Newcomers say entering Richmond’s social circles can be tough but not impossible
by Bonnie Newman Davis
Forbes.com, The Huffington Post and Men’s Journal give Richmond top rankings for its affordability, moderate climate, creativity, cultural offerings, cuisine, economic stability and business-friendly environment. Such attributes have led to an influx of millennials and others to relocate to the city and surrounding counties such as Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico.
Urban Views recently interviewed four Richmond-area women who relocated from Baton Rouge, La., Quitman, Miss., Maryland, and Long Island, N.Y. Some have lived in Richmond nearly 20 years, while others moved to the area within the last five years. While the women acknowledge that Richmond’s appeal is linked to its many cultural and economic amenities, they agree that the area’s social circles tend to be cliquish, sometimes leaving the newcomers frustrated, yet determined to find fulfillment in their adopted city.
Here are their stories.
Lillian Lincoln Lambert
Lillian Lincoln Lambert, the first African-American woman to earn a Harvard MBA degree, owned and operated a multimillion dollar business, Centennial One, for 25 years. Shortly before selling the business, Lambert moved to Richmond in 1998. Her decision to relocate to Richmond, after living in Maryland for more than 30 years, was based on her husband, John, who grew up in Richmond. Lambert had also tired of the “hustle and bustle” of the Washington, D.C., Maryland area.
Moving to Richmond proved both easy and difficult, Lambert said, noting that she is not the type to join groups or organizations. “If you’re an outsider, you’re an outsider,” Lambert said. “People do not want you coming into their cliques.”
However, because Lambert’s husband is part of a large, socially prominent Richmond family, she was cautiously accepted in certain social circles. Later, when Lambert’s business background and acumen became more widely known locally, she was tapped to serve on several boards, including the Board of Visitors at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Board of Directors, Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. She also joined St. Peter Baptist Church, a golfing group and spent time with “a lot of family and small group of friends.”
Today the Lamberts split their time between Sarasota, Fla. and Hanover County. Lambert, 75, said the living arrangements work well for the retired couple. In Sarasota, the Lamberts enjoy the area’s “great restaurants, play a lot of golf, and go to the theater,” she said.
“It’s a process having two households and takes time, but for right now, it’s wonderful for both of us.”
Lambert’s advice to Richmond newcomers?
“I say to anyone coming here to be prepared to establish your own life and social network.”
When Connie McGowan moved to Richmond in 2000, it didn’t take her long to realize that if she wanted a social life outside her work as a nurse, she would have to create it.
Fortunately, three of her coworkers embraced McGowan, then 27. Her colleagues showed her venues to go to in Richmond, and McGowan soon found a place to nurture her spiritual side at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church. McGowan joined the church’s single ministry, and soon was creating and hosting events at her townhome’s clubhouse for church members between the ages of 28-40.
Describing herself as “people-oriented,” McGowan said the monthly gatherings were a fun way to meet a diverse group of people.
Now 42, McGowan recalls that her initial thoughts upon arriving in Richmond from her home in Quitman, Miss. were less than positive. “I thought that people weren’t that friendly,” she said. Looking back, she now believes that Richmonders tend to “read” or assess newcomers before they decide whether to befriend them.
Efforts to connect with one social group were frustrating, she said, because its members tended to be “bougie,” focusing on where members went to college or family backgrounds. After leaving the group, McGowan developed an appreciation for Richmond’s local attractions and small, entrepreneurial businesses. She enjoyed poring over visitors’ guides, local magazines and newspapers for information and suggestions about activities and events.
“Looking back, I never felt there was nothing to do,” said McGowan. “I don’t understand it when people say they have nothing to do because there’s so much to do here. However, people have to be OK with being by themselves and to be yourself. “
McGowan’s adventurous nature has enabled her to expand her former clubhouse gatherings into networking events that have a party or festive flavor, she said. An example is her “Headshots and Handshakes” events that bring in DJs, makeup artists, music, games and prizes. McGowan collaborates with other vendors when planning such events at various restaurants and venues throughout the city.
McGowan’s lifelong love of cameras also has enabled her to meet people in person and via the Facebook page, “The Real Richmond Pictorial Documentary Series.” The page is designed to show “everyday people in Richmond making a positive impact on the community and others,” according to its online description.
A travel enthusiast, McGowan has ended her career as a nurse to focus on her photography and event-planning business, which will include travel tours. Having recently traveled to South Africa, McGowan says she already is planning a group tour of Ghana, West Africa in 2017.
Naila Clay Holmes
When Naila Clay Holmes moved to Richmond in 2013, her work as a field manager for the Virginia Education Association consumed much of her time. Working with VEA members, school systems, minority engagement and establishing community partnerships are among the areas for which she is responsible. Her work also requires frequent travel.
“When I came here, it was intense because I was getting a feel for the work,” she said. “Any downtime I had was for rest.”
Once Holmes settled into Richmond and found a comfortable pace for her work, she then realized that something was missing. Although she joined Cedar Street Baptist Church and is active in the choir, family, friends, networking and socializing remain elusive. “I would say that a part of the church atmosphere has a family vibe,” said Holmes, who is 37 and divorced.
Holmes, originally from Baton Rouge, La., moved to Richmond from Memphis, Tenn. In addition to her job, she was attracted to Richmond’s close proximity to the mountains, beach and Washington, D.C.
Yet, Holmes longs to learn more about Richmond by getting out and doing more with people who know where to go and what to do. “There are things happening, but it’s within the confines of people who know what’s going on or are putting it on,” she said, adding that she listens to the radio station and engages social media to determine where live bands, stage plays and poetry readings are scheduled.
Holmes’ coworker, Antoinette Rogers, has been “a lifeline” in terms of helping her become acclimated to Richmond, she said. They recently attended the Richmond Jazz Festival together with another woman who moved to Richmond from Baton Rouge. Although the outing was fun and enjoyable, Holmes says that she wants to expand her social network, connect with more people and start dating.
Caroline “Carol” Moore
Caroline “Carol” Moore is a self-declared “social butterfly.” Indeed, when celebrating her 65th birthday in early July, Moore’s Chamberlayne Farms neighborhood was filled with vehicles bearing tags both local and from other states.
Attendees of all ages partied from sunlight until midnight. During it all — decorations, music, dancing, ribs, and a huge sheet cake —Moore darted back and forth greeting all of her guests while smiling or laughing the entire time.
Thus, it is no surprise that when Moore moved to Richmond in 2011 with her husband, John, she quickly joined Trinity Baptist Church and started teaching Bible classes to intellectually challenged students. She also began spending more time with her 85-year-old mother, three siblings and several cousins and extended family members.
Having grown up in Long Island, N.Y., Moore’s first experience living in Richmond was in 1969 when she attended Virginia Union University. Homesick, she returned to New York where she completed college. Before moving to Richmond four years ago, she lived in her husband’s hometown of Aiken, S.C. for seven years.
She says with certainty that she will never return to New York due to all of the changes occurring in Long Island and the high cost of living.
Like other newcomers, Moore admits that Richmond can be “cliquish,” a fact that she discovered while briefly attending college here. “If you don’t have your connections, you’re not accepted,” she said. Accustomed to breaking down barriers, Moore says that she ignores social slights in her quest to have fun and enjoy life.
“I love going to the art museum, science museum and the little quaint areas downtown,” she said, referring to Carytown and Shockoe Bottom. “Those areas remind me of New York. Culturally, there are lots of things to do in Richmond.”
Moore, a trained social worker, advises newcomers to maintain a positive outlook and not give up on Richmond too quickly. “No matter where you go, you have to make the most of it and venture out,” she said. “Get connected with some type of organization to find your way around.”
Renee Johnson, who was born and raised in Richmond and is active in several professional and social organizations, offers her advice to newcomers.
I believe that Richmond, Va., for newcomers, is theirs for the taking. The first thing I would do would be to visit the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website to see what the latest happenings are and to see what RVA is all about from a regional perspective. The website includes information on the metro Richmond area so you get information on the surrounding counties as well, including landmarks, events, etc. Social media, especially Facebook, is huge when it comes to getting to know this city. There are so many ‘Meet Up’ groups that help you get to know RVA, and most of the events are listed on public events calendars. Venture Richmond is another website I would take full advantage of because they’re going to let you know everything happening around the city.
In terms of demographic, I’ve seen people or parents in their 30s or 40s who get here and seem to get involved immediately, mainly because of school and trying to keep their kids active. Richmond is a very “word-of-mouth” place so you have to talk people at your job, chat it up with the baristas at Starbucks, and talk to people at the grocery store.