I concluded my column a week ago by saying we all must keep our eyes on the prize. But a reader responded with the following question: What exactly is the prize?
I’ll attempt to answer that in part by observing two public policy failures, in Richmond and in Chesterfield County.
In Richmond, the tangible prize is a functioning swimming pool in Gilpin Court, Richmond’s oldest public housing community. It’s not as if it would have to be built from scratch; a pool already sits in the neighborhood’s Calhoun Center, where it has been drained of water since 2013.
Angela Fountain, spokeswoman for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), told Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Mark Robinson that there’s no timeline for reopening the pool, and it’s unclear what that would cost or how RRHA would pay for it.
All of which suggests the pool is not merely a low priority, but no priority at all.
After all, this isn’t a problem that cropped up last year. Talk over the years about addressing this matter has been as empty as the pool itself.
Robinson’s story suggests that Calhoun Center barely is more functional than a swimming pool without water; it lacks hot water and functioning heating and cooling systems.
The message is clear: Calhoun Center — and indirectly, Gilpin’s residents — are not viewed as worth the investment, given the community’s inevitable appointment with the wrecking ball. But who knows when Gilpin’s redevelopment will occur, or how many of its current residents will benefit?
You can only conclude that the people who live in the community were not part of the risk-reward calculus of repairing the pool and shoring up the community center. And that RRHA is running out the clock on Gilpin Court as Calhoun Center — pool and all — deteriorates beyond use.
Calhoun Center stands as a monument to the disregard in which the impoverished are held — a disposable building in a community also deemed disposable.
Meanwhile, as the RRHA leaves Gilpin residents dry during yet another season of summer heat, the Chesterfield County School Board would leave its Black constituents high and dry in a moment of racial reckoning.
The chairman of Chesterfield’s all-white School Board denounced teaching about systemic racism in a school district whose students are predominantly people of color.
On June 1, Chairman Ryan Harter read a statement that said in part: “Every student [and] staff member should feel that they belong when they walk through our doors, regardless of their race or their cultural background.” He concluded: “Critical race theory is not supported by members of this board. In Chesterfield, our goal is unity, not division.”
At least one board member, Midlothian representative Kathryn Haines, distanced herself from Harter’s statement, saying critical race theory is not part of any K-12 school curriculum.
Actually, it’s a decades-old academic concept created by legal scholars that asserts that the nation’s history of white supremacy informs the laws and systems of today. Harter’s statement sounds like an attempt to placate conservative white parents amid what Bob Holsworth, a veteran commentator on local politics, calls the latest episode of the culture wars.
Holsworth noted that in Virginia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin has said that he won’t permit critical race theory to be taught in Virginia public schools. And Loudoun County parents complained at a public meeting that the school system was making whites “the scapegoat for every bad thing that’s ever been done.”
Most educators are not trying to implement an academic theory, “but are striving to address the genuine racial equity issues that have been historically evident in our school systems, in the U.S., in Virginia and in Chesterfield along with many other localities,” said Holsworth, a former professor and dean at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Second, who really wants to argue that equity and inclusion is divisive and not unifying,” Holsworth said, adding, “In a school system such as Chesterfield that is now majority/minority, it’s almost inconceivable that equity and inclusion would be opposed by most parents.”
So let’s get a few things straight:
“Unity,” at the expense of equity, inclusion and historical truth, is no unity at all. And suppressing or chilling classroom discussion about systemic racism, to protect the feelings of white students or their parents, is the epitome of white privilege and structural racism.
That the Chesterfield School Board would effectively reject its previous commitment to an inclusive school environment during last year’s racial reckoning by embracing a bogus, right-wing talking point should be an affront to the district’s families of color.
So what is the prize?
The prize is manifold. But mainly, it entails treating people justly and with regard. And for the nation to keep its promises.