By YB Thompson
The Richmond region has markings of its history throughout its boundaries. It is no secret that Richmond was the epicenter of the Civil War; for there are markers at every turn that brand this fact. Railroad crossings and deteriorated, unused bridges serve as reminders of Richmond’s transportation and trade roots. Each frontline serves as reminders of Richmond’s adversarial and heavily industrial past, one that was waist deep in the enslavement of brown folks.
These constant reminders, I believe, are the very heart of the invisible thing that holds RVA back from being the east coast hotspot it has the potential to be. It is these weathered physical relics that keeps Richmond from feeling like “an ideal place to be” if you will, one where the moment you step foot on the sidewalks, you feel the energy of a place that has promise of prosperous gains and fun times. And certainly these repression reminders maintain a notable distance for African Americans from celebrating the name Richmond and its place as home for southern blacks.
Yet, we are missing a key point that should indeed make us quick to claim and proclaim the River City as our stomping grounds. For each cobblestone laid, each historic bridge still standing, each stretch of railroad still running throughout historic districts, all were formed in part by brown and black people. While at first blush that is a fact that might incite anger or fire in the belly from the thought of the oppressive circumstances behind the scenes of the 20th century, we also can choose to take pride in the fact that we can still feel, touch, see craftsmanship that our ancestors built with their own hands, still some decades later.
We black Richmonders have much to be proud of, if we were willing to feel that way. Many of our faces are present in local government leadership. Our town and many of us in it have nurtured athletic talents that have had the good fortune to excel to professional sport status (think Arthur Ashe, Charles Oakley, Frank Turkenton, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Wallace, Kendrick Warren). Parts of our city once gave way to notable entrepreneurial success for southern blacks, a la Financier and Inventor Maggie Walker or Mortician A.D. Price. Our folks were instrumental in making all of that happen. And even today, in parts of the city where we still hold down our neighborhoods and dominate the commercial corridors within them, we could still do the same.
The key to discovering and fostering our pride in our River City is to claim it and shape our communities into places that we are eager to pronounce to others as our home, our hometown, our stomping grounds. With so much history and notable happenings already under our belt, coupled with our opportunity-filled central location on the east coast, and the healthy array of museums, locally owned shops, cute historic housing and still remaining rich entrepreneurial possibility, we black and brown folk should be quick to celebrate a sense of pride in our hometown. If not, figure out why. Then make positive moves to change that condition, to inspire a new reason for pride for us all.