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The Richmond Times-Dispatch downtown building on E. Franklin Street

We first met in August, gathering in a cavernous meeting room in the downtown Times-Dispatch office. The RTD Opinions’ first-ever Community Advisory Board brought together a dozen residents from across the Richmond region, representing a cross-section of professions and backgrounds.

The youngest member was a college student, finishing her senior year. Some were retired. One member was our 2018 Correspondent of the Year, an honor bestowed to the author of the previous year’s best Letter to the Editor. Members also hailed from teaching, small business, local government and the nonprofit sector. They’re active in the community.

Because of the coronavirus, our monthly meetings now are held online via Zoom. Instead of shaking hands when we meet, we wave over our computer screens. But despite the virtual setting, our get-togethers are as robust as ever as we discuss, dissect and analyze the events of the day and emerging trends.

Engaging members of our region is a vital part of the Opinions’ pages mission. We pursue a solutions-based approach to our editorials. We serve as a marketplace of ideas through our op-ed pages, staff and nationally syndicated columnists, Letters to the Editor and Your 2 Cents. We seek contributions from all perspectives.

Board members help with that. They provide insights about how we can find solutions to the issues facing our region and state. We sought a wide-ranging group that would broaden our understanding of our diverse community. These voices have strengthened our coverage of the Richmond region and beyond. Our meetings typically last well beyond the scheduled hour.

That’s because there’s so much to discuss. Milestones of this transformative year include downtown development and the $1.5 billion Navy Hill proposal, which died before Richmond City Council. The General Assembly changed hands, giving Democrats complete control of the state Capitol for the first time in a generation.

The global pandemic and subsequent economic crisis hit the region in the late winter. Throughout the spring, members shared how they coped with Virgnia’s stay-at-home order, hunted for housing, and handled workplace issues in a contracted market that saw most businesses close, schools shutter and unemployment spike.

During our most recent meeting in June, the daily protests sweeping Richmond, systemic racism and Confederate statues dominated the conversation. And over the course of the year, we talked about social media habits, rural broadband, the opioid epidemic, generational differences and news consumption — there’s never a shortage of topics.

The volunteer board initially agreed to a one-year term. But because of the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, most members have agreed to extend their service to the end of this year.

Later this year, we will begin looking for new members. If you would like to be considered for the board or wish to recommend a candidate, please email: pstallsmith@timesdispatch.com

We are pleased to reintroduce our board members:

Noelle Abrahams, Richmond, a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, who will be stepping down because of a new job.

Salaam Bhatti, Henrico County, a lawyer at the Virginia Poverty Law Center; vice president of Anwaar Mosque in Chesterfield.

Duron Chavis, Richmond, founder, Happily Natural Day.

Angela Chiang, Chesterfield County, retired director of operations, Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise; treasurer and fundraising chair, Asian & Latino Solidarity Alliance of Central Virginia.

Paul Drumwright, Henrico County, administrative services manager of Goochland County.

Deanna Fierro, Richmond, math teacher, Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County Public Schools.

Frances Goldman, Henrico County, president, The Tax Complex; immediate past chair, Richmond Jewish Foundation.

Bill Harrison, Richmond, executive director, Diversity Richmond.

Bryanna Johns, Richmond, marketing specialist, Markel.

Fletcher Lowe, Richmond, 2018 Correspondent of the Year.

Craig Shields, Chesterfield County, owner, Nu Era Productions.

Samantha Willis, Hanover County, independent journalist.

Our members make the Community Advisory Board the valuable resource that it is. We thank them for their service, time and insights. The RTD Opinions pages are richer because of their contributions. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

— Pamela Stallsmith

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