I want to be very clear, I want the Monument Avenue Commission to succeed in their task of adding context to Monument Avenue so that, as Mayor Stoney says, we can “tell the complete story” of Monument Avenue. I want the Commission to be successful and believe that Mayor Stoney has selected an extremely qualified and talented group of people to complete his charge – I’m just not compelled to care, at least not right now. And following the feedback on social media and reading the Mark Robinson article in the RTD (Congrats Mark on the new gig), it appears that a large number of African Americans (and other minority communities) in the region were not compelled enough to have attended the Commission’s first public meeting last night at the Virginia Historical Society.
While more than 500 people gathered to attend the meeting, some being turned away because the auditorium was at capacity, I decided to watch Moana with my son (again), take a walk, talk to my wife and go to bed. It was only after I read on social media that the overwhelming majority of those at the meeting were white that I even reflected on why I was not motivated to attend. For full disclosure, I’ve been fascinated with Monument Avenue since I was young, lived on Monument Avenue for about a year while finishing my degree at VCU and recently organized a special podcast with community leaders to talk about Monument Avenue (The Table) a week before Mayor Stoney’s announcement – so I’m interested in the future of Richmond’s most recognized street. But I had no interest or motivation to attend the Commission’s public meeting last night, which was described as tense, uncomfortable, and even hateful. A meeting that was limited to 50 speakers, selected at random with a 2-minute clock. And, believe it or not, it wasn’t even the energy of the environment that kept me away.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is the mission of the Commission itself that doesn’t motivate me. The charge from Mayor Stoney to add context around the monuments doesn’t do it for me – and I don’t think it does it for a lot of people – and especially people of color – and that is sad because a lot of us do care about the future of Monument Avenue. In my opinion, when it comes to Monument Avenue, I believe the ball game is to remove or not to remove – all the other options will not motivate me to be invested. The Mayor was clear during his press conference announcing the task of the Commission that removal is off the table. I think that Monument Avenue will haunt the conscience of the Cap City until the Confederate statues are moved off Monument Avenue and placed in either of a museum or private place for display – such as a private cemetery.
In the past, I’ve been an advocate for incremental progress for justice. And in most cases, I still believe that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Maybe it’s my age or just this particular issue – maybe it’s the leadership from communities in Charlottesville and New Orleans – I’m not exactly sure but this particular task of adding context around the monuments – this particular incremental step for justice – has not compelled me to care, or at least not yet.
I think it’s hard for a mission like Monument Avenue to be led from Government down to the people, and for that I give Mayor Stoney some credit for taking it on. I do wonder if his move was predetermined to take this issue off the table for 4 or even 8 years and leave the much tougher task of actually removing the monuments off his plate. But by doing so, he has left the ultimate resolution of Monument Avenue with the people. Issues like the ultimate result of Monument Avenue must be led by grassroots efforts that move government, not the other way around. Honestly, I don’t think an incremental change will do, at least not for me, not with this issue.
The Confederate monuments on Monument Ave will go someday — the question is will I be around to see it.
Words by Cheats – Founder of The Cheats Movement #WESEEIT
Cover photo from RVAMag.com