Upward of 500 people gathered beneath the Robert E. Lee statue Friday night for a peaceful demonstration and celebration of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.
Around 8:15 p.m., recording artist Trey Songz’s entourage arrived chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
Songz, a Petersburg native, is hosting three days of events in Richmond and Petersburg, beginning Friday evening with the candlelight vigil and march on Monument Avenue.
“We tired right now,” he said, speaking to all those who are “bold and Black,” like him. “My grandfather was tired before me.”
“I’m scared for my son. It could be any of us.”
As he finished his comments, he held up his fist. The crowd cheered and responded in kind raising their fists.
“We’re going to tear this s--- down,” referring to the statue behind him. “We’re going to tear these injustices down. We’ve been asking for a long time. We’re tired of asking.”
Many families were present for the event, with children playing basketball at a hoop set up beneath the shadow of the Confederate memorial that Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered be removed.
Melachi Cobbs, a teenager playing basketball, had never been to the Lee statue before.
“I just wanted to see what it’s like, what people are doing out here,” he said. “If they were able to protest I wanted to join in.”
Cobbs said he made a few new friends at the makeshift court, and liked how it brought people of different ethnicities and backgrounds together.
Quanikua Carrington brought her daughter and niece to the event, taking turns hoisting each child up onto her shoulders, swaying to the music.
“It’s history — Blacks, whites, everyone. It’s beautiful,” she said of the gathering around the monument, as one of the children tapped her hip, insisting Carrington pick her up.
“I hope they [the children] learn to not be racist. We just want peace, we want justice.”
Earlier, a woman who said she marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s took the megaphone and implored those in attendance to register to vote.
A voter registration booth was set up on the periphery of the event. The woman’s sign read “1 Solution? Vote.”
After the speakers had finished, the crowd began to march west on Monument Avenue.
Marchers in Hanover urge school renamings
Earlier Friday in Hanover County, before hundreds marched to call for the renaming of two schools with Confederate-related names, several speakers remembered the origin story of the Juneteenth holiday.
Like the enslaved people in Texas who remained unaware of the Emancipation Proclamation until Union forces arrived in 1865, “we’re still not free,” said Robert Barnette, president of the Hanover NAACP.
Over the last year, the local NAACP branch and other community members have advocated for the renaming of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School. While an NAACP lawsuit challenging the school names was defeated in federal court last month, the recent nationwide protests have energized local community members to continue fighting for the cause.
“We are marching for the truth — and the truth is those names are racist and they are oppressive to people of color,” said Avi Hopkins, who graduated from Lee-Davis in 1994. “I’m not here for myself. I’m here for every young person of color who will walk down the hallways of those schools in the future.”
Among the protesters who marched by the two schools Friday, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Change Those Names,” Jennifer Clemons, a teacher at Laurel Meadow Elementary School, carried a sign that said: “I respect all my students! Did Robert E. Lee? Did Stonewall Jackson?”
“I love my students. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded in the educational setting,” she said.
The Hanover NAACP filed suit last summer to change the school names after the School Board voted 5-2 in 2018 against renaming them.
While lawyers for the Hanover NAACP branch alleged that the school names violate the constitutional rights of African American students, Judge Robert E. Payne dismissed the case in May, saying a two-year statute of limitations had expired because the schools were named more than 50 years ago.
In a speech before the march, the Rev. John Kinney, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Beaverdam, noted that Lee-Davis was named in 1959, as school districts throughout Virginia were fighting against school integration.
“Those symbols were erected to assure and continue to reflect the viability of racial supremacy,” he said. “They’re not there to honor history. They are there to make a statement of how they will define the future.”
But some in the community remain opposed to changing the names, arguing that honoring the Confederacy and its leaders is not racist.
Watching the march from the parking lot of a business adjacent to the school, H.D. Crowe and dozens of people quietly observed the protest. Most declined to be interviewed about why they were gathered there.
“I think it’s ridiculous. It’s history. You can’t change history. This whole entire area is nothing but history about the Civil War,” said Crowe, a 1987 Lee-Davis graduate.
While an appeal in the NAACP case is pending, a member of the Hanover Board of Supervisors who attended the pre-march rally at the Mechanicsville Library said they will change when the schools are eventually rebuilt.
“We’ve already committed to that. It’s just a timeline thing,” said Canova Peterson, who represents the Mechanicsville District where the schools are located.
Nonetheless, protesters said they want to see the names changed sooner rather than later.
Police state authority to halt assemblies
The Richmond Police Department on Friday afternoon, hours before the candlelight vigil, said that they are prepared to declare an unlawful assembly if the event or protests that will likely follow become “violent, dangerous or disruptive.”
The department said its made several unlawful assembly declarations over the past three weeks , adding that its officers have refrained from making arrests when crowds refused to disperse. But now, the department said they are prepared to make arrests or use chemical agents.
One protester was arrested Sunday night and charged with felony assault on a law enforcement officer and conspiracy to incite a riot. It’s unclear if any dispersal order was given that night, or on other nights outside the department’s headquarters on Grace Street, where protesters have been met with rubber bullets, flash bangs, pepper spray and tear gas.
The Virginia State Police released video Thursday night of one of its officers getting hit in the knee with a block of cement. Police also reported that water balloons filled with urine where thrown at them, and that they intercepted ball bearings and Molotov cocktails.
“I have instructed my officers to make every effort to support each citizen’s First Amendment right to express their opinion,” said RPD Interim Chief William “Jody” Blackwell. “We share their vision of a better, more inclusive future for Richmond. But, some protesters’ actions put everyone at risk and we must address that.”
The comments came a day after the chief vowed during a news conference to “get the city back.”
Michael Paul Williams
Two pastors call for removal of Lee monument, which their churches helped erect. Page A2
Jefferson Davis monument
Artists put homage to protesters atop empty pedestal. Page A4
Marking the holiday
Amid recent unrest, Juneteenth becomes day of protest. Page A10
When 14-year-old dancers Kennedy George and Ava Holloway heard that the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue was coming down, they knew they had to be there.
They headed out in their matching black ballerina skirts and pointe shoes for an impromptu photo session.
“We went to the monument to capture a joyous moment,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy and Ava have been dancing since they were 3 years old at the Central Virginia Dance Academy.
“Dance, for me, is like the better half of myself,” Kennedy said. “It’s like my alter ego. It helps express different parts of who I am.”
“I feel stronger, I feel graceful, I feel confident when I’m dancing,” Ava said.
With the backdrop of the Lee pedestal covered with graffiti behind them, Kennedy and Ava stood proudly on pointe, wearing black tutus and raising their fists in a symbol of strength.
Richmond freelance photographer Julia Rendleman, who shoots for The New York Times and other national publications, had been sent to the statue by the Reuters wire service to take pictures of the statue. She saw the girls dancing in front of it and started working.
Rendleman posted an image to her Instagram, then Reuters tweeted it. Suddenly, it was everywhere.
“It was huge on social media,” Kennedy said. She saw her picture popping up on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Then celebrities started posting and tweeting it — actress Reese Witherspoon, musician Courtney Love, musician Salt from the rap duo Salt-N-Pepa, and star ballerina Misty Copeland, just to name a few.
National publications such as Vanity Fair, Vogue and Marie Claire soon followed, running the photo with stories on the Confederate statues and Black Lives Matter.
“I didn’t expect this kind of reaction at all. We were shocked. We couldn’t believe it. It’s crazy to see that famous people have seen you,” Ava said. “It shows you don’t have to be silent in a time of need.”
Besides seeing strength and beauty in the photo, Ava sees underlying connections between the rigors of dance and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Pointe is one of the hardest types of dance. We’re going through one of the hardest years of our lives. If you connect those two things, there’s so much you can get from that,” Ava said. “Dance is such a supportive community. When you go out to the protests or statues, you see so much unity and people supporting each other, being united in the best way.”
The photo has struck a chord in Richmond and across the nation.
“It portrays something strong and uplifting in a time when a lot of the images made in the civil rights movement are hard to look at. I think people wanted something positive and hopeful,” Rendleman said.
“I truly believe that this was not coincidental and the world was meant to see our girls,” said Kennedy’s mother, Chris. “This picture exudes power and strength, and shows how dance brings art to chaos and creates something beautiful and empowering.”
But with the positive comes the negative. The girls said they’ve also received many hateful messages about the photo.
“We tried to warn them of what was going to come of it,” said Kennedy’s mother. “It’s a sensitive issue. We knew it would get some backlash. But they’re strong girls. They’ve taken it in stride.”
Besides being ballerinas, Kennedy is an International Baccalaureate student who is headed to the Henrico Center for the Arts next year. Ava is a straight-A student at St. Catherine’s School. Both girls are working on a nonprofit called Brown Ballerinas for Change to create dance scholarships for those who can’t afford it.
After the photo sparked such interest, they performed at the RVA Children’s Rally in front of the Maggie L. Walker statue — dancing on the cement sidewalk was difficult, they said — followed by a performance at the 5,000 Man March at the Lee statue.
“It was so great to see everyone come together. All ages and races,” Ava said. “It shows what we can accomplish. I think things will change for the better. This needed to happen for a while. People won’t take no for an answer. I hope everyone gets the equality they deserve.”
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Lauralyn Clark prays every day that her daughter won’t be the next Breonna Taylor. She dreams of shielding her from the violence and racism that’s punctured Black communities, and of a world that reminds her that dark Black skin is beautiful.
But Clark, 57, remembers the day that was first ruined, when her daughter, then 9 years old, came home from school and posed a question Clark hoped she’d never ask.
“Momma, what’s a n-----?”
She was in second grade. She didn’t know what it meant — only that it was something people at her school in Caroline County had called her.
Clark remembers collapsing on her bathroom floor shortly after and sobbing. How would she explain this to someone so innocent?
Now, barely 20 years later on Juneteenth, Clark again weighs worst-case scenarios when she looks to her grandson, who’s 2 years old and wears shoes that fit in the palm of her hand.
She doesn’t want to tell him what his older years as a young Black man might bring — not yet.
“My prayer is that [he’ll] get to high school and he’ll read the history book and this will be a footnote. It’ll say ‘George Floyd’s death brought about change,’” she said, thinking of other potential headlines.
“Systemic racism has come to a cease.”
“Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ has come true.”
We’re not there yet, she said, but Juneteenth reminds her of the life her ancestors and enslaved great-grandmother fought for, and how the country has the potential to repair its nefarious past. The holiday commemorates how the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved African Americans from Confederate states in 1863 but didn’t reach Texas, where more than 250,000 Black people, including children, remained enslaved, until June 19, 1865 — nearly 2½ years later.
But while Juneteenth fires up celebration of Black joy with church services, cookouts and parades, the legacies of slavery and the systemic racism established 400 years ago linger.
Clark comes from a line of workers in the home care field, an industry she said remains a disguised form of present-day oppression. Nine in 10 people in the field are women and 62% are Black and brown people, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. These jobs evolved from the enslavement of African American women that forced many to breastfeed and care for enslavers’ children.
Centuries later, the role of Black caregivers has evolved into a line of work that paid Clark about $8.50 an hour — about $340 per week — and offered no health insurance, overtime pay or paid sick leave. She frequently worked through sickness and 20-hour days, caring for other people while her daughter didn’t have health coverage. She couldn’t afford it, Clark said, and it’s a fact that rests heavy on her soul.
Then came the eviction in 2019, when her patient was hospitalized and the paychecks stopped. Being paid less than $9 an hour didn’t afford her the privilege of establishing an emergency fund or savings to pull her through. She couldn’t pay the rent, and like many low-wage earners, she didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits.
Her hip surgery in February, just weeks before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, meant an isolated recovery. Months later, her legs don’t work how they used to, she sometimes loses feeling in her right hand, and her knees are in need of surgery. She said that’s how her body, aching after more than 20 years of lifting, washing and dressing people with disabilities, tells her it’s time to rest.
But Clark’s life has been marked with loss, a mourning of lives she wished could’ve held on a bit longer, including her mother, husband and one patient she helped for years.
She knows she can’t stop now, but Clark isn’t sure how much more grieving she can take. For over 10 years, she’s pushed for worker protections in the state’s General Assembly — Virginia ranks as the worst state in the country for workers’ rights, according to Oxfam America — and driven low-wage workers to register to vote.
“This is going to be the most important election of our lifetime,” Clark, who lives in Richmond, said of November’s presidential ballot. “It’s vitally important to me right now, because if we don’t change the system, it’s [going to stay] so broken.”
So Clark is spending her Juneteenth doing what she does best: caring for others — she prepared for her daughter’s birthday celebration and set up the festivities — and registering people to vote. Anything to move the needle forward, she said.
Home care is funded through state programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, and its role in health care has historically been overlooked, Clark said. The 2020 General Assembly session scored home care workers a few wins — a 5% raise, the right to overtime pay and a study on the impact of low wages — but the pandemic stunted the state budget, leaving the monumental pathway to the state’s minimum wage increase dangling.
Mandated paid sick leave nearly passed the Senate this last session before being shut down. Currently only 12 states and Washington, D.C., have paid sick day policies.
Home care workers also haven’t had access to personal protective equipment or hazard pay, said David Broder, the president of SEIU 512 Virginia, a labor union protecting home care providers. In addition to fighting against the lack of worker protections in Virginia, said Broder, people like Clark are on the front lines of two crises: racism and a pandemic.
“Those two things go hand in hand,” he said. “The current challenges [home care workers] face are rooted in the past of slavery, in the past of Jim Crow and those things aren’t of the past. They’re very much with us … even though they’re doing what’s recognized as incredibly important work.”
After decades of work, Clark has days where depression debilitates her, leaving her to wonder what decision she could’ve made differently.
“I have nothing to show for the last 20 years of my life. I have no retirement. I can’t retire. I have no savings,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the kindness of my union family or friends during this unemployment time, during this pandemic …”
Clark’s voice trailed off.
“Who’s going to take care of us?” she asked. “I don’t understand how a system that pays us to care for other people doesn’t see the value in what we do enough to care about us.”
But she keeps pushing to see the day she can proudly tell her grandson about the history of their family, how her great-grandmother was enslaved and fought for Black liberation; how in 2020 crowds swelling to the thousands took to the streets to fight for kids who look like him.
Maybe by then, she said, he’ll know what it feels like to truly be free.
Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, claimed in a since-deleted Facebook post Thursday that Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, “is NOT for ALL Virginians” immediately after citing McClellan’s position as the vice chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
The controversy, with one Richmond-area gubernatorial candidate criticizing another, came on the day McClellan announced her bid for the Executive Mansion. If elected, McClellan would be the first Black female governor in the U.S. and the second African American elected to Virginia’s highest office.
“I’m sick and tired of ALL of the identity politics and yet the Virginia Governor’s race in 2021 is shaping up to be ALL about who will be the best female for Governor,” Chase wrote. “If you thought Ralph Northam was bad wait to you see the McClellan agenda. She serves as the vice-chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. One thing you can be sure of — she is NOT for ALL Virginians.”
Chase, who announced her bid for governor in February, reiterated that sentiment in a statement Friday.
“As the Vice-Chair of the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus, Jennifer McClellan is championing the destruction of our historical monuments and encouraging the violence of our beloved city,” Chase said. “She along with our cowardly Mayor Stoney and spineless governor are placating to a movement of divisiveness and hate instead of unity and peace.”
She added: “They stand silently and allow Richmond to be destroyed. Stoney, Northam and McClellan hate the second amendment and are doing everything they can to strip law abiding citizens of their Constitutional Rights and Freedoms, now and months to come. Leadership is about unity and understanding, not the internal destruction of America and its communities. These individuals are destructive and pushing a liberal agenda.”
McClellan responded to Chase with a tweet Friday saying: “What unites Virginia is stronger than what divides us. As a Senator, and as a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, I’ve worked to deliver progress for all Virginians. As Governor, I will make sure everyone’s voice is heard, as we build a better future. Together.”
Chase’s post and comments come amid nationwide unrest over police brutality and racial injustice, with the country’s, and Virginia’s, disparities in criminal justice, education and the economy gaining increased scrutiny. Protesters have gathered in Richmond for the past three weeks, saying it is time for the state to address its history of racism and slavery.
Chase’s Thursday comments gained immediate pushback from Democrats.
“Our presence still makes people uncomfortable,” Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, the chairman of the Black caucus, said in a tweet Thursday night that also has been deleted. “Can’t believe after all that we have been experiencing we are still requested to justify our existence.”
“This is vile, racist BS,” tweeted Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William. “[McClellan] is a phenomenal public servant who works as hard as anyone to serve all Virginians, regardless of their identifiers. Our commonwealth is a better place because of her service and the service of every [Black caucus] member.”
It’s not just Democrats who have criticized Chase in recent weeks over comments she has made about current events.
After Gov. Ralph Northam announced this month his intentions to take down the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Chase called it an “overt effort” to “erase all white history.”
Senate GOP leaders said Chase’s response was “idiotic, inappropriate and inflammatory.”
In responding Thursday night to Chase’s comments about McClellan, Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, quoted the statement that Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, released in February when Chase announced her run for governor.
Obenshain said at the time: “Amanda just doesn’t have a level of substance, maturity or seriousness that Virginians expect in a gubernatorial candidate.”
On the same day that Virginia’s COVID-19 deaths reached 1,000 in long-term care facilities, Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday that the state will devote $246 million in mostly federal money to help nursing homes and assisted living facilities cope with a public health emergency that has hit them hard.
At the same time, the state began releasing information about COVID-19 cases and deaths at specific nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, as Northam ended the state’s policy of not doing so. However, the new Virginia Department of Health data still suppressed counts of cases and deaths at some facilities “to preserve anonymity.”
The governor’s package includes $152 million that nursing homes already are receiving directly from federal emergency relief funds for health care providers to pay for the costs of the coronavirus pandemic. It also includes $41 million in federal and state Medicaid money that the General Assembly has approved to pay for a $20 monthly stipend for each nursing home resident whose care is paid by Medicaid during the emergency.
Northam is directing that $53 million of the $1.8 billion that Virginia has received under the federal CARES Act go to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The amount includes $20 million for assisted living centers, which have been excluded from previous federal and state relief because they do not receive funding under the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
“The lockdowns of long-term care facilities to protect residents and staff from the spread of COVID-19 have been hard on residents and their families,” Northam said Friday. “These actions will help support long-term care facilities as they ease those restrictions, while keeping their residents safe and ensuring that the public gets accurate information on the spread of this virus in these facilities.”
The governor also directed the Virginia Department of Health to release the names of nursing homes and assisted living facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks, reversing a previous state policy to treat the facilities as people to protect the confidentiality of medical records.
House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, whose district has been hit hard by COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities, rebuked the governor for not releasing the information sooner instead of shielding it behind laws to protect patient confidentiality.
“I cannot fathom the reasoning behind the Governor’s announcement today,” Gilbert said Friday. “Families have sought this information — information they could use to protect their loved ones from a lethal threat — for months. Now, after the body count in nursing homes reaches 1,000, the governor has reversed course.
“If it is legal to release the information now, it was legal to release it when it was first requested,” he said. “Perhaps, had the governor not been distracted by his political rehabilitation, he could have realized this earlier and lives could have been saved. Incompetence kills, and there is a great deal of incompetence from this governor.”
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia makes it “less likely that releasing this information would compromise anonymity or limit cooperation with a public health investigation.”
She said the governor also is identifying facilities in part because of “inconsistent information” the federal Medicare program has released for nursing homes.
“Governor Northam has always been committed to providing as much information as possible under state law,” Yarmosky said. “We are confident that given these new circumstances, this decision will ensure the maximum transparency allowed under the code.
Keith Hare, president and CEO of the Virginia Health Care Association and the Virginia Center for Assisted Living, said of the expanded reporting: “This information shows what we have known for months, which is that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts seniors with chronic conditions and the dedicated staff who care for them.”
“We know that full transparency and real-time, accurate data being made available will validate our calls for assistance that nursing homes and assisted living centers have been making since the beginning of this pandemic,” said Hare, who represents nearly 300 nursing homes and 100 assisted living facilities.
Through Friday morning, long-term care facilities in Virginia accounted for 6,519 COVID-19 cases and 1,000 deaths, or 62% of the 1,602 fatalities documented by the VDH.
Northam is directing that $56 million of the funding package go to nursing homes to pay for frequent testing of employees and residents under new federal Medicare requirements for nursing facilities to reopen to families and other visitors.
The money is a combination of federal aid under the CARES Act grant to Virginia and the Provider Relief Fund that Congress established for health care providers, Deputy Secretary of Finance Joe Flores said Friday.
Flores said Virginia’s long-term care industry had asked for $384 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, established in the budget in April to include money from the CARES Act and other sources. But he said the state wants nursing facilities to rely first on the $152 million the federal government provided to them directly.
“We’re going to ask them to exhaust that first and then we’ll step in,” Flores said.
Hare said money to pay for testing is critical to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus as long-term care facilities prepare to reopen to visitors. He estimates the cost of testing staff at $4.5 million a week for all nursing facilities in the state.
“We appreciate the state’s recognition of the financial needs that our nursing and assisted living facilities will face as they work diligently to prevent future outbreaks,” he said.
Virginia hospitals immediately called for more financial support from the state on Friday to cover their uncompensated costs of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association asked Northam to set aside $1 billion — or one-third of the $3.1 billion that Virginia received for state and local government relief under the CARES Act — for a new Coronavirus Hospital Stabilization and Relief Program.
Association spokesman Julian Walker said direct federal relief to hospitals had covered costs from treating COVID-19 patients, testing for the disease and purchasing personal protective equipment for their staffs.
“However, Virginia hospitals made additional investments to meet the challenges of responding to COVID-19 in preparation for COVID patients who never materialized,” Walker said.