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This week marks 400 years since the first African were forcefully brought to the United States. To memorialize this history, more than 200 African Americans made their way to Virginia, the first leg in a week-long journey retracing the steps of their ancestors dubbed Jamestown 2 Jamestown.

Emotions were raw as the delegation gathered at the Historic Jamestown Visitor Center, to symbolize their ancestors’ arrival in Point Comfort and Fort Monroe in the Jamestown area of Virginia. The NAACP, along with its partner, The Adinkra Group, put together a moving program which called upon attendees to reflect on the significance of the African history in America.

“Today, we stand here as their descendants, empowered by their legacy, emboldened by the knowledge that we built this country, and enlightened from today’s experience,” said Leon W. Russell in his speech to the spirited crowd. “As crucial as it is to look back on our history, today is a turning point for us, because we know we must forge a path ahead for the African American community in this democracy.”

NAACP President and CEO echoed similar sentiments, calling attention to the stark reality African Americans face today – a President in the White House who calls into question their patriotism, when in fact, their ancestors built up the colonies with their bare hands, fought for the independence of the nation, and continued to fight for the protection of the union in every war since the Revolutionary war.

A highlight of the program was a tribute to the ancestors. Participants had the opportunity to write a letter to their ancestors and place it in a fire, a symbolic African tradition.

As the group departed Jamestown, several people reflected on what the experience meant to them. “I’m happy I was able to do this,” said Maura, a participant in the message writing. “I get sad when I think about the people who couldn’t be there, like Travyon Martin and Eric Garner, but I’m glad I was able to be present and have that connection with my ancestors.”

The group continues their journey tomorrow to the National Museum of African American History, and then to Jamestown, Accra, Ghana.