Shedrick McCall said his 12-year-old son was in the backseat about 10 years ago when five Chesterfield County police officers surrounded McCall’s car at gunpoint at the intersection of Turner and Elkhardt roads. Police had pulled them over and handcuffed them, because they said McCall matched the description of a Black armed robbery suspect.
McCall, a forensic psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Virginia State University, said he developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident, which fueled an existing sense of urgency for him about the undone work of achieving racial justice.
After a year of reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd, a group born from the protests over Floyd’s death rallied at the Chesterfield courthouse on Saturday to listen, learn and demand action on equity in education, health care, housing, economic opportunity and the justice system.
The Chesterfield Collaborative for Equal Justice, founded by a coalition that also included former county planning commissioner Michael Jackson, organized the event to further its mission of ensuring equity in Chesterfield. Five speakers discussed achieving equity, a concept rooted in fairness, justice and ensuring everyone has what they need to succeed, across systems of education, health care, housing, criminal justice and economic opportunity.
“We wanted to make a difference in our community,” said McCall, who helped form the group last year. “I tell people, united we stand, divided we fall.”
Collaborative member Dominique Chatters, whose four children are enrolled in the county’s public school system, told the crowd of about 40 people gathered around the steps about disparities she’s observed in schools, which motivated her to advocate for children. Chatters on Saturday advocated for people to accept, learn about and teach the history of civil rights and racial injustice.
“Respectfully, shut up and listen,” she said to the crowd. “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to listen more and talk less. We need to listen to the voices, of the voices we normally do not hear. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to your neighbors and the people in your neighborhood to find out their opinions, but wouldn’t it be better to reach across another neighborhood, at another school, at another district to see how things are going there?”
“We still have work to do,” speakers called out to the crowd, which shouted back: “Yes, we do!”
The coalition on Saturday presented its inaugural Collaborator of the Year award posthumously to Thomas Henry Francis, who died in January after spending decades advocating locally for voter participation. His family, members of whom attended the ceremony, were also presented with the Virginia General Assembly resolution celebrating his life by Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi, D-Chesterfield.
The event was attended by politicians courting county votes, including Mike Cherry, a Republican, and his opponent Katie Sponsler, a Democrat, who are seeking the 66th District House of Delegates seat.
Similarly, Chesterfield schools Superintendent Mervin Daugherty was also in attendance and said that in terms of the school system, equity means all students are treated equally.
“So we shouldn’t look at ZIP codes or races or colors or anything,” Daugherty said. “So when a child walks into our school, they’re treated the same as everybody else, that they have the same opportunities.”
School Board member Dot Heffron said Saturday that equity is a core value for Chesterfield County Public Schools.
The School Board recently drew scrutiny for issuing a public statement denouncing critical race theory, joining a growing conservative backlash to the graduate-level framework, which is not taught in K-12 schools, for understanding how racism affects the way people live.
“Critical race theory and equity are being conflated,” Heffron said.
“I think the problem is that there’s not been a really true definition for people to unify themselves on critical race theory,” he said. “Whereas here, we’re talking about what the equity piece is in injustice.”
Robert Lewis, a U.S. Air Force veteran who has lived in Chesterfield for eight years, showed up Saturday to support and said all communities should try to find common ground in pursuit of equity.
“So Blacks and whites, Latinos or whatever your race, creed or color is, have to be able to sit down and be able to discuss because it’s so easy to say, ‘No, I don’t believe that’ and walk away,” he said. “But you have to be able to sit down and have dialogue. Without dialogue, nothing can happen.”