City Council Recap-September 25, 2017
Richmond’s City Council convened Monday night in the crowded Council Chamber of City Hall on Monday evening. President of Council, Mr. Chris Hilbert, announced before commencing the meeting that there would be no public hearing on the legislation related to Monument Avenue that had been patronized by Councilman Michael Jones.
Awards and Recognitions
Richmond Kinship Care Month
The Council proclaimed the month of September to be Richmond Kinship Care Month. Councilwoman Robertson took the time to recognize the many people who open their hearts and homes to children in Richmond. “It gives me great pleasure and honor to recognize the extended families that take care of our children,” Mrs. Robertson said, explaining how many of Richmond’s children are being taken in and cared for by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family members when the parents are unavailable to do so themselves. Mrs. Robertson shared that when talking to children in the community who have been entrusted to extended families, the children tell her that they “pray that God will take care of their grandmas and aunties who have taken them in.” Mrs. Robertson acknowledged these men and women as being “just as much a mother or a father to these children” and told them that she “appreciates all that you do to raise our children.”
A spokeswoman from NewFound Families thanked the Council for this proclamation, noting that Richmond is the only city in Virginia to have made such a proclamation. She stressed the importance of kinship, citing that there are about 2.7 million children in the United States raised in extended families. She acknowledged how that can be a lot to take on, especially when someone is not particularly ready to raise a child or do not believe they are properly prepared economically to take on such a task.
Richmond Walk and Bicycle to School Month
The Council proclaimed the month of October to be Richmond Walk and Bicycle to School Month and the first Wednesday of October to be Richmond’s Walk or Bike to School Day. Councilman Addison presented this proclamation, stating that childhood obesity has increased while physical activity has decreased. He noted that safety is of concern to many when walking and biking to schools, but stated that he is pushing for safe routes to school that would encouraged children to walk and bike to school. Mr. Addison stated that this initiative would not only combat child obesity, but it would also reduce pollution and increase safety.
VCU’s Ram Camp
Councilman Agelasto recognized VCU’s Office of Residential Life and Housing for their Ram Camp, a program that hosts several hundred students become acclimated to the Richmond community so that they can build relationships in, become members of, and help make positive changes in the Richmond community. Mr. Agelasto commended the freshmen VCU students for committing to 2100 volunteer hours as their first experience in Richmond. He stated that students volunteered in many places and in many capacities, including Southampton, cleaning graffiti of monuments on Hull Street, Richmond Animal Control and Rescue, FeedMore, Senior Connection, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House Charities, neighborhood cleanups, school cleanups, and even more.
Councilwoman Gray noted that “no one was afraid to get their hands – or entire bodies – dirty” when doing this work. She characterized this intergenerational volunteer work as being transformative in the community.
“The Monuments are Morally Offensive”
Lynetta Thompson, the immediate past president of the NAACP and member of the Shockoe Bottom memorial park committee came forward to speak on the removal of Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. “The statues on Monument Avenue are morally offensive,” Mrs. Thompson stated, noting that she regarded the statues as being symbols of systematic racism, white supremacy, and bigotry. “These monuments are memorials of hatred,” she said, “and they contribute, in my opinion, to poverty and mass incarceration in the black community.”
Mrs. Thompson said that history needs to be “truthfully told and backed up with facts.” She also shared that on October 10, a March for Accountability will be held in order to advocate for the removal of the statues and the building of a memorial park in Shockoe Bottom.
“A Middle Finger to the Black Community”
Martin Jewell expressed his thanks to Councilman Jones for patronizing the Resolution on the monuments. “Those statues were erected during the Jim Crow Era, America’s apartheid, as a middle finger to the black community,” Mr. Jewell explained. “These symbols have power! Look at what happened in Charlottesville. Look at what happened two weekends ago here in Richmond.”
Mr. Jewell noted that there was a mass exodus of whites when blacks moved into the City of Richmond. “The new (white and black) people who live in Richmond are enlightened,” he said. “They are not the same ones who left her to get away. We cannot have reconciliation without truth!”
“It’s about Green, It’s not about Black and White” Carmen Terrell also spoke on the proposed bill to remove the statues. “When black history is taken away, there is no talk of a museum,” she noted. “If the truth cannot be told, then why should any statues exist?” Mrs. Terrell identified herself as a native of Charlottesville, and recalled that when she heard of the events that unfolded, she felt as if her innocent little city had been taken away from her. Yet, she made other points as well. “There are other races that too have treated us wrong, and we treat others wrong as well,” she said. “We treat each other wrong.” Mrs. Terrell said that the problem goes beyond blacks versus whites; it’s also about the green. “The color of money,” she explained, “has just much to do with the hatred and division we are seeing today as the color of our skin.”
“All Leaders Were Flawed”
Raymond Vance Baugham Jr. spoke on two controversial Confederate leaders: William Sherman, the General who introduced scorched warfare during the Civil War, and Robert E. Lee, the slave owner and Confederate General of the Civil War in Northern Virginia. “For every two steps forward, we take one step back,” Mr. Baugham noted. “We need to find common ground.”
Mr. Baugham said that diversity means “accepting our right to agree and disagree with each other.” He addressed the question in many people’s minds regarding the statues: “Why do we honor these men with dark shadows?” He pointed out that all leaders were flawed, citing historical examples of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and James K. Polk, all of whom were slave owners.
“We must all remember that we are descendants of these people,” Mr. Baugham said. “We should still honor them, even though they are flawed.”
“Talk not only about the Problems, but also about the Solutions”
Charles Willis from United Communities against Crime expressed that his organization will not stand for the promotion of hatred, bigotry, and violence in Richmond. He extended a thanks to Richmond’s City Police Department for how they handled themselves during the Monument Avenue protests that took place.
Mr. Willis also acknowledged that there are other pressing issues to be addressed that the Monument Conflict should not make us forget about: homelessness, violence in neighborhoods, drug addiction, failing schools, and more. “We need to stand together and come together, not only to take about the problems but also about the solutions.”
“Noise is a Danger”
Rebecca Stein came to the podium to express her concerns about train horns. The Federal Railroad Administration requires that trains blast their horns twice short and once long upon entering city limits. She asked whether there were any safety measures that could be implemented in order to establish a quiet zone, as “the blasts happen in the middle of the night, which is a serious disturbance and a public safety concern.” Mrs. Stein noted also that noise is a danger to public health, as it effects sleep patterns. She went even further to explain that having that noise issue devalues those neighborhoods that happen to lie near the train tracks.
No one came forward to speak in opposition to any of the items on the consent agenda, but there were some who came forward to speak in favor.
Sara Millions from UnBoundRVA wanted to thank council for supporting a microenterprise funding program that she says has helped small business owners realize the American Dream.
Along with Mrs. Millions came a gentleman who stated that he had been incarcerated for a long time and had come out of jail with only two ($2) dollars to his name. He went through the program, which he noted was vigorous but also a blessing to him and his family. “Now, my business is thriving,” he said.
Norman Elliot, a handyman who humorously characterized himself as being “no one of consequence at this time” also commended the minority business development program, saying that it was well put together and one of the best experiences he has had. He talked of how gentrification and flipping houses has helped microbusinesses in the community. He asked that with so much more money in the community, there should be a way to help low-income and impoverished individuals get their hands on those homes.
Hanad Ellium was curious as to how much money is allotted to the ASPCA, as she had found, after going through a mentoring program for business owners, that there was no money available for minority small businesses. “I don’t know any cats and dogs that are hiring people, but I know people who are hiring people,” she said.
Return to Council
When the conversation returned to Council, Councilman Jones noted his pleasure that Items 31 and 33 on the agenda, which would provide much needed infrastructure development, would be happening.
Councilwoman Gray noted, however, that the Council is still only approving the requests for the grants. “There is no actual implementation from VDOT yet,” she explained.
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