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Words on a visit to the Lee Monument and a response

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.


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).


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 didn’t 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.


Rachel 09/18/2017 at 7:31 PM

Thanks, John, for posting a couple of different perspective on the topic. And thanks, Samantha, for putting words to this.
I have spoken to the Richmond Cycling Core folks about (what I perceive as) a bit of a savior complex in their mission and practices, without what comes across as a very limited scope in understanding of the causes of poverty. In conversation with them, it does not seem that they want to acknowledge the forces you have laid out (from slavery to current institutionalized racism) that has put the recipients of their services in poverty in the first place – and they don’t want to help their kids do that either. I am all for letting youth have a voice, and am interested to see what these young people think as they further their understanding of their community’s and our country’s history and directly related curren circumstances.
The statues on monument have a direct tie to Creighton, Mosby, and the other projects these kids come from. To not acknowledge that, and to allow their oversight to “prop up,” as you say, their own opinions, is irresponsible mentoring.

Kathy Greenier 09/18/2017 at 6:32 PM

Willis’s response is so perfectly put and I hope gets shared as widely as the original words on the visit. Thank you to her for taking the time to educate folks and to CHPN for publishing.

Cheyenne Varner 09/18/2017 at 8:07 PM

THANK YOU Samantha and CHPN! I was so tired of seeing that tired, problematic article all over.Very disappointed in RCC for that post.

Rita Austera 09/18/2017 at 9:40 PM

I’m not so sure we should correct these teens. They were asked their thoughts and I feel these are sincere. Perhaps they don’t fully appreciate how Ms. Willis feels regarding the monuments.
Teens live in the here and now and what affects them. I certainly respect them for their thoughts.
I grew up in poverty and my day to day thoughts centered around getting enough food and avoiding my violent alcoholic father. I know where they’re coming from. Daily exposure to hunger and violence are a bit higher on the priority than monuments.

Kathleen 09/18/2017 at 10:07 PM

Wow, thank goodness we “white people” have Samantha Willis to tell us how we should interpret Dequan’s written piece. Personally, I think Ms. Willis is the one doing the exploiting.

Kelly 09/18/2017 at 10:20 PM

I appreciate hearing Samantha’s perspective on this. As a middle school English teacher in the East End, I do agree that teens do not yet have the wisdom that age can give them. However, I don’t think this means they can’t make thoughtful or truthful observations. I think the thesis of the Daquan’s statement is in the beginning: Is it more convenient to take down some statues than to improve the real problem of society? I read that, between twitter and facebook, there were over 700 people who said they would attend the counter-protest on monument last Saturday. I am glad they are speaking out about the things Samantha identified so eloquently above. I just hope, like Daquan seems too, that they wont stop there. I can’t imagine how this city would look if 700+ people got involved tutoring kids in some of our local schools- schools which, as Samantha and others have pointed out, are dismal because of the brokenness that has been handed down by the legacy of slavery, institutionalized racism, and unequal promises. As a teacher, I am proud of Daquan’s clearly stated thesis. And, as a teacher, I don’t want to underestimate his ability to bring something important and uniquely his own to the discussion.

Clay Street 09/18/2017 at 10:26 PM

Thank you for sharing this, the original RCC post actually shocked me in its tone-deafness. More disturbing was to see so many ostensibly liberal white folks “like and share” the post as if to easily have some “out of the mouths of babes” moment of clarity re: racism–people who have never suffered negatively from the institutional racism that has divided and does continue to divide Richmond–the placement of I-95, I-64, and the expressway required bulldozing of historically black neighborhoods, and the demolished neighborhoods were remapped as public housing that were far away from resources and cut off from things people in other parts of Richmond take for granted. Not to mention the redlining and racial covenants in RVA neighborhoods that are still on deeds if you look closely. Let’s do better, people.

BAF 09/19/2017 at 12:23 AM

Perhaps Ms. Willis knows “the opinions of the adults in the program that they’re in,” but I don’t. I am not going to automatically attribute the views of the teens to those of the adults running the program. I am going to operate under the assumption that these are reasonably bright kids who are expressing what they see and think.

I also think they are entitled to their view because it is neither unique to them nor their age group. I had the chance recently to talk to an African-American colleague who passes the Lee statue daily to get to work. I asked her for her views on the statues. She said she didn’t really care if the statues stayed or went. As far as she was concerned they didn’t mean much. What did mean a lot was how people acted. How she had to sit at the back of the bus in Richmond in segregation times. How policies that led to the concentration of poverty in places like the East End sapped hope, safety and opportunity from generation after generation of men and women. How is her view different from those kids? She’s not worried about statues. She is worried about the lives of people.

Think of the statues as you choose. But whether they stay or go will not, unto itself, solve the problems of inequality. If Lee and Davis come down tomorrow, tens of thousands of families will still be without hope and opportunity. Nothing will change for them, because Lee Circle is an open piece of grass space, but you may feel better for your efforts.

For me, I think the statues should stay–for now anyway. Because for me they are reminders of the problems that we face. They represent the inequality they helped create then and that still exists now. Those statues should stay as a stark reminder of the failings that still exist and should not come down until we have solved the problems that those statues represent. You don’t solve the problem by pulling down the symbols. You render the symbols pointless and empty and then, finally, disposable by solving the problem they represent. I do not one person to think the battle is won because they yanked down a statue. I want those statues there to remind people of the battles that must yet be fought.

Finally, if you are really keen to make statue removal a priority, we need to remove the monument to Harry Byrd on the grounds of our State Capitol. We have a memorial on the ground of our seat of government to a man who worked tirelessly to undermine a Supreme Court desegregation decision–a mandate of our legal system–through Massive Resistance and he is celebrated in the place that laws are made. When you get rid of Byrd–an avowed racist who flouted the Court to keep African-American children from receiving a proper education–we can talk about Lee and Jackson.

Lee 09/19/2017 at 12:53 AM

Daquan, the young man writing for the group about their experience comments on the disparity between rich and poor neighborhoods by saying “we on instagram holding money to our ears but you’ll don’t call that money over there in your world” This seems like a smart contrast, but I think there’s something more at work there.

One the one hand, it is easy to find images online of (actual or aspiring) hip hop artists and rappers (and the fans that seek to emulate them) posing with fanned out stacks of twenty or one hundred dollar bills or, more recently, holding stacks of bills up to their ears as if they are cellphones. Such images circulate through certain communities within social media, are especially suggestive of a certain black/African-American subset or subculture; and contrast sharply with an increasingly digital world where most middle class people rarely handle physical currency at all. I’ve personally seen both black and white folks mock or disparage these photos (fairly or not) of young black folks flaunting their money – often on the basis that the photos are laughable because these kids don’t seem to realize that the cash they’re flashing around actually isn’t a particularly large or impressive amount of money.

But returning to Daquan – this particular turn of phrase seems like a smart, cutting contrast between what “urban youth” and middle class folks do with their money and how they show their wealth. However, Daquan appears to be paraphrasing a line from a Jay-Z album – the relatively recently released “4:44” apparently. I don’t really follow rap, but I had a gut feeling that I was reading a paraphrase or quote and google quickly confirmed I was correct. Apparently, that line has set off quite a debate about what constitutes class – or at least, cool – and behavior generally within the rap community

So ultimately, even when Daquan presents what seems like a novel idea or turn of phrase, a little research shows that he actually borrowed that idea or expression from someone he presumably respects or admires and wishes to emulate. This is not meant as a criticism of Daquan (or his formal writing abilities) or of these kids – Daquan clearly describes the schools where he was presumably educated as broken, and his writing is informative. The point is this: These kids are obviously impressionable, and eager to earn respect for themselves by imitating people they look up to and respect. This makes the entire concept of Daquan’s written account of the group’s impressions of the Monument Avenue confederate statues and the controversy surrounding them somewhat suspect, as Daquan may be eager to imitate the ideas and opinions of one or more of the Richmond cycling corps coaches that he presumably looks up to and respects. This is not to accuse RCC’s coaches/mentors of being coercive. But maybe they should think more carefully about how they influence these kids and how to use their influence to get them to think critically for themselves.

There’s so much more that can be said about this particular post, but I think that’s enough for one person/one response.

Chris 09/19/2017 at 2:50 AM

Samantha is just bitter because she hasn’t had a chance to mold these young minds. SHAME!

Cheleah Googe 09/19/2017 at 5:26 AM

This is why we are needed at the table.

Will hall 09/19/2017 at 8:13 AM

I don’t believe for one second that someone named Daquan made those comments. And if he did, he’s speaking on behalf of RCC. Give it up already. The statues are coming down.

Kathleen 09/19/2017 at 9:02 AM

Daquan is “tone deaf”???!! He’s a young man living in the City projects!! How can he possibly be “tone deaf”? Is it because he doesn’t have the rage against the statues that you feel he should have? Is it because he doesn’t see where taking down the statues will change the day-to-day problems he faces? Daquan is NOT “tone deaf”.
As for POC being involved with RCC: No one is stopping you. No one has ever been stopping you. All of y’all have been fine with leaving RCC to work day and night with these kids until it didn’t go the way that you wanted. Now you see RCC as maniplulative and exploitive. If you want these kids to have POC roll models, then step up and put in some time helping instead of criticizing.

Chris 09/19/2017 at 9:46 AM

Will Hall – GOOD LUCK WITH THAT! smh.

Moesha 09/19/2017 at 11:15 AM

I think that through all of the years, these monuments have not caused a problem…so the real purpose of the protests??? I think it’s about power and control. The statues have no power, but the people that cannot tolerate speech or even handle others opinions, are using tactics that have more in common with communists and national socialists (both on the far left). We have been blind to the actual American Political Spectrum (we have been taught the European political spectrum) We have to be very careful and understand that a speech that is acceptable some and not acceptable to others can easily be used against us. The best thing is to actually learn history…learn about the lives and not become reactionary…Being that way, has NEVER ended well.

EastEnder 09/19/2017 at 11:40 AM

I think both Daquan’s and Samantha’s perspectives represent just some in the black community. I’m not quick to dismiss Daquan’s ideas because he may or may not be influenced by his mentors, Jay-Z, or whoever. I’m a black professional woman who lives in a working class/lower middle class of Churchill and I frankly could care less about the statues. I believe that the tense and difficult conversations about them are symbolic of other cultural and structural issues this country if not Richmond faces surrounding race and racism.

Will Hall 09/19/2017 at 12:52 PM

@Chris It’s not about good luck, it’s about reality. Those statues represent the past, not the present. I read comments from people who’re so quick to defend these statues, and I can hear the anger in people’s voices whenever someone even mentions “taking them down.” Why are you so threaten? Please answer that one? Is it because a group of people, white and black,aren’t afraid to speak against hate? Are we supposed to remain tight-lipped? I don’t necessarily care about the statues either, but something should be done about monument ave because these statues bring out so many negative emotions and reactions from people, on both sides. Yes, the statues represent Richmond’s past, but not Richmond’s present.I know that Richmond needs to do something about the crime in this city and it’s failing school’s and lack of accreditation, but the statues and crime/school’s are two separate issues.I believe that both of these issues’s can be addressed simultaneously, and that’s what the city plans to do. Let’s stop using what’s going on in the projects,or schools as a scapegoat to not deal with what these statues represent, on a symbolic level. Will removing the statues improve schools, or reduce crime-no.Those issues can be addressed by the mayor which he’s currently doing.But let’s stop using this as an excuse to keep these statues, which clearly represent, in my opinion, a symbol of the institutional racism that’s always existed in Richmond, and in this state, in general.What’s going on in RRHA or in the projects should be addressed, but stop trying to tie the two into one issue. There separate issues, and they should be addressed separately. In closing, if RCC wants to talk to someone, talk to the local branch of the NAACP, Richmond’s N.O.I, King Salim Khalfani, or any other adult who has contrasting views on the Confederacy on these statues. But to use 15-17 year old kids to defend your perspective on the Confederacy, Lee, or Jefferson Davis, in my opinion, is lame and manipulative.

rvablabber 09/19/2017 at 1:23 PM

She says the teens’ views are invalid because of who they are, and she makes zero effort to actually address what they said. Which weakens her own argument and maker her guilty of the same thing she accuses them of – lacking a complete, informed opinion.

David 09/19/2017 at 2:39 PM

What’s interesting are all the people proving her point by using the teen’s perspectives to justify keeping the monuments. Her response is clearly a criticism of the adults who, while operating legally in loco parentis, introduced minors to a complex, politicized topic and then blasted their names and ages and on-the-spot formulated opinion to a million people.

If RCC had an educator on the board, this wouldn’t have happened like this.

Clay Street 09/19/2017 at 2:43 PM

Whoa. I didn’t say that Daquan was or is tone deaf, nor would I. Ever.

Here’s what I thought was tone deaf:

RCC’s agenda of taking the kids to the monuments and recording Daquan’s words in order to share on the RCC’s own social media platform to its predominantly white following (don’t believe me? look at the RCC FB community) with not much context and with the (I guess) expectation that it was supposed to be some kind of mic drop to end the conversation and present some sort of last word: that because Daquan is not thinking about statues we shouldn’t discuss them in relation to longstanding institutional racism and our current reinvigoration of white supremacist groups.

These monuments are a link to apartheid America–what are they commemorating? 2nd place trophies built 30-50 years after the Confederacy lost, built during Jim Crow to remind people of white supremacy at a time when blacks were almost totally disenfranchised.

Moesha, when you say the statues have never caused problems–what do you mean? Do you mean you don’t like people vocalizing about it now? Because people have been wanting them removed for many years. In our current moment, it’s becoming a flashpoint because since November white supremacists have become emboldened to be more overt than ever.

Finally, National Socialists were never on the far left. This is a myth of American right. Please do some research.

Lee 09/19/2017 at 3:25 PM

@EastEnder – my intent was not to dismiss Daquan’s writing or his opinion, but to say that if the folks at RCC care about these kids (or should I say young adults?), they should take care that they influence these kids to be true to themselves, to think for themselves, and to think critically. I mentioned the rap lyrics because it’s clear that if the right person presents an idea to these kids, or if an idea is presented to them in a compelling way, they’re going to take that idea to heart. Again, not a criticism of Daquan or the others – I think that’s fairly normal human behavior, and it’s entirely possible that his opinion is actually a carefully considered opinion. The RCC folks intentions aren’t clear, and nor is the degree to which they influenced Daquan, but it is something they should be aware of when they interact with these kids. Especially if the RCC folks plan to share and talk about those interactions with the public or a third party and don’t want to call their intentions or the “content” of those interactions into question. Note that I’ve said nothing about the validity of Daquan or Samantha Willis’ opinion, as that’s irrelevant to my point and I don’t wish to criticize either of them.

Put another way: I think it goes too far to say that these young adult’s writing/opinions/what-have-you shouldn’t be shared or used to make a point. These kids deserve a voice. But it needs to be *their* voice, if it’s to be taken seriously. RCC doesn’t empower people like Daquan and his friends if they make them into a mouthpiece for someone else’s opinions or if they influence these kids in a way that stops them from forming their own opinions. No matter how good RCCs intentions were, they’ve acted on them in a way that comes across as ethically dubious, undermining any agenda (such as bringing attention to entrenched poverty or the problems in Richmond schools) they or these kids might have had rather than furthering that agenda.

charles Frankenhoff 09/19/2017 at 3:49 PM

I think if I wrote what Samantha Willis wrote I would be immediately be accused of some form of mansplaining.

Did she really just write that black boys don’t really have a right to an opinion or voice in the public space? Does she have a mirror?!

EastEnder 09/19/2017 at 5:14 PM

Thanks for the clarification. I hear what you’re saying and you make a good point about the RCC’s intentions and the ethical issues involved when showcasing young people’s perspectives on their platform.

bill 09/19/2017 at 5:47 PM

why don’t the rcc haters get off their lazy ass and help some of the kids with homework or sports?

Chris 09/19/2017 at 6:11 PM

Will Hall, the only ones “threatened” are you and those on the far left. These monuments have been here for so very long, and no one cared. And now, since you didn’t get your way on election day, you displace your disappointment on a statue.

Paul 09/19/2017 at 9:11 PM

So just to be clear… if the teens had agreed with some mentor group that leaned towards the BLM platform and that group in turn showcased the children’s thoughts about Sandra Bland or another controversial topic publicly that would be just as inappropriate? Correct? Otherwise, if we are not consistent on this matter, I feel like people are just fabricating whatever argument suits their needs for the current moment to silence others.

Not saying that is definitely happening here. But I will bookmark this to revisit if I see the same people openly contradicting this on another debate in the future.

Chris 09/20/2017 at 7:28 AM

FYI – Samantha Willis has a long and tired history of bringing “race” into the discussion, regardless of the topic.

Anne 09/20/2017 at 12:36 PM

Honestly Miss Willis should have written her own response to the statues rather than downgrade the original piece. Every individual is entitled to their own individual opinion and perception because we do NOT have the same life experiences as everyone else out there. The overwhelming problem I have personally seen out there is a heart problem not welcoming alternative opinions than ones own. How does an individual grow as a human being and as an individual without embracing someone else’s opinion with an open mind in order to consider and adjust their own if necessary. Also, at 15-17 you can absolutely think for yourself and every decision and opinion you have at that age is not necessarily the wrong one so please allow these fine young gentleman to have an alternate side to things and this is how they see it from their own prospective. We can’t applaud an 8 year for kneeling during the anthem at a football game and turn around and say a 16 years old’s opinion isn’t developed enough to matter. Please don’t try to create lemmings from society Miss Willis by suggesting that their opinions do not matter, because it should be applauded that they were brave enough to sign their name to what they knew was going to be unpopular because that is how much they believed in it themselves. It is actually your piece that I find disturbing and non-progressive.

Annonymous on Leigh Street 09/20/2017 at 12:48 PM

I applaud the courage of Daquan and the RCC youth for voicing what is considered to be an unpopular opinion.

Ms. Willis you should be ashamed of yourself for attempting to force your own opinion down their throats and saying they are wrong simply for being young. Let them think critically, those that do rule the world. Maybe you should try it?

Liz 09/20/2017 at 2:29 PM

I have been sitting on this for a few days now trying to figure out what to say and the right way to say it. Anne, however, said it much better than I ever could so thank you!!! Anonymous on Leigh St, I wholeheartedly agree!

John M 09/21/2017 at 6:55 AM

The Cheats Movement Podcast
Top Billin’ Hosted by Cheats ft. Craig Dodson, Director of the Richmond Cycling Corp

Mike 09/21/2017 at 7:30 AM

Liz, #30, I too have wondered how and what to say. You are correct, both Anne and Annon said it perfectly. Really, really tired of folks telling other folks they must think their way – and if they don’t, then those folks must be ostracized from society.

How dare anyone have a ‘different’ opinion or thought?? And worse yet, to voice it publicly?

I believe there are lots of people just keeping silent on a number of today’s ‘critical’ issues for fear of demonization that’s sure to come their way from the so-called keepers of correct and in-the-moment way of thought.

crd 09/21/2017 at 3:29 PM

@31 John thanks for posting the podcast. Have not listened to it all the way through yet, but will do so.

And count me as another vote for Anne and Anon @28 and @29. I strongly support the RCC and what they do. @27 thanks for that insight, did not know.

Kathi Sanders 09/22/2017 at 6:39 AM

The podcast is needed information and I encourage everyone to take the time listen. Richmond Cycling Corps has always been one of the best things we have going in RVA.

Jessica 09/25/2017 at 1:24 PM

You can agree to disagree with someone but the moment you try to silence someone (or tell them stay in their place) and take away their constitutional right because of a difference of opinion is when there is a problem…That my friend is called oppression.

Craig Dodson 09/26/2017 at 7:34 PM

Further Insight:

1. Our youth/young people in our program, have been, for the past three years, educated on historical context to include policy, institutional racism, oppression, and perhaps of greater importance, an application of said context toward the current behavioral trends/ideologies that flow en masse through public housing. The majority of youth in public housing are simply not getting this education in their public schools due to the historical context not related to content on required standardized testing.

2. In reference to Rachel (1st comment above) meeting with us earlier this year, the chaffing did not revolve around our awareness of institutionalized racism/oppression (which she assumed we did not know), but rather, our decision to merely focus on, and speak about, the most relevant outreach measures at this moment for the majority of youth/young people in public housing– which entails a portion of reactionary practices to A). Keep our youth/young people from being shot and B). Keep our youth/young people from being arrested. C). Development toward critical thinking/judgement to override prevalent reactionary thinking/behaviors. While Rachel’s colleague decided to stay and listen to our perspectives regarding the subsequent needs to approach outreach via the most relevant practices while in the trenches of public housing, Rachel chose to leave early, and not participate in the conversation.

3. Daquan: I’ve brought him into the fray too much already—giving him an antenna for a very pure perspective, that was put on a very un-pure medium (social media)– a mistake that is mine and mine alone. I will say this: His views are very much his, and are not binary. Never did he, nor does he, endorse keeping the monuments at the expense of helping his community. He is merely shouting out for help. He, like all of us, has a hierarchy of need, and the monuments take a backseat to violence, instability, trauma, and the multitude of layers within each subset. To dismiss his opinion, based on his age, or his education smacks of elitism, and is an insult to his intelligence, his passion, his conviction, and his sovereignty. In one year, he can legally vote. This young man has spent nearly his entire life bouncing around public housing, and to not give consideration to his views, based on life experiences within a very isolated, misunderstood, and disenfranchised environment, is wrong.

4. As for optics: I, and those of us currently at RCC are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. If I desire to work within public housing, then, so I’ve been told, it must be a “white savior” complex. If I’m actually good at my job, then, so I’m told, it must be driven by “white guilt.” If I speak the current realities within public housing, and the negative forces on youth/young people within, then, so I’m told, I am “exploiting” our youth or slinging “poverty porn.” If I allow them to speak on their own behalf, then, so I’m told, it’s “paternalism.” At some point last year, I realized that the ability to avoid scrutiny and skepticism is impossible based on the color of my skin. The intent and virtue of my work (and the work of my staff) is a trap, as the optics and semantics will always eclipse such intent and virtue. The truths are this: One cannot do this work at this level without a very astute understanding and sensitivities of how things came to be (systematically, institutionally, and generationally). The rabbit hole that one must go down, to get to the ground level of relationships and trust, requires the ability to back out, refocus on historical context, hit the reset, and then go back down. Rarely, do us at RCC actually ‘feel good’ at the end of the day. We get our teeth kicked in daily, then go back out the next day– playing the long-game of holistic development for a small number of youth vs. short “Disney-Magic” wins– this is what we have committed ourselves to. Lastly, there is no revolving door of people to do this work. If we were not there, no one else would be for our youth/young people in our program– and there are literally thousands of kids in need of steadfast, long term, committed help. There are great organizations in the East-end, and elsewhere within this city, that have dug in deep to do this type of work…but there is an overwhelming demand with such a limited supply of people to help. It’s been difficult, to say the least, to take criticism from folks who have never stepped foot in public housing—let alone dedicated the past eight years toward the grueling battle that is ground-level work; stewards of our youth’s trauma, and the weighted responsibility to change another person’s life . Our work goes far beyond a job. The negative forces, and their impact on residents, namely youth/young people in public housing is getting worse by the hour; every day. It’s an inconvenient truth and an unfortunate reality that most people, from general citizens, to activists, to politicians, do not fully comprehend nor, at times, care to comprehend the current climate, trauma, psychology, ideology-driven mental modeling and behaviors within public housing. Unfortunately, the conversation constantly shifts toward race, instead of cultural understanding within complex and marginalized communities that harbor equally complex and marginalized individuals with astoundingly unique needs and perspectives– inevitably, this leads to a detachment of relevant discussion/action toward youth/young people and communities where help is needed most.

Liz 09/27/2017 at 6:25 AM

Craig, thank you for speaking!! Thank you for what you do!!

Kfo 09/27/2017 at 6:50 AM

Props to you Craig.

Mike 09/27/2017 at 9:10 AM

Thanks Craig for all that you, your organization, and others do to help out.

crd 09/27/2017 at 1:53 PM

Craig, and Matt and the rest of the staff at RCC – thanks for all that you do, and all of the energy and care that you put into your efforts. You are appreciated very much. Keep it up. And Craig thanks for your courageous words here.

Paul 09/27/2017 at 2:41 PM

Thanks Craig. I was never as skeptical of your organization as others seem to be. But I definitely didn’t realize the depths to which your organization goes in their mission. The podcast and your thoughtful reply on this thread have been enlightening.

I was wondering what your thoughts are about new developments of concentrated poverty that continue to pop up. There is a current proposed development on Glenwood Ave that would be all LIHTC and section 8 recipients totaling 82 units and probably > 250 people in two buildings on one parcel. I had hoped we had learned from our mistakes of the past and realized concentrating poverty in clusters was doomed the fail. And while it isn’t easy to instantly change the conditions of existing public housing projects that we would not create repeat the cycle by creating new projects. But I guess I was naive. Our councilperson Dr Newbille apparently feels any and all additions to the low income housing stock are valuable in her world view. Even if they create mini-Fairfield Courts that out-of-state developers profit off of.

As someone who devotes his life to the struggle of helping just a few kids at Fairfield how does it make you feel that agendas of politicians and developers are merely producing more of what doesn’t work instead of mixed income communities with defensible space that studies have concluded are better…

Kathi Sanders 09/28/2017 at 8:42 AM

Excellent words, Craig Dodson!!

Eric Huffstutler 11/12/2020 at 2:15 PM

Yes, I am white. Yes, I was for keeping the statues. Yes, I have black friends and have asked them for their own opinion about the monuments and every one of them has said that removing them doesn’t change history and one was a former history teacher. I still believe adding plaques with context was a better way to go. Saying that these teens are being manipulated doesn’t make sense because it is their now and future in time, not ours. Tell me how many people consciously stopped to look at the monuments and felt threatened by them on a daily basis? I doubt no one here until they were being used as scapegoats for a different problem. I know driving down monument avenue low in a car I never see or even notice them as we breeze by and I am sure has been that way for both black and white for decades and generations. But to not let the teens form their own opinions is like a parent telling their child broccoli is terrible only because the parent doesn’t like it but doesn’t mean the child wouldn’t. As teachers in a “public school,” they are supposed to remain neutral and indifferent and stick by the books. Not influence children with their own personal beliefs.

If everyone is so concerned by the monuments representing white supremacy then every building in the city built before 1865 should also be removed because I am sure most of the original builders owned slaves or servants. Many of the streets in Church Hill and Richmond are still named for former slave owners. The list goes on. Remember, one of Richmond’s legacies was being the Confederate Capitol and so a city built around it.

Eric Huffstutler 11/12/2020 at 2:20 PM

Also, you can’t erase or sweep 200 years of history under the rug overnight. But what is happening is an attempt to eradicate white history and put black history in the forefront which is not an attempt to understand both sides for equality.


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