I am a BIG baseball fan! Springtime and baseball season are my favorite times of the year. The historic legacy attached to Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom and baseball would seem to have an unlikely association, unhealthy and yet building a new baseball stadium in the “Bottom” has put baseball, stuff business, adiposity politics, and legacy right smack in the middle of a huge controversy.
The City of Richmond and a group of local business interests are at odds with a very vocal group of citizen-activists called Urban AWAREness, Inc., a group of community organizers advocating cultural awareness, economic empowerment, equity and justice within the African American community. The new baseball stadium for The Flying Squirrels, Richmond’s professional baseball franchise, is the centerpiece of Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ $200 million Revitalize RVA development proposal. But, the problem is that the very site chosen for the new stadium is on historic ground. Shockoe Bottom was once the economic center of the U.S. domestic slave trade, and there is much contention over the inappropriateness of putting a sports venue in the heart of what many call “sacred grounds.” In March of this year, there was a celebration called Liberation Day 2014. It commemorated the 149th anniversary of the liberation of Richmond by Union troops led by Black soldiers, an event that ended over 200 years of slavery in the former capital of the Confederacy. Ana Edwards, the chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality said, “The purpose of this program is to symbolically reclaim the sacred ground of Shockoe Bottom…”
The passion I have for the sport of baseball and the question of economic empowerment for our community is conflicted by my absolute commitment to repair the historic legacy of racism in America, which is rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the wealth it created for whites primarily in the confederate states of the U.S. It is clear that within the city of Richmond the most economically depressed communities are Black. The East End communities of Fulton, Fulton Hill and Montrose Heights are among some of the most economically depressed in Richmond. These communities, along with the Church Hill neighborhood, border Shockoe Bottom. In the past decade, very little has been accomplished towards significantly transforming those neighborhoods. Although some progress has been made, it is moving at a snail’s pace. There are still food deserts, inadequate transportation, lack of schools or adequate resources, and so on. To have a public venue like a baseball stadium would immediately infuse the community of Shockoe Bottom, and its bordering neighborhoods, with economic resources like jobs, new businesses, a fortification of the tax base, transportation opportunities, and more. I understand the sacred legacy that the land holds, and I believe it can be enshrined and honored in such a way that the public at-large will visit it as a national memorial, not only a local or regional one. The legacy of slavery in America needs to be memorialized and lives of those ancestors honored here in Richmond, Virginia because of the significant role this community played; however, the need for economic improvement and revitalization of RVA need not be put on hold or further delayed in order to accomplish exactly that. As a community, we can do BOTH.
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University
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