Since 2005, the Valentine Museum has celebrated more than 60 “Richmond History Makers.” One of this year’s honorees uses urban agriculture as a vehicle to build community and racial equity. His work - along with others recognized - complements the Valentine’s new partnership with the Capital Region Collaborative. WCVE’s Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.
Learn More: Find information about the 2018 Richmond History Makers who will be honored March 13, 4:00-6:30 pm at Virginia Union University. The event includes the release of the Capital Region Collaborative Community Update. Read about Duron Chavis's work with Ginter Urban Gardeners and Beautiful RVA.
Duron Chavis: You know my favorite part of the garden is Flagler
At Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Duron Chavis takes a meandering woodland path spotting some bulbs emerging from the earth
Chavis: See look, the daffodils are sprouting.
Tulips and cherry blossoms aren’t far behind
Chavis: I’ve been blessed to be able to work here and call this my office.
Chavis has spent decades launching initiatives that celebrate Black culture and improve health and wellness while also addressing racial inequities. He’s being honored as a Richmond History Maker for promoting stronger communities.
Chavis: At the core of any of our social justice work, is you, the person in the mirror.
Chavis is the Lewis Ginter’s Community Engagement Coordinator. It was a new position created to “help the garden expand beyond its walls.”
Chavis: My work is specifically around how do we introduce new audiences or audiences that haven't been represented here at the garden? How do we invite them and create an inclusive environment for them? And then second part was how do we go out into the community and work with the community to impact the region environmentally.
Working “with” the community is a key part of this philosophy. For example, says Chavis, the Garden’s Urban Agriculture program adapts to each neighborhood they work with. And it’s about more than learning about compost and irrigation.
Chavis: We also talk about the history of the region, so we kind of take a really deliberate approach to talking about concentrated poverty and redlining and race in the city. We talk about issues like food deserts, stuff that people are really dealing with and and have relationship with. That's how we imbue the community part into. The Ginter Urban Gardeners plan green spaces and design green spaces and then implement green spaces with those people from those geographic areas like in tow, so it's not like you know urban gardeners are just doing stuff. It's like we're doing stuff informed by the community voices and without the community showing up, we wouldn't do anything. It's just kind of like a feedback loop.
Eric Steigleder: He’s the kind of person we want to honor because he is doing the kind of work that will help move Richmond in the right direction.
That’s the Valentine’s Eric Steigleder. He says Richmond History Makers spotlights individuals using innovative approaches in areas like social justice, education, job creation, the environment, and regional collaboration. So it was a natural fit to partner with the Capital Region Collaborative or CRC, says manager Ashley Hall.
Ashley Hall: The Capital Region Collaborative is sort of the space and the community where local government and nonprofits and businesses can come together to work on shared goals. It's really the place where we know anytime there's a challenge in the community, it's not solved by one sector. We know it crosses jurisdiction boundaries, so this is really the place where leadership can come together and say hey if we work together we can find a solution that's better for everyone.
At the History Makers event later the month, CRC will release its annual Regional Indicators Project, which measures progress in areas like education, social stability and the James River.
Hall: When we're able to celebrate these awardees, it's really putting a face behind the data. It's really being able to say we've got this data that we're measuring, we can look at the hard facts of how we're doing is a region, but we also need to take time to really celebrate that there's people every day working so passionately and so creatively to really move the needle forward on all those things.
Richmond History Maker Duron Chavis has been recognized in other venues too, including RTD Person of the Year. But when he got the news, he was surprised, honored and humbled.
Chavis: The first thing that really struck me is that coming from a radical left tradition in my work, you know around cultural identity, health disparity and social change, for them to give recognition to the work that I've been doing is important, super important for folks to be able to see a narrative that isn't traditionally accommodationist or conformist. That there are alternative ways of being in terms of Blackness in the Greater Richmond region, that it doesn't always have to show up as corporate, or as a faith-based approach. And appreciating that diversity was really for me like, okay, well yeah, we've been doing a lot of work, I’m glad that you all see what we're doing. And I'm also glad that it's not just the garden work, it’s understanding the deeper concepts that we've been touching on throughout the years, so that it didn't just come because I work here Lewis Ginter. We've been doing this for a long time.
Steigleder: The goal of the Valentine is always to make sure that the programs we put on, the events that we have pretty much anything we do looks as much like the region as possible and that's something we're still working on. So we're really excited that this year our honorees reflect what the region looks like and that's something that we continue to be committed to. And at the end of the day, we want to make sure that the honorees people, that were celebrating that other people in the community can look up and say Hey, you know they're doing great work, I want to join that work, or I want to do my own work related to that. So it's also about kind of helping to inspire. I think that is one of the one of the great things about this [CRC] collaboration, is that it gives folks an opportunity to see not only the work going on by these individuals, but the progress that we've made as a region and then what they can do going forward.
Hall: Our leadership that works with the Collaborative is local elected officials, it’s county managers, its funders, it’s a lot of the decision-makers in our community. So for them to see these honorees, I think it's inspiring because maybe they don't always see the positives right, but I think it's also just a real opportunity to highlight where there are opportunities to continue to get involved and support these issues.
Other honorees this year include the LGBTQ resource and advocacy group Divesity Richmond and the arts organization Culture Works. Individuals include music educators Asby and Terri Anderson, Pam Mines, founder of JP JumPers Foundation which helps families affected by special needs, and Kim Mahan, founder of the tech job development company MAXX Potential. For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.