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Words on a visit to the Lee Monument and a response

09/18/2017 6:06 PM by

About 1 million of y’all have sent a link to the post about the Richmond Cycling Corps visit to the Lee Monument last week and a some lesser but significant number also included Samantha Willis’ response to the post. The text from both posts are below.

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RCC VISITS THE LEE MONUMENT

This morning, we took five RCC youth, ages 16-17, all from section 8/public housing, to the confederate monuments for one purpose: So they can formulate their OWN opinions before the media frenzy that’s going to ravage through Richmond tomorrow. It was a powerful experience, and upon returning back to RCC Headquarters, after an amalgamation of input from the other four RCC youth, Daquan typed with fervor and produced the piece below. Most often, we have the distinct honor of being the voice for our youth– an honor built on our deep relationships and trust with them. What is written below is THEIR voice, from THEIR emotion, and of THEIR reasoning. Aside from one sentence removed for ease of comprehension, it is completely unedited.

“Today me and my peers decided to visit the monuments to see what all the fuss was about and we came up with this.Is it more convenient to take down some statues than to improve the real problem of society? A Lot of people think that the problem with society is racism, but racism is only the feeling of one race being better than another. From living in low income areas we have our own ideas about society. Everybody pointing blame at monument avenue and statues that reside there, but those statues never did anything to me or people that i care about. The only thing that ever harmed people in low income areas is the violence that reside there in low income areas. In low income areas 5 kids each [the five who visited the monuments today] from a different area [different apartments] collectively knows twenty-two dead [over the past year], where the protest about that, where are the reporters, where are all the organizations that claim to be to alive to better the lives of blacks. From the day we are born we are taught nobody cares and that nobody can help. What if i told you that there were kids starving in your backyards living in rundown buildings? What if i told you that there are kids that rather rob,steal and kill rather than going in the house with nothing to eat?

Everyday kids like these say to themselves “do whatever to get to them bands [money] and if they don’t give it to me ima take it”, now you might think that makes them savages or ruthless but it’s all we know. The schools we go to are unaccredited and broke meaning everybody young,dumb, and broke. Instead of using money to knock down statues that most people in low income areas never even seen how about using that moving to improve schools,fix up the community that we see everyday, or why not protest in our neighborhoods where we see violence and hate the most. We all was taught about pride and loyalty, but why nobody ever taught us not to die over the neighborhood that our mother renting. We live in two different worlds we on instagram holding money to our ears but you’ll don’t call that money over there in your world. Everybody wants to help but nobody is really helping are they?”

-Written by Daquan (age 17), on behalf of the following RCC Youth: Cahlee (16), DaMonte (16), Tawante (17), William (16).

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A RESPONSE BY SAMANTHA WILLIS

Here’s why this “completely original” stance from these teens is problematic to me:

I feel that these young people — whose understanding of the historical and social impact of these statues and that the statues are an extension of the white supremacy that ensured the inequality in Richmond that led to dismal schools and public housing situations in largely black areas of concentrated poverty, is certainly still developing — are being used to prop up the opinions of the adults in the program that they’re in. That’s irresponsible and not honorable at all.

I will also say, young people that age have so much growing and learning to do before forming a complete, informed opinion on these types of issues. I remember when I was about 16 or 17, a friend and I saw a black celebrity wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt (I think it was Andre 3000), who said that he was “taking the power of the flag away” by wearing it. My teenage self thought that was edgy and brilliant, so I got a Confederate flag bandanna and wore it on my head all day one day. When my dad came home that evening, he asked why the hell I was wearing that flag, and I told him I was taking its power away by wearing it. I’ll never forget how he shook his head and said, “You may not know it, but there’s a whole lot of your ancestors’ blood in the red of that damn flag. That was the flag they used when they were fighting to keep us in slavery, don’t you know that?” And he walked away. I immediately changed my perspective, because I’d been shown a greater context for the flag. I think these young people’s perspective will change once they understand the deeper meaning and context of the Monuments, and once they understand that there’s no reason we can’t take the Monuments down AND address the problems in our schools and public housing communities.

I will also say that in reading the comments on this post, I notice those most heartily agreeing with the teens are white people, who likely didnt want the statues down anyway, either because they don’t know or don’t care about what the statues represent, and they are using these black teens to bolster their view point. Like, “See, these black teens don’t have a problem with the statues, why should other black people, or anybody else?” I saw one guy saying the teen writer should replace Wes Bellamy in Charlottesville; I see others praising these youth for being focused on the “real” issues, as if the community’s desire to rid public spaces of symbols of white supremacy is not a serious issue. I sense some exploitation of these teens through this post, and I think it’s impossible that they would form “their own” opinions without being influenced by the people who run this program, and who took them to view the Monuments “before the media frenzy” began (that line is telling). There’s a definite slant here that I think people should be aware of before jumping on the bandwagon to praise these teens’ comments.


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