If you’ve been to a neighborhood clean-up, community meeting, or civic gathering of almost any kind over the past few years, there’s a good chance that you saw Rick Tatnall there. Both an inveterate organizer and a man who likes to get his hands dirty, Rick put together both last year’s East End Community Activist & Advocate Convention and a series of events at Sugar Pad down by Rocketts Landing. He is now running for the 7th District School Board seat.
You have a long history as a community activist in the area. How long have you been in the East End, and what brought you to the here and now?
I lived in Church Hill up on East Leigh Street back the 1990s, my recent stint started in 2006.
I’ve been living in my apartment at 30th and Clay since 2006… Right behind Chimborazo Elementary, in between Chimbo and George Mason, it has enabled me to connect to those schools more readily.
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, I grew up in a fairly good middle class upbringing. I didn’t really get “activised” as a youngster. I was married and got divorced, and moved to Richmond to the city in 1987 and that’s when my advocacy bug jumped in. Ever since then I’ve been doing something, and just getting more intentional about it as the years have gone by.
You considered a mayoral run in 2012. This year you started off running for mayor and then switched to School Board. What’s the appeal of public office, and why the switch from one to the other?
I have been working for more than a decade on a plan called the Plan to Create a Proud and Unified Community of Richmond“. My community of Richmond is centered geographically and spiritually in the city, but it includes the entire region. I think until we look at things from a regional perspective and start to act on that, we’re never going to achieve the greatness that this community can have.
The city needs to be the driver, not the butt of jokes, it needs to be the leader. My interested in my mayoral run in 2012 and my initial mayoral run in 2016 was simply to more quickly effect the Plan to Create a Proud and Unified Community of Richmond.
My mayoral run in 2016, it ultimately turned out that there were 17 other people who were a part of that campaign. Both the personalities and the individuals involved, as well as the lack of attention to strategy and current ideas showed me quickly that I didn’t have a chance to win.
Soon after I made that decision, Don Coleman announced that he was not going to run and I saw an opportunity to get into the control room, to effect change in a way that is really my core expertise of Richmond Public Schools in the East End.
You have called for the formation of a full-funded 30-year plan for Richmond Public Schools, in part to “end the in-fighting and acrimony between the Mayor’s office, City Council and the School Board”, and you foresee a future where “Elections will become about how folks will better implement the strategic plan”. Can we talk about this?
I’m calling for a plan that will become “our plan”, not “my plan”.
I’m confident that this is the most important election that the city of Richmond has ever had and may ever have, we are finally at a point where where pretty much everybody is on the same page in the fact that we have to something about our schools, that we have to look longterm. […]
There’s ben enough talk. There’s an opportunity for everyone who feels the same to act on that feeling. And that the implications of what we could do by creating a plan are no only a positive change versus whats been going on, but it gives everybody an opportunity to decide how they can help.
Rather than talking about what’s not right, and what isn’t working, we now can all start to work what a plan is. If there are pieces of the plan that people don’t like they can make’em better, and that includes not only the Mayor, City Council, School Board, RRHA, all the other folks, but individuals throughout the schools, and parents of RPS students. I’m going to promote this idea over the next several months, I think that we can get more people to be on board ad throw their ideas into it so that it becomes an “our plan”, so that when January rolls around we’ll have already thought about a lot of the things and we can actually get ready to act.
Is there anything specific about our area schools or at an area school that you’d like to shine a light on immediately?
I plan on having an amazingly large involvement at a school that’s not in my district – Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. I think it is the most important school for Richmond Public Schools, and the most important school in the East End. The fact that it’s in the 6th District doesn’t mean that I can’t and won’t advocate for it. […]
It’s an example of utter disfunction. Jeryl Scott, the new principal, I hope and expect that she will do well, but she certainly can’t do it on her own and the community has to step up.
It will provide an amazing benefit to the 7th District if we can turn that school around and make it not just a destination for East End folks, but a destination for the city. To take this new building and run with it and make it work.
You don’t have any children in RPS? Not any that you know about, ammirite? Does this matter?
I think it doesn’t.
I certainly will never be able to say that I have the understanding of what it’s like to be the parent of a student in Richmond Public Schools, but I think that the counter to that is that the time that I have and the energy that I can expend in support of the schools and of all the students and of all the parents and of all the administrators will be more because I don’t have children.
And that has enable me to be the advocate that I have been over the last 30 years because I haven’t had to make the decisions that I’d have to make if I had children. It’s enabled me to live in poverty, which is the only way that I could have been the advocate that I’ve been.
That’s my five questions. Is there anything else that you’d like to share, that you’d want to make sure gets said?
I’ve been an advocate for a whole lot of things over a real long period of time, if I had to break it down and say what is the one most important thing that I’ve been advocating for and that I think we need is that citizens have to be more involved in their community than they currently are. And schools is a critically important element of that involvement, but it can be in the parks, in can be in picking up trash, in can be in all kinds of things.
Until we get the citizens to truly be citizens, we’re never going to achieve the greatness that we can have here in this community and our schools are never going to be what we want them to be unless we get involved. I think everybody has to step up and stop talking and start doing something.