There are many ways to describe false pretenses. They can be classified as a person, a system, a situation or saying that is a sham, insincere, deceitful, making an unwarranted claim or perpetrating a flat out charade.
The City of Richmond, Virginia has a motto saying, “. Sic ltur Ad Astra.” Literally translated it means “Thus you shall go to the stars…” It implies immortality and life forevermore. Its original context had to do with warfare and success in battle whether you lived or died, you would gain immortality by the “good fight” well fought. Given the history of Richmond’s past, one can see why its motto is deeply imbedded in the culture of warfare, struggle and the battlefield. However, it is time to take a hold of our city and turn its past legacy into a galvanizing cry for transformative change.
We live in a culture of violence that is killing our young people at an alarming rate. Those who are not cut down by the endless accounts of senseless violence on our city streets, particularly gun violence and murder, are incarcerated and warehoused for dissolution and death of the mind and spirit at alarming rates. We cannot continue in this vein and say our future is bright. There is something deeply wrong and decaying beneath the surface and if it continues to go unaddressed, the cycles of violence, despair and destruction will feed the cycles of deceit, disengagement and denial and we will ALL pay the price.
At the writing of this column, there have been 16 homicides in RVA this year. Most of the people involved were young black males. While the homicide rate in the City of Richmond has continued to decline over the past two decades from the highs of 1993 & ’94, we are deceived if we think we can become complacent. If we are able to ignore our current state of affairs we are truly living under false pretenses and involved in perpetrating a flat out charade while sitting at the table of “absolute oblivion.”
This past week the 18 year-old son of Toni Leslie-James, a colleague and friend from VCU, was senselessly gunned down a few blocks from his home. His name was Jett Higham and he was her only son. As a mother of an only son, my heart is broken for Toni, her husband, daughter and their entire family. This is a sorrow borne by many many families far too often in our urban centers and it must stop. The magnitude of grief and suffering is unimaginable and yet it is one that may be visited upon you or someone close to you if you continue to live under the false pretense that it “couldn’t happen” to you. Bad things happen to good people everyday! How do these young people get to the point where they have no respect for LIFE? How do they come to the place where a simple argument or disagreement escalates to murder? Why do we have all these guns on the streets? Where is the neighborhood WATCH? Where is the faith community in this discussion? Did you move to the suburbs, outside the city limits and decide it’s not your problem? The walls and gates you have built will not keep you safe. Your alarm systems will not keep you safe. Your education, class level, skin color, religious beliefs or the place where you work or live will not keep you safe. Random acts of violence are not conscious of class, race, religion or ethnicity. Remember that.
We need an ENTER-vention! You need to become involved before you are compelled to be by the police knocking at your door in the early morning hours. We all need to get involved in anti-bullying campaigns, legislative initiatives, educational programing, community dialogues, neighborhood watch programs, anti-gun or responsible gun ownership lobbying, protests, testimony and so on. SOMETHING! You must DO something and do it NOW.
Artistic Director and Founder
The Conciliation Project
Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University