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Time for richmond...time for trht

Our history is marked by events we talk about and others we don’t. In Richmond, we’ve started to wrestle with the past and usher in transformation that earlier generations could only dream of: expanding the circle of who is memorialized through monuments; a Civil War museum that provides a broader narrative of our city’s story; new markers honoring stories about Richmond’s original residents and those who arrived here against their will. Through conversation, commitment and celebration we have done critical work. But there is more to do.  

Richmond is emblematic both of America's history of racial oppression and of the current inequity that has kept communities from reaching their full potential for generations. In the mid-19th century, it was the nation’s largest interstate slave market; it was the capital of the Confederate States; and Virginia led a campaign of “Massive Resistance” following Brown v. Board of Education. Just 20 years ago, Richmond was a city “starkly divided along racial lines” and “congenitally resistant to change of any kind,” in the words of Senator Tim Kaine, who once served as the city’s mayor. 

Indeed, Richmond and its surrounding counties are home not only to physical reminders of this troubled history such as monuments and historical markers, but also intentionally discriminatory social and economic structures that have perpetuated racial and economic separation for decades. Examples of such structures include Richmond’s notoriously under-funded and embattled public school system; public transit that limits the region’s most economically disadvantaged residents from easily accessing Richmond’s modern economic / employment centers; and public housing that isolates and concentrates our poorer neighbors in areas with few jobs or services. All of these systems, whose implications can be felt across district boundaries, make it more difficult for residents to lift themselves from poverty. 

The seemingly intractable poverty that results from these systems can and frequently does drive economic development away from the region. In Richmond city, the poverty rate is currently 25.5%, with a child poverty rate of 39.5%. For the city, this means low tax revenue, high per-pupil costs to offset poverty’s impacts, and long-term fiscal stress that has led to poor infrastructure and low educational attainment. These factors can discourage private investment by corporations and small businesses alike.  

While economic conditions in Richmond City remain concerning, poverty in the suburbs has been rising dramatically in the past decade. As gentrification in Richmond has driven up housing costs within the city limits and in the counties’ main population centers, Henrico, Hanover and Chesterfield have seen a 110% growth in poverty since 2010. Many of the equity gaps that plague the City of Richmond – transit, housing, education – reach across county lines and therefore require broad, multi-jurisdictional action. 

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Lillie A. Estes

Community Strategist, ALO Community Strategy

Richmond is uniquely positioned to do the work of Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT), because of its roots within the history of slavery. We will build, affirm and empower individuals by building self sufficiency, affirming dignity and empowering transformative behavior beginning with changing the narrative

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Rev. Ben Campbell

Community Activist
Co-Founder and Pastor Emeritus, Richmond Hill

Metro Richmond has the opportunity to be the Capital of Reconciliation, rather than the Capital of the Confederacy. It’s about a mutual search for a new beginning — for a commitment to justice and to dismantling the artifacts of racism and racial discrimination that still besiege our common life.  Just because they aren’t called “segregation” or “discrimination” any longer doesn’t mean they aren’t performing the task of perpetuating the greatest hypocrisy of our history. We want to be what we believe — and we can only be that together.

HISTORY TO BUILD UPON

It would be easy to feel pessimistic about the future of racial equity in Richmond. However, in spite of – and in fact, perhaps because of – the region’s dark history, in recent years Richmond has become a seedbed for racial healing and honest conversation that now offers hope for its residents and for other cities. Since the early 1990s, IofC, through its Hope in the Cities program, along with many other change makers, has brought residents from different backgrounds together to develop an alternative vision of Richmond: that if Richmond could face its history honestly, it might not only begin to heal itself but also offer a model for other communities.  

  • In 1993, Richmond publicly acknowledged its racial history and began marking sites that now form the historic Slave Trail. In 2007, Virginia became the first state to formally apologize for its support of slavery.  
  • The City of Richmond and the Virginia state government have pledged $19 million for a slavery memorial and heritage site; a community-focused planning process is now under way. 
  • 1,500 residents through 80+ presentations engaged in a dialogue series across the Richmond region on poverty, race, and inclusion – an effort that served as the public education catalyst for the creation of the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission which evolved into the Office of Community Wealth Building (OCW). 
  • The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has integrated narrative change and dialogue into practical community training sessions through its Ginter Urban Garden program. 
  • Since 2015, more than 280 Richmond-area clergy have signed on in support of Richmond’s Bus Rapid Transit system, providing a metropolitan-wide public witness and call for the kind of transit system that both symbolically and palpably reconciles our counties and city, genuinely opening access and connectivity for all.
  • The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities holds frequent public “Standing Together” events where concerned citizens can gather to express support for communities under duress and engage in dialogue to explore areas for action. 
  • Both VCIC and the Richmond Peace Education Center engage the region’s students and educators to promote peaceful conflict resolution and dialogue with children across Richmond’s social and economic divides. 
  • A new coalition of small businesses – named the Business Coalition for Justice – has recently formed around a mission to raise awareness around justice reform issues. 
  • Several organizations representing a wide range of sectors and perspectives – including museums, publications, and non-profit organizations – host regular community conversations on history, race, and poverty.     

UNfinished business

While Greater Richmond residents and leaders are motivated to address the region’s history and engage in dialogue, we are keenly aware that there are critical first steps that need to be laid to ensure that TRHT is a distinctive, sustained and transformative process. Too often such efforts draw the usual suspects and fail to draw new participants, particularly from the most and least economically vulnerable ends of the spectrum.  We must catalyze broad-based, multi-sectoral participation needed to affect meaningful policy and social change. And while the discussion around racial equity in Richmond has largely focused up to this time on the area’s African American and white communities, future discussions must include the region’s indigenous populations and its growing Latino and immigrant populations, which include significant numbers of those who practice the Muslim and Hindu faiths. Young people must also be approached with new energy to include them as equals in the process. 

Change does not come rapidly to Richmond, but it takes intentional thought, partnership and innovation along with a willingness to change the narrative that’s all too familiar and build and invest in relationships we haven’t previously considered. When that happens, the seeds for transformation are sown. 

RICHMOND is ready.