In consultation with the Family Representative Council and fellow Community Engagement Advisory Board members, she will recruit additional board members to provide enhanced community feedback on the Community Engagement Expansion Initiative, especially the education and communication components.  


Archiving will be based on a collaborative community process involving the training of a cohort of Richmond high school students, VCU faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and emerging and established community historians. This effort will result in a digitized, publicly available database that VCU Libraries will initially host.

Long-term hosting of the archive will be explored with additional community partners, including the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the Richmond Black History Museum. This database will support future historical analysis of burial practices for individuals of African descent in pre- and post-Civil War Richmond. 

Communications platforms

The third initiative involved in our enhanced engagement efforts will be developing and implementing multi-pronged communications platforms that support sustainable and ongoing community involvement. These will include creating virtual and paper newsletters and related distribution and outreach. 

Further, we will support the production expenses of Dr. Shawn Utsey, Professor of Psychology and former chair of African American Studies at VCU, the director of the documentary Until the Well Runs Dry, and a member of the EMSW Research Implementation Committee. 

Dr. Utsey will work with high school students to develop short digital video pieces which will be deployed on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), used in our digital newsletter, and posted on our website. These pieces will include community-oriented educational videos about the historical research and the broader East Marshall Street Project. Dr. Utsey has considerable prior experience in working with community youth in developing film projects.