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Many Virginians still want atonement for racist photo, actions

Reginald Stuart | 5/24/2019, 6 a.m.
Black Virginians are still debating and awaiting what bold steps Gov. Ralph S. Northam will take to revive and restore ...

Before announcing the new job, Gov. Northam was on the road promoting budget amendments with big impacts on African-Americans, including one that would eliminate the suspension of driver’s licenses for motorists with unpaid court fines and costs.

In late March, he announced he was ramping up spending to modernize Central State Hospital, a sprawling mental hospital outside Petersburg that housed African-American patients for decades after the Civil War and still operates as an overcrowded facility for people in custody for psychiatric reasons.

He also directed state education officials to lead a “deep dive” into how public schools teach the nation’s racial history.

“The curriculum we’re using in our K-12 public education system is both inadequate and also inaccurate,” he told the Associated Press.

“I feel like he has been trying, but I don’t know if he’s trying to be politically correct or authentic,” said Daryl V. Fraser, president of the Richmond Association of Black Social Workers.

“One day it’s you. One day, it’s not you,” Mr. Fraser said of the governor’s claims about the racist photos on his EVMS yearbook page. “It’s still hard to clarify,” he said. “You need to own up.”

Mr. Fraser said he initially was upset with the governor.

“I was angry. The picture was beyond an insult to our community. Today, I’m indifferent,” he said, asserting like others that “the burden of prejudice and discrimination is not on black people. White people have to hold each other accountable.”

Dr. Ravi K. Perry, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Gov. Northam has never said “I’m sorry” to black Virginians, a first step toward atonement.

While people suggested the governor take certain actions, there is a strong general feeling that he is in a position to take a multitude of positive actions aimed at improving racial equality and equity for black Virginians.

Some steps could be “symbolic,” Dr. Perry said, like renaming Jefferson Davis Highway for someone other than a Confederate, to more substantive actions like appointing a state Board of Education that would require every Virginia public school student to take classes on race and ethnicity.

For sure, many people are busy working on lists to give to Gov. Northam with recommendations and plans ranging from funding critical needs for public schools and colleges, expanding early voting in Virginia, creating an anti-poverty work group and overhauling the state’s program to assist minority contractors to eliminating the state holiday honoring Confederate generals and appointing more African-Americans to state boards, commissions and councils.

Among those saying they are working on an action agenda for the governor are the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, whose members met with Gov. Northam just after the racist picture began circulating in February, the Virginia Black Leaders Roundtable and Creative Solutions, a group of politically active seasoned citizens based in Richmond.

Bernice E. Travers, president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters and coordinator of the Virginia Black Leaders Roundtable, said to achieve atonement with black voters, “he (Gov. Northam) needs to come back out and face the African-American community.”