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Entertainment
Fireworks at Dogwood Dell canceled, fireworks will be held in Richmond at the Diamond, in Chesterfield and in Powhatan

In the summer of social distancing, typical Fourth of July celebrations that draw thousands of people — like the fireworks at Dogwood Dell; Rocketts Red Glare; and Henrico County’s Red, White & Lights event — have been canceled due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

But a few fireworks events will still be happening, like those from the Richmond Flying Squirrels at The Diamond and at the Chesterfield County Fairgrounds. Those celebrations, however, will be different from past years. There also will be an inaugural drive-in celebration in Powhatan County.

Right now, people will not be allowed to attend the Flying Squirrels fireworks celebration in person; instead, it will be televised on WTVR-Channel 6. If phase restrictions change, people may be allowed to drive in to watch the fireworks, but that is a big “if.”

The club said “details about potential on-site viewing will be released at a later date should phase restrictions in Virginia and in the City of Richmond change before the event.” Currently, organizers are saying that the fireworks will be televised and that’s it.

The City of Richmond will be partnering on the fireworks display with the Flying Squirrels. The fireworks display at Dogwood Dell has been canceled this year.

Similarly, Chesterfield will be setting off its traditional fireworks display, but the Chesterfield County Fairgrounds will be closed to the public.

Here are more details on events on Saturday, July 4, followed by Fourth of July cancellations this year:

Flying Squirrels fireworks

The Flying Squirrels will televise their annual fireworks display on WTVR-Channel 6. The broadcast will begin on WTVR at 9 p.m., with the fireworks scheduled for 9:30 p.m. WRVA (1140) and Big 98.5 FM will simulcast the show.

“Although we are unable to gather for our traditional Fourth of July game at The Diamond, we are excited to partner with the City of Richmond and CBS 6 to bring fireworks to your TV screen,” said Flying Squirrels vice president and COO Todd “Parney” Parnell. “While different than past years, we can still celebrate and create new memories together while watching safely through our televisions.”

The Diamond is at 3001 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. Go to www.squirrelsbaseball.com for more information.

Chesterfield

Chesterfield County will set off a fireworks display at the Chesterfield County Fairgrounds, 10300 Courthouse Road, but the fairgrounds will be closed to the public. There will be no concessions, activities or entertainment.

The fireworks can be viewed from nearby the fairgrounds. Residents who can view the fireworks from their homes should do so. Parking will be available at LC Bird High School, the Chesterfield Technical Center and the government center nearby. Parking will open at 5 p.m. and can accommodate up to 1600 cars. Fireworks at 9:15 p.m. Visit https://www.chesterfield.gov/4441/Fourth-of-July-Celebration for details and updated information on parking and traffic patterns.

Powhatan

The Powhatan Freedom Festival with fireworks will be hosted by the Powhatan Dental Outreach Foundation for Children at the Powhatan County Fairgrounds, 4042 Anderson Highway. Admission is free to the public, but donations will be accepted for the foundation, which holds free dental clinics for children.

Gates for the drive-in celebration will open at 6 p.m. There will be patriotic songs, a children’s movie played on an inflatable big screen, goodie bags and drawings for prizes. The fireworks will begin at 9:15 p.m.

People may sit around their vehicles but are asked to social distance. A vendor will be selling food. People may bring in water and soft drinks, but no alcohol is allowed.

Local residents Melinda and Corey Hitt, the president and vice president of the foundation, are organizing the event. Hitt said it has been frustrating and difficult to get the event approved with COVID-19 restrictions.

But they have been fortunate to build the relationship with the Powhatan Fair Association, which offered the property for both the fireworks event and a free dental clinic being held on June 27.

For more information, visit the event’s website, www.powhatanfreedomfestival.com, or check for updates on its Facebook page.

Canceled fireworks and festivities

Colonial Heights: Fireworks postponed this year. www.colonialheightsva.gov

Colonial Williamsburg: Fireworks canceled; performances by Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes & Drums are also canceled.

Fort Lee: Fourth at the Fort and the fireworks have been canceled this year.

Goochland County: Fireworks have been canceled for 2020.

Henrico: Red, White & Lights, the annual fireworks display with the Richmond Symphony, will not be held this year.

Libbie Mill Midtown: Fireworks display being postponed to a later date.

Richmond: Dogwood Dell fireworks canceled. The city is partnering with the Flying Squirrels fireworks instead.

Rocketts Red Glare: Fireworks over the James River at Rocketts Landing canceled this year.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden: Typically hosts a “free” garden day open to the public; this year, the garden will be closed on July 4.

Ashland Fourth of July Parade: Canceled.

Do you have a fireworks event to add to the list? Please email Colleen at ccurran@richmond.com.


Local
PUBLIC SERVICES EASING OUT OF SHUTDOWN
UPDATED: Post-apocalyptic selections and social distancing; area libraries prioritize health as they reopen

Nearly 1,000 people combined visited the Fairfield and Tuckahoe area libraries Wednesday, the day the Henrico County facilities reopened to the public after a monthslong shutdown designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The patrons who streamed through between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. — 227 to Fairfield and 722 to Tuckahoe — were looking for normalcy and found themselves confronted by a new normal: temperature checks, health screening questions and restrictions on admittance.

Still, it was good to be back.

Fairfield Assistant Circulation Supervisor Andre Somerville participated in and led trainings, meetings and webinars while the Henrico branch was closed, but said he missed being able to physically come in to work.

“Not being in the building definitely was hard for us because we were so used to having that daily interaction with customers,” Somerville said. “People have been very grateful that the library is open again. ... To come back and see a smiling face to welcome them back, especially in a crazy time like this, is a really special thing.”

The Chesterfield County Public Library system reopened ahead of Henrico libraries, with three of its bigger locations opening last week.

The open Chesterfield locations — Central, Meadowdale and North Courthouse — are currently bringing in 35% to 40% of the traffic that they ordinarily do.

The Richmond Public Library will reopen all branches on Monday, July 6, with reduced hours and with safety protocols in place.

Last week, Henrico school nurses took shifts outside of the libraries, checking temperatures and asking whether visitors had experienced any symptoms or been in contact with anyone with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

Facial coverings are mandates, and capacity has been cut by more than half, to 400 people at the Fairfield location and 460 at Tuckahoe.

The county had seen 2,543 confirmed cases of the virus and 141 deaths by week’s end, according to state data.

To encourage social distancing, furniture has been moved to avoid placing seats within 6 feet of each other. In areas where computers are positioned adjacent to each other, every other computer has been disabled.

Dedicated patrons milled through the largely empty Fairfield branch lobby Wednesday morning, perusing the “New Books” section.

Among them was Pat Bruce, a King William County resident on her first visit to Fairfield who said she made the trip because she had run out of books to read at her house.

“The library’s just one of my favorite places,” Bruce said. “It’s a happy place. You can never have too many books, and especially when you have to be at home, you need plenty of books.”

Also located in the quiet lobby was a display cheekily dedicated to apocalyptic literature, ranging from Scott Westerfeld’s 2017 dystopian graphic novel “Spill Zone” to nonfiction books about various historical pandemics. Beyond that, there were resources for job hunting.

The library buildings are sanitized daily, according to Patty Conway, the Henrico system’s community relations coordinator.

Books are not sanitized, but any returned materials are quarantined for three days before they’re returned to the shelf, a standard established by research conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Patrons who pick up but do not check out books are asked to place any books they touched on a special cart, which is also subsequently quarantined.

The Fairfield and Tuckahoe branches were chosen to reopen first because of their locations — Fairfield is closer to the eastern end of the county and Tuckahoe to the west — and because of the buildings’ differences.

While Fairfield opened in October of last year, Tuckahoe has not been remodeled since opening in its present location in 2006. This will allow library personnel to compare the different challenges that arise based on the buildings’ ages.

The branches reopened based on guidance from the county’s transition task force, a group made up of representatives from more than a dozen departments.

The goal of the task force is to ensure consistency between the different government facilities and agencies that are currently reopening, while “following in line with the governor’s phases and ... the recommendations from the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health,” according to Jackson Baynard, Henrico’s chief of emergency management and workplace safety.

Different subgroups were formed to develop guidelines for different elements of reopening, from an IT team to support those who are continuing to telework to a team dedicated to developing signage.

“We didn’t want one agency having one sign and another agency having another sign,” Baynard said. “We wanted to make sure we were very consistent.”

Those signs can be seen throughout the facilities, where they remind visitors to wear face masks and practice social distancing. Seating that would allow visitors to sit less than 6 feet apart is blocked off.

Officials hope the remaining branches will open by the end of July.

The Henrico library system has spent the past several months offering virtual programming, and has been offering curbside pickup since early May.

Curbside pickup was phased in, beginning at the Fairfield and Libbie Mill locations before expanding to three other area libraries, until finally it was being offered at all 10 locations.

In-person library programming is not expected to recommence anytime soon, however. Virtual programming, like storytimes, hosted five times per week by members of the library’s staff over Facebook Live, has been well-attended and well-received.

“Supporting early and emerging literacy is so critical that we knew we needed to provide that even though the doors to our buildings were closed,” Conway said.

The Henrico library system also hosts storytimes for school-age children, book discussion groups for adults and teenagers, and a comic club for fourth- to sixth-graders. Its summer reading program, dubbed the One Henrico Reading Challenge, is also underway.

These digital programs will continue “until we have solidified a plan for in-house programming,” said Conway, adding that there may be a period in which the library is hosting both in-house and virtual programming. “We want to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the public and public health.”

This article has been updated to include information about the Richmond Public Library's reopening plans.


National
AP
A 'tipping point': Liberty University rattled by its own racial reckoning

As the nation wrestles with racial equality, Liberty University — a school whose leadership has said it doesn’t have a problem — is facing its own tough questions.

Jerry Falwell Jr., who leads the prominent evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, apologized this month after posting a tweet invoking the blackface scandal that engulfed Virginia’s governor last year.

But Falwell’s rare show of contrition, which followed a rebuke from nearly three dozen Black alumni of Liberty, has left many African American students, alumni and staff unconvinced of his interest in helping the school live up to its promises about diversity.

At least four Black staff members at Liberty have resigned since Falwell’s tweet, several high-profile Black student-athletes have announced transfer plans, and current and former students as well as employees have become more willing to openly criticize the university’s approach to race and diversity.

That shift comes as institutions across the country are grappling with the stain of racism and as internal documents show that the university’s share of on-campus Black students has fallen.

“Knowing what I know, and seeing how the university has been run and even now continues to operate, it is clear that Jerry doesn’t even begin to comprehend what it means to be truly apologetic,” said one resigned staffer, former director of diversity retention LeeQuan McLaurin.

While pushback against Falwell has simmered since his 2016 endorsement of President Donald Trump, his detractors have been an outspoken but undersized presence in Lynchburg, where Liberty has a formidable economic footprint.

Indeed, McLaurin and other disheartened Black alumni have limited power to force change. Falwell was endorsed after his apology by the school’s board of trustees in a June 8 release that touted the school as a home for “students and staff of all races!”

But interviews with more than a dozen current and former students and employees point to significant doubt that the school’s culture is as welcoming as it claims.

Keyvon Scott, who resigned as an online admissions counselor after Falwell’s tweet, said that “if he’s serious, he needs to make a change, not just put it” on social media.

Falwell’s May 27 tweet, aimed at Gov. Ralph Northam’s mask mandate, included a picture of a mask bearing a photo of a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. That photo appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page and, when made public last year, sparked a furor that nearly forced Northam from office.

Falwell initially defended the tweet as a response to Northam’s proposed cuts to online tuition assistance. In a June 8 video interview about his apology, Falwell said: “When I was swinging at the governor, I inadvertently hit some people that love me ... the Liberty African American community.”

The late evangelist and Moral Majority leader the Rev. Jerry Falwell founded Liberty in 1971 with just 154 students. Under the leadership of his namesake, who is an attorney and not a minister, Liberty has grown into a leading evangelical university, with an immaculate campus and a $1.6 billion endowment.

The school, which declined to comment for this story, announced this year that it had surpassed 100,000 students enrolled in its online programs. But Liberty’s reckoning over race comes as its share of on-campus Black students has declined in recent years. Internal documents obtained by the AP show that Black students made up 5% of Liberty’s resident undergraduates last year, down from 13% in 2007.

The 35 Black alumni who wrote to Falwell criticizing his rhetoric have sought a meeting to discuss further changes. McLaurin proposed the selection of someone without financial or political ties to Liberty to execute a strategic plan for “diversity, equity, inclusion and access.” An online fundraiser he launched to aid Liberty employees and teachers “suffering from racial trauma” has raised more than $18,000.

Maina Mwaura, a Liberty graduate who helped organize the alumni letter, said Falwell’s initial apology gave him “a little bit of hope” that the school could be more welcoming — hope that has since faded.

“I cannot recommend this place to anyone who is a marginalized person. Period,” Mwaura said.

He lauded students and former staff who spoke out, which he said amounts to “a big deal within the evangelical body of Christ, because Liberty’s tentacles are so far-reaching.”

At least four student-athletes have announced plans to transfer out of Liberty since Falwell’s tweet.

Basketball player Asia Todd, who is Black, shared her decision in a video that identified “racial insensitivities shown within the leadership and culture” of the school. Football players Tayvion Land and Kei’Trel Clark, who are also Black, shared their transfer plans in social media posts with a Black Lives Matter hashtag. Land was among the school’s highest-rated football recruits. Another player, Waylen Cozad, announced his decision without explanation.

Liberty’s provost told local news station WSET that the school had terminated a professor whose behavior contributed to Land and Clark’s transfer decisions.

The athletes aren’t alone among the disappointed.

“It’s a personal regret of mine, getting my degree from here now,” said Liberty senior Janea Berkley, a leader at the school’s Black Christian Student Association. “I would never want to give my money to a place that didn’t support me.”

Thomas Starchia, who resigned as an associate director in the school’s office of spiritual development, said Liberty students and staff made good-faith efforts to promote diversity, but Falwell’s tweet was a “tipping point.”

Acknowledgment of Liberty’s difficulties engaging on race isn’t limited to staffers and alumni of color. Recent graduate Calum Best said “there is no serious conversation about it.”

“Many Christians are plenty happy to have hard conversations about issues they care about, like abortion, like homosexuality,” said Best, who is white. “For whatever reason, racism is a thing they don’t want to talk about. It’s a personal heart issue to them, something to be prayed over.”


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Local
Free rides on GRTC buses to continue indefinitely under adopted 2020-2021 budget

GRTC bus fares will remain indefinitely suspended — potentially for another 12 months — under the transit agency’s adopted budget for the fiscal year that begins Wednesday.

The decision to forgo revenue collection is intended to keep bus operators and passengers safe by making commuters enter through the rear of the bus and bypass ticket vending machines and fare boxes that would otherwise pose a risk for transmitting the coronavirus.

“It doesn’t make sense to put fares back until I’m confident that we can maintain the health and safety of our operators,” said GRTC CEO Julie Timm. “We don’t know when COVID-19 is going to go away.”

Despite losing $1.7 million after suspending fare collection in mid-March in response to the pandemic, the adopted $73.9 million budget for the next year is $20.1 million larger than the current year’s.

The agency is increasing its budget to make sure buses are cleaned more frequently.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March, 14 of the agency’s employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

A $32 million grant from the federal CARES Act covers much of the enlarged expenditures in the upcoming budget year. (GRTC allocated $3.6 million from the aid package to cover lost revenue and increased expenditures over the past three months.)

A new regional transit funding model approved by the General Assembly this year also creates a revenue stream for the agency through sales and wholesale gas taxes collected from localities in the Richmond area.

The new funding is expected to amount to $10 million next year, but GRTC is holding those funds until a new regional transportation authority is formed.

Another $3.6 million from the federal aid package will also be held in emergency reserve in case the pandemic worsens.

Transportation policy analysts said many transit agencies around the country are temporarily moving toward free service during the pandemic for the same reasons as GRTC.

Joe McAndrew, an analyst for the Greater Washington Partnership, said transit systems that do not have touchless methods for paying fares are suspending them to reduce the risk of transmission.

“In the near term, most bus systems in the U.S. are running fare-free,” he said. “I believe the trend will be that most agencies will continue to do that as long as there isn’t an ability to pay at the back door.”

Timm said another consideration for continuing to operate without collecting fares is the economic fallout of the pandemic.

With ridership having declined by only 20% in recent months compared to the same period last year, many commuters are still relying on public transit to get to work. What’s more, 54% of GRTC’s passengers have a household income below $25,000, according to the transit agency.

“From what I’m hearing, most people are predicting that the economy will recover slowly,” she said. “So even when it’s more manageable, we’ll still need to think about people who need public transit to get back on their feet.”

Prior to the pandemic, there were some conversations among GRTC leadership about adopting a zero-fare model after Kansas City moved to it this year. Both Timm and McAndrew said the extended suspension of fare collection could lead to more robust discussions about how that might possible in Richmond.

McAndrew said a question transit agencies would need to answer in those discussions is whether it’s worth the cost of increased fare enforcement to make up for lost revenue from fare evasion.

It’s possible, he said, that investing more to make public transit free could lead to increased ridership and economic benefits for the community by improving access to jobs, health care and commercial centers.

“I would imagine there’s more transit agencies that go to free transit permanently,” he said. “The question is how broadly and quickly do they move in that direction.”

Timm said the idea is ultimately in improving social equity, and that it will be discussed when GRTC’s directors and other local leaders consider when fares should be reintroduced.

“I think it’s a critical conversation for this region as we define who we are and what this community stands for,” she said.

That is not to say transit service is sure to become free. If relief funds dry up faster than expected, GRTC may need to collect fares again soon, Timm said.

And beyond the next year, the pending creation of a new regional transit authority will lead to discussions about expanding bus routes and purchasing larger buses to meet growing ridership.

The GRTC board will meet again next month to review the proposed capital budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Adoption of that budget is expected to happen in August.