In the last post, I described my departure to a land where the dream of the 90s is still alive, the team of people who have helped move Richmond Forward forward, and how you can help continue these efforts (email contact@RichmondForward.com).
But before I depart, I wanted to provide a few takes on Richmond. Will it be 1860s bridge or 1950s streetcar burning-style (double burn), or will it soothe the body like the first bite of a Mama J’s pound cake? You will have to read and find out.
The Central Question: Can RVA and Richmond Thrive?
The combination of city reinvestment, limited geographic size, and limited regional power on issues that directly impact economic poverty (e.g. housing, land use, transportation, services), will determine whether Richmond will live out the monumental promise of a socially and economically integrated, thriving place, or whether the segregated ideology of Monument Avenue will continue our separation.
To bridge this gap, we need to step into hard conversations and actions in order to give depth to Mayor Stoney’s #1RVA. The Valentine’s Community Conversation Series is a good start but needs to extend beyond audiences who are choosing to attend events on reconciliation.
One idea would be to team Mayorathon 2016 group with long-standing community voices like Arthur “Art” Burton (Kinfolks Community Empowerment Center) or Lily Estes (Rephrame) to help bridge public policy and advocacy efforts. Younger pre-RVA voices like Free Engufemi’s Untold RVA and Kelli Lemon’s forthcoming The Urban Hang Suite are perfect navigators of this world.
I cannot place the TEDxRVA speaker’s name, but it struck me when she stated that “reconciliation starts with conciliation.” To conciliate, we must begin by learning our past. To learn about the carefully planned division of Richmond, please read Christopher Silver and John Moeser’s “The Separate City: Black Communities in the Urban South 1940-1968.”
Looking back can also inform us about successful examples like that of Creighton Court resident Curtis J. Holt Sr. His 1971 lawsuit led to a Supreme Court decision that declared the 1970 annexation of Chesterfield as racist and halted all local elections in Richmond until new voting districts were drawn. In 1977 with newly approved districts, the nine we have today, Henry Marsh III was elected as the first African American Mayor of Richmond. Thank you Curtis!
This question is crucial not only to our city but to our nation.
On multiple occasions, I have heard VCU and UR professor Dr. John Moeser describe Richmond as a unique representation of America. A city whose political figures shaped our nation, whether they be English landowners or the African born workers that built our city and nation. Pivotal events from the revolutionary and civil wars, to the economics of slavery, manufacturing, and tobacco, to the fight for civil rights and subsequent movements of white flight, redlining, urban renewal, annexation, Massive Resistance, and education integration; have all born their influence on the banks of the James.
It was not surprising to see 60 Minutes chose Richmond to represent the debate over monuments. What we do on monuments, education, transportation, and housing will shape the national narrative. Look no further than former Mayor Tim Kaine, as Richmond’s position for a launching board to national influence. I could see a future career path for Mayor Stoney at this level, but I hope that he stays for a second term to further his various goals.
The Biggest Hurdle: Change Adverseness and Insular View of “Exclusiveness”
The biggest obstacle to change in Richmond is ourselves. Maybe this is my bias towards progressivism, whether it be conservative or liberal, but if severe inequities exist, are universally recognized, and remain, then do we not all share responsibility?
Much time is spent degrading politicians for inaction, but I am more interested in what I can control - myself. As an advocate, I have found Richmond to be a small environment with very accessible politicians and staff. If you have a concern or solution then contact these people directly. I am not saying this will be the experience for everyone and do acknowledge the benefit of being a white, male, middle-income professional played in opening doors.
Honestly, it is not the political or economic elite where I have received the most pushback, but from self-proclaimed advocates that feed off inaction. These are the folks that seemingly have unlimited time to post on RT-D and Facebook message boards, always railing against everything and everyone. Their power is derived from being seen as the one who “stopped” terrible things and “protected” the community.
The test where these folks wither is when they are asked to take responsibility FOR something. You will soon see how quickly they shy away. Please do not let these people deter your efforts. We need more to speak up.
Who I think is doing an All-Star job with engagement and standing FOR things is Amy Wentz. Although Amy and I have never met, I follow her comments online and have spoken to many who hold her in the highest regard. Just think what our city could be with 10 more people like her. I am overjoyed to see her named to the Education Compact and hope this opportunity will help lead us past long-standing stagnation.
Then again, pursuing change through organized, collaborative efforts may not be in Richmond’s DNA. In a lecture I heard from UR’s Dr. Julian Hayter, he spoke about how Richmond’s civil rights history was shaped through the courts, and that higher levels of organizing in places like Atlanta, did not happen here. The exception being voter registration efforts of the Richmond Crusade for Voters in the 1950s and 1960s.
Richmond’s change has mainly occurred is through the courts. Virginia Union’s Spotswood Robinson III and Richmond-born Oliver Hill were legal pillars of the national civil rights movement.
Judge Robert Merhiage’s 1972 order to regionally integrate schools in Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico came within ONE SUPREME COURT VOTE from being a reality (see Bradley v. School Board of Richmond). In this incredibly fascinating story, the deciding “abstain” vote of Justice Lewis Powell was due to the fact that he was a former member of the Richmond School Board. The Judge, an upcoming documentary about this case, should be at the top of you must watch list!
Maybe we need a lawsuit to push change in Richmond, any takers?
I ended up writing too much for one post. Final thoughts part 2 is coming soon with my top five ideas to transform education in Richmond and a list of essential Richmond reads.