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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.


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).


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 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.

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KJ Ricasata
KJ Ricasata
2020 years ago

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Gail Goldsmith
Gail Goldsmith
2020 years ago

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Sara Boddorf Higgins
Sara Boddorf Higgins
2020 years ago

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Nadiah Hassan
Nadiah Hassan
2020 years ago

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Jenee Johnson
Jenee Johnson
2020 years ago

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August Butler
August Butler
2020 years ago

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Marian Charlies Angel Fields
Marian Charlies Angel Fields
2020 years ago

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Betsy Shaver
Betsy Shaver
2020 years ago

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Eva Colen
Eva Colen
2020 years ago

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Rachel
Rachel
3 years ago

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… Read more »

Kathy Greenier
Kathy Greenier
3 years ago

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.

Shannon Secrist Cummings
Shannon Secrist Cummings
2020 years ago

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Sabrina Miller-Bryson
Sabrina Miller-Bryson
2020 years ago

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Joyce Moller Fendley
Joyce Moller Fendley
2020 years ago

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Erin Wall-Faxon
Erin Wall-Faxon
2020 years ago

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Darlene Anita Scott
Darlene Anita Scott
2020 years ago

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Jenny McQueen
Jenny McQueen
2020 years ago

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Paul Granger
Paul Granger
2020 years ago

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Cheyenne Varner
Cheyenne Varner
3 years ago

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
Rita Austera
3 years ago

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.

Jay McGee
Jay McGee
2020 years ago

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Risa Gomez
Risa Gomez
2020 years ago

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Kathleen
Kathleen
3 years ago

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.

Amber Cummings
Amber Cummings
2020 years ago

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Kelly
Kelly
3 years ago

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… Read more »

Clay Street
Clay Street
3 years ago

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… Read more »

Jen Brennan
Jen Brennan
2020 years ago

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Rachel Loughlin
Rachel Loughlin
2020 years ago

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Carter Brothers
Carter Brothers
2020 years ago

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Cathy Davison
Cathy Davison
2020 years ago

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Teresa Nieding Carrel
Teresa Nieding Carrel
2020 years ago

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Marcy Prochaska
Marcy Prochaska
2020 years ago

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Erin Lingo
Erin Lingo
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Sandi Lowery
Sandi Lowery
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Gail Hollyfield Taylor
Gail Hollyfield Taylor
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Brandon R'lyeh
Brandon R'lyeh
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Anej Rendrag
Anej Rendrag
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Kirsten Gray
Kirsten Gray
2020 years ago

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BAF
BAF
3 years ago

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… Read more »

Lee
Lee
3 years ago

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… Read more »

Fionnuala Bradley
Fionnuala Bradley
2020 years ago

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Chris
Chris
3 years ago

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

Angela Lacey
Angela Lacey
2020 years ago

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Jarryd Dee
Jarryd Dee
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Tristana Nesvig Trani
Tristana Nesvig Trani
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Lindsay Turner Parks
Lindsay Turner Parks
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Cheleah Googe
Cheleah Googe
3 years ago

This is why we are needed at the table.

Teresa Dulaney Dewald
Teresa Dulaney Dewald
2020 years ago

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Joshua Cooley
Joshua Cooley
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Alice Lacey
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