Who is Jessica Summers?
Jessica Summers was born in Louisville, Kentucky and grew up in Washington, D.C., and Davidson, North Carolina. Her father worked as a Presbyterian minister and her mother as a teacher, both of whom were active in Peace & Justice work. During her adolescence, her father was a pastor for an interracial church in the housing projects of Charlotte, North Carolina. She moved to Virginia in 2011 and has been in Richmond for about ten years. She is forty-two years old, married to a white man, and has two young children. She attended Mary Baldwin College's Program for the Exceptionally Gifted and graduated from Warren Wilson College. She received her Masters in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is white with mostly British heritage, a liberal Democrat, and a Buddhist-leaning agnostic. She works as a private practice psychotherapist with a racially and socioeconomically diverse clientele. Issues of social and racial justice are important to her. She enjoys reading, yoga, walking, and spending time with friends and family.
Excerpt from interview with Jessica Summers by Whitney Dow, 2017
And it wasn’t until I was thirteen or fourteen I think, seventh grade, my dad accepted a call to a church in Charlotte, North Carolina. And it was an interracial and Presbyterian church in the projects of Charlotte. And that experience for me was very uncomfortable. I mean, thirteen is an awkward age to begin with and then to suddenly be going from the church we had grown up in— which was totally white, big, fairly middle-class to wealthy, very proper, everything it’s order— to this church which felt chaotic, totally alive church, where I sang in a gospel choir. The kids running around may or may not have had fathers, there were visible signs of abuse which I had never seen before on some of the kids that were there. And I felt very white and very aware of being different.
Q: How did your parents talk to you about this? Because that seems like a conscious choice of your father’s, and it’s not like he didn’t understand what the changes were.
Summers: [09:18:14] I remember them talking about it some. He resisted the call at first—oh, sorry. My parents, when they tried to talk to us about the decision to go to Seigle Avenue Presbyterian [Church, Charlotte, North Carolina], part of the decision was about whether we were going to stay in Davidson or move to Charlotte. And we stayed in Davidson for about a year, and Dad commuted back and forth to this church in the projects. So we were going from our little suburban home in white Davidson to the projects every Sunday. And then going out to lunch afterwards in the Wendy’s that was nearby, which was the only place that you could go for food. And I don’t remember them discussing whiteness and blackness directly.
I remember my dad talking to me—I was the oldest—about how he hadn’t wanted to take the call at first. And he said, “Now I think you need to find a leader from your own community, this doesn’t feel right.” And so they went back as I recall for another year and continued their search and then came back and said, “No, we feel like you are the person who is supposed to be here.” And so he stepped up. It was small. It was about fifty people at the time and about 300 by the time he left ten years later. But it felt very jarring to me. And I am not sure about my brother and sister—we didn’t talk about it as much and they were younger.
But I remember my grandparents visiting—my dad’s parents, who are from North Carolina and Alabama, and they are in their nineties now. So they are very much from a generation where things are separate. And watching them come for his installation at the church and coming to the church supper afterwards where there were literally chicken’s feet served and greens and all the good stuff. And then sitting very properly at the table and he was a minster, also, so they were polite and diplomatic, but I can feel their discomfort and feel how out-of-their-depth they were.
And I was embarrassed by it, but I also think I was embarrassed because I recognized some of it in myself and knew that I didn’t feel super comfortable there and I wasn’t sure what my place was yet. So I could understand it. And it was tough and when they moved to Charlotte, I actually—a whole other story—but I actually left home and went off to college. So I never did live in Charlotte and it wasn’t ever my home church. I visited when I came back for breaks and on weekends and stuff. But I was never as much a part of it as the rest of my family was.