RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Valentine Museum’s Richmond History Makers Award honors and celebrates the unsung work of individuals and organizations who strive to improve their communities.
One of this year’s honorees is The JXN Project — a research-based reparative historic preservation non-profit organization that is dedicated to driving restorative truth-telling and redemptive storytelling. The project captures the pivotal role of Richmond and its neighborhood Jackson Ward by telling its origin story as the nation’s first historically registered Black urban neighborhood.
The project’s creators say the story of Jackson Ward is often an under-told narrative in the evolution of the Black American experience.
Enjoli Moon and Dr. Sesha Joi Moon, also known as “The Moon Sisters” are the co-creators of The JXN Project.
Enjoli Moon is the Assistant Director and Director of Programming with The JXN Project. She is also the Assistant Curator of Film and Special Programs with the Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Creative Director of the Afrikana Independent Film Festival. Afrikana holds the honor of being the first and only Black film festival in Richmond.
She is also the founding chair of BLK RVA, a Richmond Region Tourism initiative designed to connect Richmond residents and visitors with Black-owned businesses in the area.
“What has been the most motivating thing for us is, that almost all of this information, we didn’t know. We are two Black girls from Richmond. I spent 10 years of my life working directly in Jackson Ward,” Enjoli Moon said. “I felt like I knew a little bit about the community and the history of it. To come across this information that is critical to the origin story of Jackson Ward and how it became what it became. For us to have no clue about it was astonishing. We didn’t want that to exist in a vacuum by itself. So we wanted to help create a space where Virginia, the country and the world can see the importance of Jackson Ward in the American narrative and the Black American narrative.”
Dr. Sesha Joi Moon is the Executive Director and Director of Research with The JXN Project.
She is also the Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity at the National Institute of Standards and Technology with the U.S. Department of Commerce, where she has received the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Bronze Award for Superior Performance, Commerce Spirit Award, and Spotlight on Commerce for LGBT+ Pride Month. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta and Virginia’s Criminal Justice Services Board.
The sisters use multiple outlets for cultivating the research involved in the project.
“We try to marry our archives and artifacts with anecdotes and art,” Sesha Joi Moon said. “We talk to descendants of people who derived from Jackson Ward, and talk to grassroots leaders and go into the libraries and museums to validate these stories.”
“We aren’t the people pioneering the research of Jackson Ward, we are just uncovering information that is far less known,” Enjoli Moon said. “We are going to a time period that often isn’t the entry-point for Jackson Ward’s history. Typically, that is the late 1800s or early 1900s. We go back into the 1700s and are happy to be tapped to do this. It is an ancestral tap. We are part of a continuum of Jackson Ward research.”
They said that support for The JXN Project from the community has been amazing and said it helps fuel them to keep uncovering the truth.
“Jackson Ward is the heart of the Black Richmond experience. When I turned 20, I started working at Croaker’s Spot when they opened on the corner of 2nd and Leigh,” Enjoli Moon said. “I was there for about 10 years. That is a part of a 100-year Black entrepreneurial legacy. I had the opportunity to be raised under the tutelage of that. That is where my heart got connected to Jackson Ward, in a way.”
“It’s been an overwhelming level of support for the work. Sometimes we will finish a presentation to share a little bit about ‘Who is Jackson?,’ and the 150 year legacy of the ward as a political district and we have started to share more about Abraham Peyton Skipwith in recent months,” and “it is interesting because we are learning alongside the community while uncovering hidden histories and communicating them so they are digestible and relatable,” Sesha Joi Moon said.
The Moon Sisters said the work through The JXN Project takes up a lot of time on top of their day jobs — but it is all worth it in the end.
“This is my purpose. To hold space for Black Richmond. We may not be sleeping much and have busy schedules, but it is worth it,” Sesha Joi Moon said. “Because what we are doing is bigger than us. So, if I have lost a couple of nights of sleep, I am willing to do it.”
“To see something evolve as organically as this has, it is beautiful. Especially to receive the Richmond History Makers award with my little sister,” Enjoli Moon added.