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RVA Magazine
RVA Magazine

Richmond, VA

(804) 349-5890

Website

Richmond Free Press
Richmond Free Press

422 E Franklin St
Richmond, VA 23219   Directions

(804) 644-0496

Website

Richmond Times-Dispatch
Richmond Times-Dispatch

300 E Franklin St
Richmond, VA 23219   Directions

(804) 649-6000

Website

Style Weekly
Style Weekly

24 E 3rd St
Richmond, VA 23224   Directions

(804) 358-0825

Website

Week of July 1
07/01/2020 3:00am

ARIES March 21-April 19 Aries author Marge Piercy writes, The people I love the best, jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows. The Aries people I love best will do just that in the coming days. Now is not the right time to wait around passively, lazily hoping that something better will come along. Nor is it prudent to procrastinate or postpone decisions while shopping around for more options or collecting more research. Dive, Aries, dive TAURUS April 20-May 20Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip by Bill Watterson. It features a boy named Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes. In the first panel of one story, Calvin is seated at a school desk looking perplexed as he studies a question on a test, which reads Explain Isaac Newtons First Law of Motion in your own words. In the second panel, Calvin has a broad smile, suddenly imbued with inspiration. In the third panel, he writes his response to the test question: Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork. Chumble spuzz. The fourth panel shows him triumphant and relaxed, proclaiming, I love loopholes. I propose that you use this scenario as your victorious metaphor in the coming weeks, Taurus. Look for loopholes And use them to overcome obstacles and solve riddles.GEMINI May 21-June 20It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves, wrote philosopher and activist Simone Weil. Im hoping that this horoscope of mine can help you avoid that mistake. In the coming weeks and months, you will have a stronger-than-usual need to be seen for who you really areto have your essential nature be appreciated and understood by people you care about. And the best way to make sure that happens is to work hard right now on seeing, appreciating, and understanding yourself.CANCER June 21-July 22 Some readers wish I would write more like Cormac McCarthy or Albert Camus or Raymond Chandler: with spare simplicity. They accuse me of being too lush and exuberant in my prose. They want me to use shorter sentences and fewer adjectives. To them I say: It aint going to happen. I have feelings similar to those of best-selling Cancerian author Oliver Sacks, who the New York Times called, one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century. Sacks once said, I never use one adjective if six seem to me better and, in their cumulative effect, more incisive. I am haunted by the density of reality and try to capture this with thick description. I bring these thoughts to your attention, my fellow Cancerian, because I think its important for you to be your lavish, sumptuous, complex self in the coming weeks. Dont oversimplify yourself or dumb yourself down, either intellectually or emotionally.LEO July 23-Aug. 22Travel writer Paul Theroux has journeyed long distances by train: once from Britain to Japan and back again, and then from Massachusetts to Argentina. He also rode trains during part of his expedition from Cairo to Cape Town. Heres one of his conclusions: It is almost axiomatic that the worst trains take you through magical places. Id like to offer a milder version of that counsel as your metaphor for the coming weeks: The funky, bumpy, rickety influences will bring you the best magic.VIRGO Aug. 23-Sept. 22Philosopher Miguel de Unamuno declared, Everything that exalts and expands consciousness is good, while that which depresses and diminishes it is evil. This idea will be intensely true for and applicable to you in the coming weeks, Virgo. It will be your sacred dutyboth to yourself and to those you care aboutto enlarge your understandings of how the world works and to push your awareness to become more inclusive and empathetic. Whats your vision of paradise-on-earth Now is a good time to have fun imagining it.LIBRA Sept. 23-Oct. 22What do you want to be when you grow up, Libra Whats that you say You firmly believe you are already all grown up I hope not In my vision of your destiny, you will always keep evolving and transforming you will ceaselessly transcend your existing successes and push on to accomplish further breakthroughs and victories. Now would be an excellent time to rededicate yourself to this noble aspiration. I invite you to dream and scheme about three specific wonders and marvels you would like to experience during the next five years.SCORPIO Oct. 23-Nov. 21U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has advice that would serve you well in the coming weeks. She says, Keep a little space in your heart for the improbable. You wont regret it. In accordance with your astrological potentials, Im inclined to amend her statement as follows: Keep a sizable space in your heart for the improbable. Youll be rewarded with catalytic revelations and intriguing opportunities. To attract blessings in abundance, Scorpio, be willing to set aside some of your usual skepticism and urge for control.SAGITTARIUS Nov. 22-Dec. 21Author Malidoma Som lives in the U.S. now, but was born in the West African country of Burkina Faso. He writes, In the culture of my people, the Dagara, we have no word for the supernatural. The closest we come to this concept is Yielbongura, the thing that knowledge cant eat. This word suggests that the life and power of certain things depend upon their resistance to the categorizing knowledge that human beings apply to everything. I bring Soms thoughts to your attention, Sagittarius, because I suspect that in the coming weeks, you will encounter more than the usual number of experiences that knowledge cant eat. They might at times be a bit spooky or confounding, but will mostly be interesting and fun. Im guessing that if you embrace them, they will liberate you from overly literal and materialistic ideas about how the world works. And that will be good for your soul.CAPRICORN Dec. 22-Jan. 19Pioneer Capricorn scientist Isaac Newton is often hailed as one of historys greatest geniuses. I agree that his intellectual capacities were sublime. But his emotional intelligence was sparse and feeble. During the time he taught at Cambridge University, his talks were so affectless and boring that many of his students skipped most of his classes. Ill encourage you to make Newton your anti-role model for the next eight weeks. This time will be favorable for you to increase your mastery of three kinds of intelligence beyond the intellectual kind: feeling, intuition, and collaboration.AQUARIUS Jan. 20-Feb. 18When future writer and Aquarius Charles Dickens was 12 years old, his parents and siblings got incarcerated in a debtors prison. To stay alive and help his family, he took a job working 12 hours a day, six days a week, pasting labels on pots of boot polish in a rotting, rat-infested warehouse. Hard times Yet the experiences he had there later provided him with rich material for the novels that ultimately made him wealthy and beloved. In predicting that you, too, will have future success at capitalizing on difficulty, I dont mean to imply youve endured or will endure anything as harsh as Dickens ordeal. Im just hoping to help you appreciate the motivating power of your challenging experiences.PISCES Feb. 19-March 20Maybe you feel that the ongoing pandemic has inhibited your ability to explore and deepen intimacy to the degree that would like to. But even if thats the case, the coming weeks will provide openings that could soften and remedy your predicament. So be extra receptive and alert to the clues that life reveals to you. And call on your imagination to look for previously unguessed and unexpected ways to reinvent togetherness and tenderness. Lets call the next three weeks your Season of Renewing Rapport.

Orbit of Evil
06/30/2020 12:00am

The new HBO true crime series Ill Be Gone in the Dark should make your television list. With many people stuck indoors, finding new obsessions on television has become its own sport especially considering there is little real sport. True crime fans should be engrossed by HBOs new six-part documentary series, Ill Be Gone in the Dark, which is part murder mystery, part meditation on grieving and part tribute to pioneering true crime blogger and author Michelle McNamara. Based on the gripping book of the same name, the series follows McNamaras hunt for the killer and serial rapist originally known as the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker, or Ear/Ons later dubbed by McNamara as the Golden State Killer. A brutal and calculating criminal, he killed 13 people and raped at least 50 women in California in the 1970s and 80s often physically and mentally torturing his victims in front of their children. Before McNamara became interested in him, he evaded multiple police investigations and was one of the countrys least known serial killers though one of its creepiest. He would call and taunt victims over the phone years after the attacks, and often bound his victims partners face-down, with dinner plates or glasses balanced on their backs, saying if he heard one fall he would kill everyone in the house. His goal was to instill fear and he did so on a wide scale, over many years. Directed by Emmy winner Liz Garbus What Happened, Miss Simone, the series is haunting and artfully done, as well as tempered with human kindness. It chooses not to linger on gruesome details or cheesy re-enactments, instead keeping a healthy focus on the victims, their loved ones, and McNamara, whom one could argue was a victim herself due to her obsession, which led to her downing multiple pills to combat the sleepless nights and groggy days. Tragically, she died in her sleep in 2016, before her book was published and the killer she did so much to illuminate was revealed. Two years ago, a gruff-looking elderly man was tracked down via DNA evidence from a family member who used a public online ancestry-type service you may remember stories about privacy concerns at the time. Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, a former police officer and Navy veteran, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of murder June 29 in a bid to escape the death penalty. However this series is more than just your typical hunt for a psycho who evaded authorities for four decades. In the background is the loving relationship between McNamara and her husband, famous comedian and actor Patton Oswalt. I wouldve asked him questions about it when I interviewed him months ago, but his publicist said the topic was off limits. As with the book, the personal details of McNamaras life add a depth and complexity to her crusade that lift this above the average true crime series. Often when the crime details become too much to handle, we shift gears and learn about McNamaras personal life, her troubled relationship with her mother, or how she felt guilty for not spending enough time with her infant daughter. She did much of her work late at night on her computer as her family slept, but also traveled extensively, chasing down every lead and meeting with detectives, unfailingly earning their trust with her encyclopedic knowledge of the killer. McNamara wouldve made a great journalist: She was a strong writer, fastidious about details and had a classic shoe-leather approach, refusing to be denied while always digging for missed connections. Its as if Ill Be Gone in the Dark is aiming for a new hybrid of crime storytelling, one that focuses not just on the hunt but the traumatic repercussions for all swept into the cruel orbit of unsolved killings, which makes it as impactful in its own way as Truman Capotes classic In Cold Blood. While I would still recommend her classic book over the bittersweet television series, the joy for me in both was in watching a smart and passionate writer find her voice and her calling. Even though her life was cut short at 46, she made an impact and inspired seemingly everyone she met even while chasing demons. Ill Be Gone in the Dark airs Sundays on HBO at 10 p.m.

Guitar Man Gone
06/30/2020 12:00am

An appreciation of a longtime local ax man, Velpo Robertson. Richmond lost another one of its finest musicians recently. Velpo Robertson had been on the music scene in this burg since the mid-60s, when barely in his teens.He always had a solid, no-nonsense approach to his guitar playing. A simple comparison would be to Mike Campbell of Tom Pettys band, not so much for technique as for inhabiting a song and playing the right notes at the precise time: no frills, just fluid lines and an effortless way around the song. Like Campbell, Velpo was a musicians musician, having played with Robbin Thompson, MoDebree, Ray Pittman and many others. I was pleased to share the stage with him on several occasions.A very early memory is of seeing him play guitar in a band when I was in junior high, so he must have been 13 or 14. It seemed that all the guys in school were just learning how to play, and heres this cat a few years younger already gigging, yeah Being novices, we were all envious of the amps and guitars, as well as the talent, and Velpo really had that. Heres a quick glimpse of some of the gigs I saw him play in his bands the Hustlers and Short Cross: Monroe Park in the early 70s: The bass and drums pounded the intro to Baby Please Dont Go and Velpo leaned in with the signature riff, all heavily converging at the edge of a sagging makeshift stage, made to sag even more by the bands and the crowds sweat.The String Factory in 1972: Short Cross had just released the album Arising and did a gig to celebrate to a packed house. The keyboard player wore a cape. The String Factory had already put on shows with Alice Cooper, Glass Harp and the Allman Brothers, among others. Today, the Short Cross LP does not sound dated. Its a solid blues-rock record Velpo was a good singer too and copies of it go for big bucks on eBay. In the late 1960s, at the Sandston Recreation Center: The Hustlers did a killer version of Hush by Deep Purple and Joe South. Purples version was still pretty new and Velpo led the ax attack. The band could also play ballads like To Sir With Love.Velpo was fairly regular when I worked at Plan 9 and Peaches, and wed always chat for a bit. Once, when I asked him what hed been listening to lately, he said classical music. Bravo We exchanged a few favorite composers. Another time, I ran into him when I was going to work and asked if he was there to get the Buffalo Springfield box set that had just come out -- of course, he said yes. Good man. When songwriter Peter Case of the Nerves played at Ashland Coffee and Tea a few years ago, Velpo and drummer Rico Antonelli showed up and sat with a few of us. It was good to see him out, enjoying anothers musical legerdemain, of which he had plenty himself. Antonelli later mentioned that Velpo enjoyed the show immensely and had made a vow to get out more.It can be awkward to tell someone whose talent you genuinely admire that you do. Once when he was poking through albums in Plan 9s basement, I went up to him for the usual quick chat, having decided to tell him how much Id always dug his guitar playing. Remembering that Velpo had had some heart issues over the years, I thought Id better tell him now or I might some day regret it. When a friend informed me of Velpos passing, that basement moment came hurtling back, which made me doubly glad of having told him how much his playing meant to a fellow musician.

Black Fire
06/30/2020 12:00am

Richmonds pioneer of African liberation music provides a new soundtrack to another revolutionary summer. Every night, rain or shine, at precisely 7 oclock during this lockdown season, James Plunky Branch performs on his front porch in the 2200 block of Rosewood Avenue in Byrd Park.Sometimes he plays his tenor sax, sometimes the soprano. The set includes originals and covers, instrumentals and vocals, jazz standards and popular tunes. Recently, on one perfect night, young parents socially distance in the grassy median while their kids alternately dance and play. It is precisely the sort of thing you would want to happen if you lived in a neighborhood with a famed musician in your midst.One of the songs is Herbie Hancocks iconic Maiden Voyage, a quiet recognition of the demonstrators a quarter-mile away who are working up to launching a statue of Christopher Columbus into nearby Fountain Lake. A half-century earlier, Branch might have been with them.The musician once operated the radicals switchboard during the 1968 student takeover of Columbia University, an opening battle in the Vietnam protests. Already steeped in rhythm and blues, he found a new muse in African music while on the run as an AWOL fugitive in the Summer of Love-era, Haight-Ashbury counterculture of San Francisco. He would build his pioneering, idiosyncratic career on the unifying foundation of the oneness of the blues, free jazz, R&B and African music. Branch played a pivotal role in helping define Washingtons go-go music genre. Hip-hop greats J. Cole and J. Dilla have sampled him and when Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman wailed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the Roots played Branchs 1975 hit African Rhythms. His memoir, Plunky, documents his journey as an artist, activist and businessman with poetry, surprise and self-deprecating humor.Long a pillar on the Richmond scene, Branch is going through something of a renaissance this summer. The British record label Strut is releasing his Oneness of Juju compilation, African Rhythms 1970-82, on July 17 and several songs are on a Black Fire compilation due out in mid-August. There are plans to follow up with individual albums in 2021, a documentary about the Richmond Folk Festival concert and a comedy screenplay based on his travels in Africa, a kind of reverse Coming to America. Branchs 40th annual summer Dogwood Dell concert, also scheduled for July 17, will now be streamed online, though details remain undetermined. But in this moment on the front porch, as children play nearby, decades of joy and struggle are rendered into the polished melodies flowing out of his instrument and into a cooling evening, the sun glittering golden through the trees. Branch left segregated Richmond in the 1960s with a scholarship and dreams of becoming a chemist at the South Side DuPont plant near his childhood home. He would return in the mid-70s leading Juju, an Afro-centric free jazz band that dressed in face paint and traditional tribal garb. Guitarist Ras Mel, later a member of great reggae bands such as the Wailers and Awareness Art Ensemble, joined the group in 1975. It was an adventure, traveling up and down the East Coast, crossing paths with other innovators of the era such as Gary Bartz, Jackie McLean, Roy Ayres and Pharaoh Sanders. Civil Rights Movement icon and Black Panther Kwame Ture, formerly Stokely Carmichael, called them his favorite band. It was enlightening, Ras Mel recalls, but it wasnt financially rewarding. Branch knew what he wanted and gave his players the freedom to contribute, but the budgets were threadbare. When they would play at John Coltrane drummer Rashid Alis loft up in New York, or with the Sun Ra Arkestra at a warehouse in Washington, the venue laid out cushions and blankets and the musicians slept on the floor. The experience of camping out with Sun Ra was, literally, priceless: Im rich, Ras Mel says. I just dont have cash.Inspired in part by his time as curator of saxophone legend Ornette Colemans Artist House Gallery in New York, Branchs activities quickly expanded beyond performance. He formed the foundation, Branches of the Arts, to support creative Black initiatives. That organizations most visible legacy is the Richmond Jazz Society, now entering its fifth decade.We were one of the branches and we give Plunky all the kudos, says Richmond Jazz Society secretary Beverly B.J. Brown. He was the one who put an article in the newspaper back in 1979 asking if anyone wanted to start a support group for the music. Promoters were reluctant to bring jazz artists here because people were not showing up. The core group that met in Branchs living room is still going strong 41 years later. He showed us how to be a proactive, 501 c 3, nonprofit organization. He taught us how to write grants, how to present music, to get the sound right, to be advocates for the artists. Brown compares Branch to legendary jazz drummer Art Blakey, whose bands were an incubator for up-and-coming talent, including Wayne Shorter and the Marsalis brothers. I am so happy to see young people discovering him today, to see his music being sampled, or played by the Roots on The Tonight Show. That is a real bright moment, Brown says. And he deserves it all.Branch has had a ringside seat as the city has changed over the decades from the racism of massive resistance to coming to terms with the remaining Confederate statues. The most pronounced change is how progressive it has become, he says. Credit is due to organizations like the Jazz Society and the Elegba Folklore Society. But a lot of it is because of VCU graduating cadre of visual artists and jazz musicians out onto the streets. Branch cites longtime School of the Arts Dean Murry N. DePillars leadership, championing the adventurous and the avant-garde, as playing a pivotal role in making Richmond an arts town.In the 40s and 50s, a young musician would learn by getting the chance to sit in with the masters. In my era, records from giants like Charlie Parker or Miles Davis played an extreme part in learning the vernacular. It was an aural tradition, listening to learn. Some people would take a 33 rpm record and slow it down to 16 rpm, just to hear exactly what was going on.He notes that this is very different from Virginia Commonwealth University, Berkeley or Julliard, where a course of study breaks down and codifies the learning. The good is that you can turn out an army of proficient musicians with lots of information and highly-trained muscle memory. But the downside is standardization, the discipline of learning technique perfected by others. I reversed that method, Branch explains. I started with finding my own voice and then working back to the greats. Like a baby, I had to speak my own language before I could learn yours. It earned me some points. People sat up and took notice because we werent trying to sound like everyone else. It didnt earn me any gold record or million fans, but what came out of the bell of my horn was mine.In the stereotypical separation of town and gown, Branch and the VCU music program seldom intersected. When the jazz department went to South Africa to scout its 2012 exchange program with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, it met the saxophonists late-60s San Francisco bandmate and mentor, Ndikho Xaba. You have to know Plunky and how important hes been, Xaba told them when he heard the visiting students were from Richmond. Branch still jokes about it: They only had to go 8,000 miles to get a reference on someone who lives three minutes away.Branch dismisses the idea that the resurgence of interest in his past music marks a late-career victory lap. Hes not finished running yet. If there is one windmill I tilt against, the saxophonist says, it is the idea that I am done. I have a long past, but I am as contemporary as any person. I am creating daily content, streaming from the porch, thinking of releasing two live albums. That is the glory and the dilemma of a long career. This is the second go-round for African Rhythms, but if someone asks me about it, I pivot to the more recent albums.One upside of modest fame is that your art can continue to grow, unimpeded. Success can be a trap. That is the great conundrum, Branch says. If you want to sell out a 20,000-seat stadium, you dont do it sounding totally new. People are there to hear what they have heard before. If you are Frankie Beverley and Maze, you are going to play Before I Let Go, or people will feel cheated. Thats what they like and its the price that you pay.Hes resilient, says fellow saxophonist James Saxsmo Gates, who viewed Branch as a supporter since having him as a long-term substitute band director at Richmonds John F. Kennedy now Armstrong High School in 1977. He just keeps on ticking. And there is such purity in his music.The two saxophonists have seldom shared a stage, but theyve bonded as highly competitive tennis players. A lot of times, its not just what someone plays that matters but the wisdom they impart, Gates says. He taught me about business, how to maintain yourself as a solo artist. Plunky gave me the opportunity to be involved in the Virginia Commission of the Arts, first as an artist and then on the board. He will call or text and ask, Has anything happened Is there anything you need me to do Anything to help you in your own journey. Its a blessing. You dont even have to ask.One point of difference: Gates, channeling the attitudes of generations of Richmond jazz musicians, bridles at being dismissed as local. Branch sees it differently. I understand his point, but things have changed. Now you can stream and broadcast. Someone can do something from their living room and blow up to be an international star.If I had to write what my formula was, it is for me to be intensely local and intensely international, Branch continues. National U.S. promotion, without a major label or marketing budget, is prohibitive because of the scale it takes to distribute and the money to promote. So, I concentrate on Richmond to D.C., and at the same time on London, Paris, Germany and Japan.As for the young protesters who are once again changing the face of the city, the youthful septuagenarian readily admits he was once them.This feels like a continuation of the same cycle. I was on the campus during the 1968 student takeover at Columbia University when the police came in on their horses to break it up. I was in Chicago two weeks after the riots at the Democratic Convention, he says.It feels like there is progress in the diversity of the crowd. Maybe there is finally enough empathy to bring new insight into an old problem. But you have to keep it specific, and thats hard when there are so many other issues: the climate, LGBTQ, DACA and now the pandemic as a new frontier. Society makes these lurches forward, followed by backsliding.One thing missing in this reborn civil rights movement are the spirituals and folk anthems that united the marches of the 60s and 70s. It is a crucial silence that Branch is more than willing to fill. He played several concerts on Juneteenth and is working on a plan to play at the Confederate statues. Given that the New York Times, on June 17, named his African Rhythms one of 15 essential African liberation jazz tracks, his music may be a perfect addition to a soundtrack to close a half-century loop. Until then, there is the daily discipline of the front porch. On weekends he often has a full band, but most nights it is just Branch with his horn and a bit of prerecorded accompaniment. Glorified karaoke, he jokes. But the music is streaming on the internet and reaching an invisible, international audience in the vast, virtual neighborhood. Whatever happens next, Branch has been preparing his whole life to handle it. Im happy that my music is finding its place, he says. And I am looking forward more than back.

Where the Dream Lives
06/30/2020 12:00am

Grassroots organizations and farmers have spent years fighting for food justice. Arthur Burtons family has owned the plot of land off of Jefferson Davis Highway for more than a century. Its smaller now than it was 124 years ago just 2 acres of garden beds trickling off into dense woods. Cars roar by during rush hour and half a mile down the road a barbecue joint is filling up with early evening diners.Burtons fecund gardens are part of a small network of growing spaces managed by the nonprofit Richmond Food Justice Alliance. Founded in fall 2017 by Omari Al-Qadaffi, the organization looks to residents living in underserved communities to guide its programming. Theyre the subject matter experts, coordinator V. Lynn says.Food access or lack thereof has long been an issue for both rural and urban dwellers who live in these communities, oft forsaken or purposefully segregated from the more affluent parts of a city.But in the past few months, food justice has been a trending topic, with alleged advocates and allies tossing the phrase around like a hot potato. Between the pandemic bringing to light holes in our nations food systems and current racial unrest setting said gaps ablaze, do-gooders have latched onto the idea of exposing deeply rooted food inequities across the country.But how does one turn performative allyship into tangible action How can people turn for you into with youYou know, OK thats great, says alliance member Steven Casanova about the current energy hes seeing from folks around the city. But weve been talking about this for generations. You want to listen now OK, lets plan for future generations.A large part of that planning is policy on Wednesday, the Virginia Food Access Investment Program and Fund goes into effect. The law was sponsored by Del. Delores McQuinn and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who held a virtual town hall with a number of professional panelists and an appearance by Gov. Ralph Northam on June 25.Its worth noting no farmers were on the panel.The measure will provide funding for the construction, rehabilitation, equipment upgrades, or expansion of grocery stores, small food retailers, and innovative food retail projects, defined in the law, in underserved communities. The starting budget is $1.25 million.When I was on City Council, I had no idea how prevalent hunger was in Virginia, McQuinn said during her virtual town hall introduction. I had no idea until a young person knocked on my door asking for food for his family. Why in the richest country in the world are there still hungry peopleOne in 10 people in Virginia face food insecurity. Approximately 60,547 Richmond residents live in food deserts.The panelists specifically highlighted some of their ideas for just how this $1.25 million will be spent, though its noted that the design guidelines are still being developed. Highlights include expanding retailers that accept food assistance and supporting innovative food models like community-based grocery stores located in food deserts and mobile food sales.Chelsi Bennett, the American Heart Association of Virginia government relations director and a panelist, noted that this measure is a historic first step years, perhaps centuries, of more work needs to be done.The conversations have changed, says panelist Jewel Bronaugh, the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In 2012 we were educating people about food access, now were talking about food access as justice and social reform.As lawyer Bryan Stevenson says, the opposite of poverty isnt wealth its justice. Money is great, but if it lands in the wrong hands, its moot. Thats why the Richmond Food Justice Alliance urges well-meaning denizens to dig in, to look at where their skills are most helpful and applicable.We keep having more food banks and yes thats great, Lynn says. But its like gatekeeping, in a way. Like teaching a man to fish if I have this tool, this knowledge, this land producing all this fruit, and I just shell some out here and there thats an immediate solution. But showing someone how to grow their own food, showing someone its possible, two years down the road a mom in a pinch can say Oh I can use that land out back because someone showed me how to garden.That entrepreneurial spirit isnt free, though you need a teacher, and you need land. Burgeoning agri-enthusiasts in Black communities arent forgoing farming careers by choice. The stern reality is that Black land ownership has always been compromised.Its a difficult situation, says author, educator and longtime civil rights activist Ira Wallace who currently resides in an egalitarian community in central Virginia. Black land loss I think of it in some ways as one of the more obvious and ignored underpinnings of continued generational losses. Black people have been separated in many cases two to three generations from their farming roots.In her book, Rooted in the Earth, Reclaiming the African Environmental Heritage, author Dianne D. Glave explores the complicated relationship between Black bodies and the environment. When Africans were stolen from their homes and forced to labor on American soil, they brought their own knowledge of agriculture and farming techniques with them. They soon possessed more understanding of their environment than their white counterparts, with no claim to that same land.They perpetually bent, shaped and twisted nature, etching out the southern agroecology system, a cash monoculture system of cotton, indigo, sugarcane and tobacco crops, Glave writes.Once slavery was abolished, the Freedmens Bureau supervised sharecropping contracts between former enslaved people and slaveholders. This was an ill-fated collaboration, of course Glave writes, Southern whites loosely interpreted the contracts leaving the Bureau powerless and fleecing the freedmen.By 1900, out of 250,000 Black farmers, fewer than 10,000 were owners and operators. The rest were laborers, tenants and cash renters. In Virginia today, out of 45,000 farmers, only 1,200 are Black. Thats down from 5,000 in 1978, says Orange County farmer Michael Carter Jr. In another 40 years, Black farmers will be extinct.Like Burton, Carters family has owned its land for more than a century. Though he vowed he would not work in ag, here he is, planting vegetables while we chat. He started Carter Family Farms in 2017, specializing in organic specialty ethnic vegetables and herbs mostly from East and West Africa, and the Caribbean.Its safe to say that Carter, who studied agricultural methods in Africa for five years, knows a bit about the industry. But he was not invited to be a panelist for the virtual town hall. There are lots of advocates, Carter says. Not a lot of farmers. And we dont need advocates we need customers.Carters friend and fellow farmer Duron Chavis was also not invited to be a panelist, though he participated in the town hall via Zoom questions and suggestions.We need more talk about resilient food systems, production, distribution, consumption, processing, waste management in order to eliminate lack of access to healthy food and without access to land for small farmers especially black farmers we will continue to do this hamster wheel of access versus addressing racial justice, Chavis wrote.Chavis has long been a Richmond pillar of agricultural knowledge and know-how. His organization Happily Natural Day recently received nonprofit status hes started an online fundraiser for it, with a goal of $150,000 to get it fully funded for a year. Hes raised more than $47,000 in just over a week.The folks Im training, the goal is for them to be able to access land through their farming and gardening efforts, Chavis says. Hes contacting area churches to see if they have any land available, and hes partnered with Farm to Familys Mark Lilly to use his of an acre to turn into a productive farm.Chavis also builds and delivers resiliency gardens to underserved communities his group has built 200 raised beds and counting in the last couple of months. Hes working with Richmond parks and recreation to change policies around urban agriculture so community gardens can sell produce where they grow.Like the Richmond Food Justice Alliance, Chavis hopes that policymakers will defer to the on-the-ground experts as we move forward, harnessing the countrys current energy and good intentions.We need holistic approaches that include farmers, Chavis says. When people talk about food access, for some reason they dont include farmers. The way COVID hit the folks who were able to respond nimbly and adapt quickly were small farmers. CSA programs popped up overnight. Its indicative of how pivotal small farmers are.

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Fourth of July festivities bring a chance to ‘enjoy the summer’ amid COVID-19 concerns
07/04/2020 5:09pm

People are spending the holiday in smaller groups than normal while keeping a distance from others. Those flipping meat on the grill said they are just happy to be outside.

Virginia officials asked for US flag to be removed from Richmond building site
07/04/2020 3:40pm

State officials in Virginia ordered the removal of a large American flag from a construction site ahead of the Fourth of July, calling it a potential target for people protesting racial injustice and police brutality.

Search underway for missing man in Chesterfield County
07/04/2020 3:55pm

Robert Douglas Farrah was reported missing today after leaving a business in the area of Route 1 and Chippenham Parkway. The 63-year-old man is from the 1900 block of Libbie Avenue.

Garage camera catches bear digging through trash bin in Chesterfield driveway
07/04/2020 4:34pm

A Chesterfield woman was in for a shock after she caught video of a bear in her driveway from her garage security camera on Friday evening.

Kanye West says he’s running for president, Elon Musk supports
07/04/2020 8:58pm

Kanye West announced to Twitter Saturday he is running for president of the United States.

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