Rally speakers criticize efforts to sanitize nation’s racial history

Chip Lauterbach | 2/17/2022, 6 p.m.
Members of the Virginia State Conference NAACP and other activists gathered last Saturday at Capitol Square to share concerns and …
Mayor Levar M. Stoney speaks to the crowd of about 70 people at last Saturday’s “The Urgency of Now Rally” sponsored by the Virginia State Conference NAACP at the Bell Tower at the State Capitol. The group also was celebrating the national NAACP’s 113th birthday. The organization was founded Feb. 12,1909. Photo by Sandra Sellars

Members of the Virginia State Conference NAACP and other activists gathered last Saturday at Capitol Square to share concerns and criticisms of the efforts by Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin to restrict voting rights, and end mask mandates and ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

Many attending “The Urgency of Now Rally” believe Gov. Youngkin’s executive order, as well as legislation introduced in the General Assembly, to ban teaching critical race theory is nothing more than an attempt to sanitize the nation’s history around race and the treatment of Black Americans.

“For far too long, decisions have been made for us, about us, and without us,” Dr. James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, said in addressing the crowd of about 70 people.

Dr. Fedderman said Gov. Youngkin’s efforts against critical race theory are in lockstep with the many conservative groups that have been flooding local school board meetings and pushing conspiracy theories. The only way to stop those groups from influencing policy is for Black Americans and their allies to show up and stop these attempts at blocking the truth, he said.

“I don’t see people like me showing up to these school board meetings and raising sand,” said Dr. Fedderman, who is African-American. “We know what the truth about America is and we want our babies to know that truth.”

Several other speakers, including Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney, also urged attendees to resist efforts to ban or undermine the truth.

“People need to be reminded that it was Black bodies that built this city and built this country,” Mayor Stoney said. “And I believe that fact cannot be whitewashed from the textbooks and from the curriculum.”

In the governor’s executive order, he wrote, “Inherently divisive concepts, like Critical Race Theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims.”

In addition to signing the executive order on his first day in office in January, Gov. Youngkin also announced late last month that his office set up an email tip line for parents to report “divisive practices in their schools.”

Despite the public outrage and jokes about the line being used to intimidate teachers who bring up race or Black history in their classrooms, Gov. Youngkin in a radio interview called the tip line a place for parents to report when “they feel their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.” He said that “gives us further ability to make sure we’re rooting it out.”

He also signed an executive order barring school divisions from mandating that students wear masks. While implementation of the order has been held up by various lawsuits around the state to block it, the General Assembly approved legislation

this week that would ban school systems from instituting mask mandates.

Speakers at the rally criticized the governor’s order, saying that it unnecessarily places teachers at greater risk for COVID-19.

Valerie Slater, executive director of RISE For Youth, urged parents to not only turn out for school board meetings, but to show up to the General Assembly and talk to legislators so that the progress of the past few years is not reversed.

“Every child standing here, every child in the state, they are all our children,” Ms. Slater said. “We are responsible for the access they have to education, the access they have to the resources to build and realize their dreams.”

Speakers also raised concerns about efforts in the General Assembly to curb voting rights. They talked about Republicans pushing through a series of voting and election related bills that would require voters to show a photo ID in order to vote and that would roll back the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentences.

Doris Crouse-Mays, presi- dent of the Virginia AFL-CIO, also expressed concern about the Youngkin administration’s push to reopen businesses completely and do away with state mandated COVID-19 restrictions. She said thousands of Virginia workers would be put at risk during the ongoing pandemic by dropping all restrictions.

She likened Gov. Youngkin’s plans to keep schools and businesses open and to remove COVID-19 restrictions to taking one step forward and two steps back.

“The struggles that we thought that we had left in the past are here today, and they are growing bigger than they once were,” Ms. Crouse-Mays said.

Among the other speakers at the rally was 17-year-old Ayana Askew, a student from the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, who performed her award-winning poem, “Is Justice Blind?”