A school building officials say was the first intentionally built for Richmond’s black students after the Civil War will become a VCU Child Development Center under the terms of a deal under review by the school system, city and university.
The center would primarily serve children of VCU employees, with 48 of 148 slots reserved at no cost for children from the Carver and Gilpin Court communities, according to a draft of the agreement. Those donated slots have an annual value of about $500,000, and would help meet a deep need for affordable child care in the city, said 2nd District Councilwoman Kim Gray, who represents the area.
The Moore Street School, which deteriorated as it aged and is adjacent to George W. Carver Elementary School, is one of many buildings that School Board members want to see off the school system’s books .
Jerome Legions, president of the Carver Civic Association, welcomed the arrangement.
“Anything that becomes an enhancement to the educational process in the city of Richmond is a good thing. It would give the parents there an opportunity to seek employment, enhance the kids’ learning process; it’s a benefit,” Legions said.
He said the deal seems equitable because VCU will also provide wraparound services for students in addition to the reserved preschool spaces and will breathe new life into a historic building, originally constructed in 1887, that has needed attention for a long time.
Gray, a former School Board member, helped broker the deal after approaching VCU and local nonprofits for years.
She said she eventually sat down with VCU School of Education officials to talk about expanding their program, and Moore Street made sense due to its proximity to Carver Elementary.
Gray said VCU is working around the cost of providing free slots by utilizing early childhood education master’s degree students for many of its programs.
The deal would take the Moore Street building off Richmond Public Schools’ books, and the city would sell it to VCU for $1 in exchange for the reserved spaces.
In addition to child care, the center plans to offer other literacy and workforce programs for Carver and Gilpin residents and professional development for Carver Elementary teachers.
Fourth District School Board member Jonathan Young, chairman of the board’s Surplussed Property Committee, said the board reached a consensus on the agreement and will be moving forward quickly, a step he would like to see repeated with other properties, such as the Arthur Ashe Center.
The city is the titleholder of all school properties, so when a building is no longer being used by the district, the School Board can vote to designate the property as surplus, enact a quitclaim deed and turn it back over to city management.
The Moore Street School was made surplus in 2010, but the board has not yet passed a quitclaim resolution to officially turn over control and allow the city to sign official paperwork on the deal.
Young said he has identified eight other underused or vacant properties that he would like to take off the books in 2020.
Although the properties are rarely used, Young said they rack up nearly $700,000 in utility and maintenance costs annually, from water and electricity service to groundskeeping.
The board would have to pass separate resolutions for each, which could result in similar agreements or extra revenue in the case of a developer.
“My perspective is, there’s enough property on that list that we can likely build or come close to building a new elementary school with what we have,” Young said.
RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said the Moore Street deal isn’t necessarily a template for other vacant properties but that RPS and the city share a goal of getting rid of vacant and unused buildings and increasing revenues for students.
However, since the school system is not the owner of any of the properties it manages, the district has no legal say in negotiations with parties interested in the properties, which Kamras said leaves it in a “political and legal no-man’s land.”
He said the key for other vacant properties is figuring out a way to ensure RPS continues to see fair returns for buildings it manages.
Ignored by his hometown during his lifetime, street photographer Louis Draper is finally getting his due.
“Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop,” a free exhibit featuring over 180 photographs, opened at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday.
Born in 1935, Draper grew up in Richmond’s East End and attended Virginia State College, now Virginia State University. In 1957, he moved to New York to escape segregation and oppression.
There, he met a group of African American photographers who helped him launch his career and a movement in photography. They called themselves the Kamoinge Workshop.
They wanted to photograph the world around them, which was the streets of Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a time of civil unrest and inequality.
They photographed their world: kids in the streets, the graffiti-laden walls, a broken basket used as a basketball hoop.
“We dedicated ourselves to speak of our lives as only we can,” Draper wrote during his lifetime. He died in 2002. “This was our story to tell and we set out to create the kind of images of our communities that spoke of the truth we’d witnessed and that countered the untruth we’d all seen in mainline publications.”
They took their name from the Kikuyu word “kamoinge,” which means “a group of people acting and working together.” The collective met weekly to look at each other’s work, support one another, and organize their own exhibitions.
Several photographers from the Kamoinge Workshop traveled to Richmond for the opening, including Shawn Walker. He grew up in Harlem and joined the Kamoinge Workshop in his early 20s.
“It was like going to the Sorbonne in Paris,” he said. “It was a school. We saw films, paintings. We had assignments.”
He described Draper as the teacher and mentor of the group. Draper had an art degree, while many of the other photographers did not.
“Lou was a technician. We went to him to learn how to print,” Walker said. He also described Draper as a “level-headed person, when many of the rest of us were not. We were young. Lou had the ability to calm us down.”
Walker said Kamoinge taught him everything he knew about art and photography. It was that nontraditional schooling that led him to a lifetime of teaching at schools such as The City College of New York.
Much of the artwork depicts the urban world of New York, as well as travels abroad to such places as Africa and Cuba.
While the Kamoinge Workshop resisted the label of civil rights photographers, members sought to document the truth of their lives, which included brushing with leading figures of the day like Malcolm X, Miles Davis and Amiri Baraka.
Work in this show came from the VMFA’s 2015 acquisition of Draper’s complete archive of more than 50,000 items, which the museum has digitized and made available on its website at https://www.vmfa.museum/collections/search-archives/louis-h-draper-archive-portal.
“Any history of the photography of America in the 1960s and 1970s would not be complete without mention of the Kamoinge Workshop,” said Sarah Eckhardt, the VMFA’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art, who curated the exhibit.
On March 20-21, several photographers from the show will return for a symposium where they will talk about their work and the Kamoinge Workshop.
“[These artists] were more or less ignored in the art world,” said Alex Nygeres, director of the VMFA, during a press preview of the exhibit. “This exhibition is changing that.”
After its run in Richmond, “Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop” will move to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
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Housing lawyer Janae Craddock is a year and almost 100 cases in.
In an ideal world, her position at Central Virginia Legal Aid Society wouldn’t be needed, she said, and Richmond wouldn’t have the second-highest eviction rate — 11.4% — among large U.S. cities. But that’s not the case.
“It’s not just ‘you didn’t pay your rent,’” she continued. “There’s typically a story there. There’s typically a reason why. ... I don’t think the public at large really understands that.”
The “Eviction Crisis” exhibit at the Richmond Public Library is trying to change that.
The free exhibition uses 3-D graphs, maps and a running video of personal eviction stories to walk people through the collision of factors that land thousands of Richmond families on the streets each year — among them, steep rents, racial bias in housing laws and a legal process for ejecting tenants that housing advocates say tilts in landlords’ favor.
At the center of it all is race, said Mike Burnette, communications director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, a nonprofit that seeks to end housing discrimination that partnered with the Richmond Public Library on the exhibit.
As he and outreach specialist Kelly Barnum built the displays, Burnette noticed that on a map of the state, areas facing high eviction rates were centered in Virginia’s southeastern region in predominantly black cities like Norfolk, Hampton and Richmond.
“If you look at the racial composition of this area, it’s typically minorities,” he said. “When you look at all this data, what’s the big picture? What are we seeing? [It’s] patterns of race.”
On a recent weekday, he pointed toward a map in the exhibit that marks the city’s highest concentration of eviction and moved his finger around the neighborhoods experiencing the brunt of it. The list includes Gilpin and Manchester, both of which are tinted a deep red.
Red on the map signals areas where more than one in three renters will face eviction in a given year. The national average was about 2.3% in 2016, the latest year for which analysis is available from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. The research was the focus of a 2018 New York Times article that featured Richmond’s high eviction rates.
Among the findings: 1 in 9 Richmond renter households faced an eviction in 2016; about 1 in 5 was threatened with one.
The revelation prompted a flurry of activity. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney launched an eviction diversion program aimed at curbing housing instability in Richmond.
VCU professors Kathryn Howell and Ben Teresa created the RVA Eviction Lab to research why it was happening; a statewide eviction task force will focus on reducing evictions across Virginia, effective July 1.
People of color are more likely to face eviction than white people, RVA Eviction Lab findings show. But it’s not as simple as saying landlords are throwing out African Americans instead of white people, said Howell, co-director of the lab.
“There are larger structural issues that are a part of our history of deep segregation, of income stability that is higher for African Americans. ... Discrimination is an ongoing part of our housing infrastructure,” Howell said. “It’s a larger conversation than just one landlord and one tenant. We’re talking about something that is built into our system.”
It’s complicated. Most of the areas with the highest eviction rates in Richmond are not the poorest, researchers found.
Burnette illustrated the impact of those issues with 300 house keys and 100 doorknobs that he spray-painted in his garage, in colors differentiating the racial divide.
Passing the easels, he stopped at the 36-inch tubes filled with a total of 3,415 Monopoly houses. Hunting down ones with just the right tinted orange, the exhibit’s primary color, took him over four hours.
It’s difficult to accurately account for the number of people within evicted households, Burnette said, but nationally, households with children under 18 are three times more likely to be evicted than childless households. He wanted to put all 17,981 half-inch houses to represent the nearly 18,000 eviction lawsuits filed in one year.
“But it would’ve cost me over $1,000 worth of Monopoly houses. This is one month of eviction lawsuits,” he said of the display.
In 2017, 2,688 cases resulted in evictions enforced by the sheriff’s office. If all of the people living in those households were accounted for, Burnette said the number of those affected annually could be in the tens of thousands.
This past month, librarian and community services manager Natalie Draper continued to meet the people behind those cases.
For years, Richmond’s downtown library has been a safe space for people experiencing homelessness, Draper said — so much so that a part-time social worker was hired in May.
“They have felt, seen and heard,” Draper said. “A lot of people have the impression that eviction is something that just affects poor people. Like, ‘This doesn’t relate to me or my life.’ ... Something like this exhibit really lays out the impact of the cost and the human toll.”
In October, the human toll included 52 families in Creighton Court who were served eviction notices before the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority announced an eviction freeze, a move the agency has since extended through May 1.
Across the country, 90% of landlords have lawyers in eviction cases while only 10% of tenants do, with tenants frequently not knowing they have access to legal aid attorneys in the courthouse.
“Richmond has garnered [attention], not necessarily for good reasons,” Craddock said. “But we have begun to see the pendulum shift ... so many people now know we exist. They can ask us the questions.”