By Owen FitzGerald and Rosemarie O’Connor
Politicians, journalists, educators, voters — whose responsibility is it to combat racism, and where do they start?
Hundreds gathered in the Virginia Commonwealth University Commons Theater Monday evening to tackle that question. The discussion “Blackface, the Scandal and the Media: A Discussion about Racism in Virginia,” featured VCU journalism professors and Richmond-area journalists.
“You must do this study of the dead to later study the living,” said Clarence Thomas, an associate professor of journalism at VCU. Thomas and the panelists emphasized the importance of knowing the history behind blackface in the media.
Thomas, who moderated the discussion, was joined on the panel by:
- Jeff South – associate professor of journalism, VCU
- Mechelle Hankerson – reporter, the Virginia Mercury
- Samantha Willis – freelance journalist and editor
- Michael Paul Williams – columnist, Richmond Times-Dispatch
The panel opened with this video from the Huffington Post, “The History of Blackface in America.” The video shows the use of blackface in popular movies, television shows and cartoons even in recent years.
This discussion came after two top Democratic officials admitted to wearing blackface.
Gov. Ralph Northam has been under fire since Feb. 1, when a news organization published a photo from his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical College yearbook. The picture showed two men — one in blackface and the other wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. He initially admitted he was in the photo and apologized.
The next day he denied he was in the photo, but said he had worn shoe polish to darken his face while dressing as Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984. State and national leaders on both sides of the aisle called on Northam to resign.
Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface at a party in 1980. Herring said he dressed as rapper Kurtis Blow, wearing a wig and brown makeup. He apologized for this “one-time occurrence” and said it was a “minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.” Northam and Herring are still in office despite calls for resignations, though far fewer have called for Herring’s resignation.
The Commonwealth Times, VCU’s student-run newspaper, earlier this month published racist photos from Richmond Public Institute and the Medical College of Virginia yearbooks, some pictures as recent as 1989.
Photos showed students wearing blackface, enacting a “slave sale” and displaying violence toward Asian Americans. RPI and the Medical College of Virginia merged to form VCU in 1968.
These events opened old wounds, spotlighting the history of racism and Jim Crow in Virginia.
“Blackface is not and never was intended to be flattering, innocent or complimentary,” Thomas said.
Every panelist expressed concern over the lack of attention paid to the person in KKK robes in Northam’s yearbook picture.
“There aren’t black voices standing up and saying, ‘yes the blackface is bad, but there’s also a man in a KKK robe,’” Hankerson said.
“There aren’t enough minority voices in journalism to guide the needed coverage,” she added, a thought echoed by other panelists.
“There is a certain amount of trauma that comes with viewing these images over and over,” Willis said. “There needs to be sensitivity when covering these stories.”
“Clearly it’s been a failure,” South said, adding that journalists didn’t properly vet Northam while he was running for office.
“The media needs to be more courageous about calling racist behavior racist,” Hankerson said.
South referenced a Halloween costume Northam wore last year depicting James Barbour, a slave owner who served as Virginia’s governor from 1812 to 1814 and said that there was no reaction to it until after the blackface scandal.
Panelists agreed and also pointed to Northam’s role in the recent State Air Pollution Control Board vote to allow Dominion Energy to build a compressor station in Buckingham County for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The decision will impact Union Hill, a predominantly black neighborhood.
Hankerson added that political change “can’t just come from black lawmakers,” saying it wasn’t their sole responsibility.
A key question of the night was posed by Williams — the “why” that perpetuates racism.
“Because it is a benefit to people,” he asked, “how do you get someone to give up an advantage?”
The panel unanimously agreed that education is imperative to combat racism in America. How and when children are educated about racism should be a primary focus if the goal is to enact widespread institutional change.
“The body that we pay attention to is called the stream of information in society. We must pay close attention to the heart,” Thomas said, ”because the heart of the stream of information is truth.
“Protect it from the cancers that might invade it.”
For two weeks, Douglas Freeman students can enter an immersive portal and meet people around the world
It’s long been the stuff of science fiction: step into a portal and be instantly transported to the other side of the globe. And while students at Douglas S. Freeman High School won’t technically be leaving their Three Chopt Road campus, a new student-driven project might give them the next best thing.
It’s long been the stuff of science fiction: step into a portal and be instantly transported to the other side of the globe. And while students at Douglas S. Freeman High School won’t technically be leaving their Three Chopt Road campus, a new student-driven project might give them the next best thing. From Feb. 17 to March 1, students at the school will be able to step into an immersive, audio-visual chamber and interact with residents of Afghanistan, Uganda and other places far from Henrico County.
The Douglas Freeman portal is constructed from a repurposed steel shipping container, painted gold. It and similar portals are dimly lit and include a floor-to-ceiling screen, giving people at each location the illusion of being in the same room. The portal will sit at the front of campus, where the HCPS Technology and Facilities departments have run power and internet lines.
The portal, one of more than 60 worldwide, is the creation of Shared_Studios of Brooklyn, NY. Douglas Freeman students proposed bringing one of the portals to campus, and funding from the Henrico Education Foundation made it happen. The Foundation supports innovative teaching and learning in Henrico’s 72 schools and program centers.
“One of our roles as a school is to expose students to new ideas and different ways of thinking — to broaden their view of the world,” said John Marshall, Douglas Freeman principal. “The school’s diversity is a strength in this regard, and embracing that is one of our core values. The portal gives us the chance to do this at an even greater scope. It highlights the fact that we’re creating global citizens who learn much more than just facts and content during their time at DSF.”
Douglas Freeman is the first public school in Virginia to host a portal. Teachers plan to use the portal to add a new dimension to coursework. For example, Freeman students studying art, geometry and Spanish plan to talk with street artists using a portal in Mexico City, who use ratios in their designs. Photography students hope to learn from artists in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, who use that medium to tell their stories.
The public is invited to use the portal on two successive weekends to interact with people in other nations:
- Feb. 22 (9-11 a.m. with Herat, Afghanistan; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. with Mexico City)
- Feb. 23 (Noon-2 p.m. with an Erbil, Iraq camp for displaced persons)
- Feb. 29 (10-11:30 a.m. with Lagos, Nigeria; Noon-2 p.m. with El Progreso, Honduras)
- March 1 (Noon-2 p.m. with Kigali, Rwanda)
Find out more about the Douglas Freeman portal at freemanportal.org. A short video produced by Shared_Studios explains more about the project below.
The portal project is an example of the concepts laid out in the Henrico Learner Profile, the school division’s framework for the skills students need and how they can best attain them. It uses many concepts included in the Henrico Learner Profile, including global citizenship and the idea that learning should be student-owned, authentic, connected and take place anytime and anywhere.
Vaping is a growing problem in high schools, and HCPS is addressing it with a new workshop
At least one in 10 Henrico County young people have reported using an e-cigarette or vaping device, according to nonprofit advocacy group Henrico Too Smart 2 Start — and the popularity of vaping is increasing.
At least one in 10 Henrico County young people have reported using an e-cigarette or vaping device, according to nonprofit advocacy group Henrico Too Smart 2 Start — and the popularity of vaping is increasing. Register for Henrico County Public Schools’ Feb. 27 Vaping Prevention Workshop and get the facts about vaping from experts.
Find out what you can do to educate young people about the realities and health risks of vaping. Get resources and learn tips on how to talk about tobacco use. The workshop will feature representatives of the American Heart Association, the Virginia Department of Health Tobacco Control Program and Henrico Too Smart 2 Start.
It will be held on February 27th from 6:30 – 8:00 PM at the Varina Area Library at 1875 New Market Road.
The workshop is part of Henrico County Public Schools’ Family Learning Series. The series is presented by Henrico Schools’ Department of Family and Community Engagement. Workshops are held at public libraries and school facilities across Henrico County. To register for the vaping workshop, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-652-3787. Teachers who attend will earn recertification points.
For details on the sessions, go to henricoschools.us and look under “Hot Topics” or go to https://henricoschools.us/family-learning-series-winter-spring-2020/.
The schedule is as follows:
- “Vaping Prevention Parent and Guardian Workshop” (Feb. 27 from 6:30-8 p.m.)
Varina Area Library, 1875 New Market Road, Henrico, Va. 23231
- “IEP 1, 2, 3!” (March 11 from 6:30-8 p.m.; sessions in English and Spanish)
Center for Global Citizenship at J.R. Tucker High School, 2910 Parham Road, Henrico, Va. 23294
- “LGBTQ+: Everyone Needs an Ally” (March 18 from 6:30-8 p.m.)
J.R. Tucker High School library, 2910 Parham Road, Henrico, Va. 23294
- “Raising Children: Parents, Where is Your Village?” (March 25 from 6:30-8 p.m.)
Fairfield Area Library, 1401 N. Laburnum Ave., Henrico, Va. 23223
- “Quality Time: How to Fit It In” (April 8 from 12:30-1 p.m.)
Online class (for information and a link to the workshop, email email@example.com)
- “Homework Help! Supporting Student Success” (April 22 from 6:30-8 p.m.)
Libbie Mill Library, 2100 Libbie Lake East St., Henrico, Va. 23230
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-652-3787.
University of Richmond Museums presents “A Competition in Prose, Poetry, or Images”
The exhibition is the first retrospective of German artist Fritz Ascher, comprising seventy paintings and works on paper, ranging from early academic studies and figural compositions to the artist’s late colorful, mystical landscapes.
The University of Richmond Museums presents Otherness: A Competition in Prose, Poetry or Images on Paper, specifically for high school students and presented in conjunction with the exhibition Fritz Ascher: Expressionist, currently on view at the Harnett Museum of Art. The exhibition is the first retrospective of German artist Fritz Ascher (1893-1970), comprising seventy paintings and works on paper, ranging from early academic studies and figural compositions to the artist’s late colorful, mystical landscapes.
The Fritz Ascher Society invites high school students to submit an essay of up to 500 words, a poem of up to two pages in length, or an artwork on paper (drawing, watercolor, gouache, or collage) that reflects on the theme of “otherness.” Fritz Ascher’s art and/or life will be the inspiration for the submission.
The winners of the competition will receive cash prizes and will be celebrated at an awards ceremony and reception on Monday, May 4, 2020, 6 p.m., at the Modlin Center for the Arts, University of Richmond. The winning entries will be exhibited for the program.
The jurors for the competition are Ori Z. Soltes and Rachel Stern, Fritz Ascher Society, and Richard Waller, Executive Director, University of Richmond Museums. The exhibition and programs are made possible in part with funds from the Louis S. Booth Arts Fund, Allianz Partners, Goethe Institut, and the Fritz Ascher Society.
Send submissions to:
The Fritz Ascher Society
Attention: Rachel Stern
121 Bennett Avenue, Suite 12A
New York, New York 10033
For questions and text submissions: email@example.com
The University Museums offer free tours for high school classes interested in visiting the exhibition. To book a tour, contact Martha Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-287-1258.