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James River Park System has a new Superintendent, Giles Garrison

Giles Garrison was previously an Executive Director for both Groundwork RVA and Storefront for Community Design.

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The new Superintendent of the James River Park System is Giles Garrison. Learn about what makes her tick in own words and in a video from Friends of James River Parks.

Courtesy of Friends of James River Parks

Time vs. Day 1

35 million years ago the James River was formed when a massive asteroid hurtled into what is today the Chesapeake Bay, shooting cracks through the Earth’s crust and forming the topography of our state. Water plumed into the air and cascaded across the land, eventually streaming into a three-hundred-and-forty-mile river that runs from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Virginia, through Richmond, on its way back to the Bay.

15 thousand years ago, mastodon and massive prehistoric beavers roamed the fall line where you and I live. In that time, enormous quadrupeds ruled Richmond’s roost, and humans made their way in tiny nomadic families that survived by their spears and their wits.

416 years ago, two worlds collided when a ragtag group of English colonists found their way to the river’s mouth and sailed into what was then known as the Powhatan River, named for the Chief who maintained a sweeping alliance of diverse Native American societies spanning from the falls East to the Tidewater.

13 years later in 1619 twenty men, the first Africans in British America, stepped from that river onto land at Point Comfort. They were forcibly brought to Virginia by European traders to become the labor in the Giles campingcolony’s brutal plantation economy.

The James River tells the story of the people who lived America’s tumultuous and violent beginning.

What stories does the James tell us today? I bet you have one.

30 years ago, during a winter like this one, my brother and I set out to pull a log out of the James River at Flat Rock, which is what we called the big flat rock under the Nickel Bridge. What I remember is that while we were extremely professional, we quickly were in water up to our waists and our parents decided we had better head home. Stu and I took the log with us, all the way up 42nd Street to our house on Springhill Avenue. My stepdad made us each Honorary River Rat Club certificates which we hung on the kitchen wall.

The James River Park System is many things to Richmond, and it has been many things to me. My favorite time of year is when the paw paws turn yellow and seem to hover in the air over the Buttermilk Trail, making you feel transported to a magical place. Sometimes when I walk along parts of the Pipeline or the trails at Ancarrows Landing, I feel the hauntedness of the James River, the experience of acute loss that occurred here for Richmond’s African-American forebears. This is a part of our origin story.Giles overlooking the T-Pott bridge

The story continues to unfold. Running the Park’s trails and climbing Manchester Wall have been some of the most joyful times in my life because they happen in a place that is completely unique to Richmond and for all to enjoy. The James River Park System is place where you can lose yourself and find yourself, in company or on your own, always in nature. Today this Park, and all of our parks, are places where reconciliation and reconnection are possible.

When I think of the footsteps I follow on day one of this amazing job, I feel a great sense of humility. Ralph White, a true river spirit in tall white socks, sits among the pantheon of great Richmond leaders this city has seen. Nathan Burrell, superintendent #2, was a hands-on reformer and has long been a role model to me, and I hope will continue to be a mentor. Bryce Wilk, our most recent Superintendent, is a rising star in Richmond’s Parks Department and continues in the role of Manager of Southern District Operations. I’m overjoyed to step into the #4 spot as a Superintendent in this sacred place, and to work with you, Reader, to leave it better than we find it.

I hope we’ll be talking, whether it’s in the Park or in an email. I’d love to hear your river story. You can email me at [email protected] or post a picture on Instagram and tag @rvaparksandrec, @jamesriverpark, and @jrpsrichmond.

Thanks for sharing, happy New Year to you, and be safe out there.

Giles

I’ve been reading The River Where America Began, by Bob Deans.  Most of the history above is drawn from that book, which a great read about the James River and its people over time.

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.

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Local Asian American Society of Central Virginia to host author and artist of new book

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

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The Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASoCV) will host a local author and artist this weekend to present their new book, Portraits of Immigrant Voices, at its 24th annual Asian America Celebration tomorrow.

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

Alfonso Pérez Acosta painted the original portraits while Joe Kutchera wrote the personal histories. The author’s proceeds will benefit Afghan and Asian refugees who have settled in Virginia in a fund set up and managed by The Asian American Society of Central Virginia, a non-profit charitable 501(c)(3) organization.

The event is free and open to the general public. The pair will present the book on stage at 2pm and immediately following, AASoCV will host a book signing at 2:30pm. The book will be on sale for $40 at the event.

The 24th Annual Asian American Celebration features cultural performances, food, hands-on activities, exhibition booths, and merchandise from the Asian American communities in Central Virginia. This year’s theme is “weddings and our heritage.” The Celebration will take place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center at 403 North Third Street, Richmond VA 23219 from 11am to 7pm.

Learn more here.

The introduction to the book follows below:

Stories of Gratitude, Progress, and Manifesting Dreams

By Joe Kutchera

During the fall of 2020, following the George Floyd protests along Richmond’s Monument Avenue, I saw an African American woman wearing a t-shirt with this message in bold letters.

I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.

As a (white) writer, I was stunned at how one sentence could leave me speechless and make me feel such a wide range of emotions. At first, I felt infinitesimally small, humbled by the brutal African American history behind that sentence, reflecting the violence and intimidation that Black Americans experienced during slavery and Jim Crow, which kept them from America’s prosperity. And seconds later, the sentence made me feel incredibly hopeful as it communicated that great progress and change is indeed possible, measured through a multi-generational lens, taking into account the sacrifice and suffering of previous generations. The formerly wild dream of freedom and opportunity is now, we hope, finally possible for African Americans today, though we still have a long way to go to ensure equitable outcomes for all Americans.

Many Americans may know Richmond, Virginia (RVA) for its history as the capital of the Confederacy with its Civil War Museum and the now-removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Confederate generals along Monument Avenue. The ugly history of slavery and the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ permeate so much of the city, but a more complex and hopeful picture of its citizens is emerging.

In decades past, a majority of RVA’s population has been Black, with Whites representing most of the remainder of its population. Yet, a more multicultural, and even international population, is growing out of RVA’s Black and White history. The 2020 Census shows that RVA’s African American population fell below 50%, while its White population increased as a result of gentrification. Blacks appear to have left Richmond City for the suburbs (Henrico and Chesterfield Counties), where the Black population increased. Yet, the Asian and Hispanic/Latino population grew by double digits in Richmond City, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, and the people who selected “some other race” and “two or more races” grew by triple digits. This reflects an increase in children of interracial couples, immigrants from Africa (distinct from African Americans), as well as ‘mestizos,’ or people of mixed races, from Latin America. However small those populations might be now, the growth rates indicate that RVA, like the rest of the country, is becoming much more diverse.

With this in mind, I am grateful to be working with the Asian American Society of Central Virginia in sponsoring the publication of this book. AASoCV represents 18 diverse Asian communities that have stood up against racism and xenophobia, as described by AASoCV’s chair, Julie Laghi, in the foreword. AASoCV provides a perfect example of how people from vastly different language groups can come together to build community and cultural bridges, thereby promoting tolerance and diversity.

AASoCV has enabled me and the team involved behind this book to take this project to the next level, furthering our mission to share immigrant stories and reflect on how they embody the American dream. Tida Tep, the daughter of Pim Bhut, featured on page 70, joins us to visually bring these stories into the printed medium.

Our project initially began in an organic way. In August 2020, around the time that I saw the “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” t-shirt, I received a call from Karla Almendarez-Ramos, who manages the City of Richmond’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement (OIRE). She asked me if I would be interested in and available to write profiles of immigrants as a celebration for National Immigrants’ Day on October 28, 2020. Richmond-based Colombian artist, teacher and muralist, Alfonso Pérez Acosta, had pitched the idea to Karla after crafting his initial computer-drawn portraits.

I immediately told her yes, that I would love to work on the project. I have written about and reflected on the subject of immigrants’ journeys previously, both interviewing recent immigrants and researching my own ancestors immigrating from Eastern Europe to the United States. My wife, Lulu, migrated from Mexico, to join me in Richmond in 2013. And previously, I had migrated to Mexico and the Czech Republic for work, during different chapters of my life. As a result, I also understand the immense challenges that immigrants face when moving to a new country.

National Immigrants’ Day has been celebrated since 1986, but mostly in places like New York City. We wanted to bring this celebration to Richmond, Virginia to highlight the diversity of its community and the variety of languages spoken (in addition to English). With the support of a grant from Virginia Humanities, we unveiled the portraits on October 28th, National Immigrants Day, on RVAStrong.org/portraits and published updates regularly through Thanksgiving, to honor our subject’s themes of gratitude. The exhibit’s social media campaign ran through December 18th, which the United Nations has named International Migrants Day as a testament to humanity’s “will to overcome adversity and live a better life.”

Many of the people we featured came as migrants initially, moving to the U.S. temporarily for work or educational opportunities. While others came as refugees, fleeing war and violence. And still others came here simply because they fell in love with an American! Yet, they all became immigrants when they decided to settle down permanently in the United States.

Each portrait features the subject’s name, country of origin, and language, written in both English and their respective language. To create the color behind each portrait, Alfonso blended all the colors from each subject’s flag of their home country to formulate that single, albeit blended color. For example, the red and white in the Swiss flag become pink behind Dominik Meier’s portrait (on page 62). I wrote personal histories to accompany each portrait to shed light on the challenges of migration and displacement, as well as explore the commonalities of learning to speak English and integrating into American culture. Their stories showcase the incredible creativity and ingenuity of these immigrants in overcoming numerous obstacles in their journey, some of whom have gone on to start companies and obtain graduate degrees.

In speaking with everyone we featured in this book, they have taught me how Richmond is a far more diverse and dynamic city than I ever realized. They truly appreciate America’s freedom, democracy, and the way that their neighbors have accepted them. As a result, I see Richmond and the United States through their eyes. In listening to their stories, I get the sense that they, too, have accomplished their dreams, and in some cases, even their ancestors’ wildest dreams.

“Virginia is for lovers. … But we need to keep that slogan alive,” says Mahmud Chowdhury, originally from Bangladesh (#19 in the series), referring to the state motto of Virginia. “Let’s continue to love each other, be our brother’s keeper and have each other’s back,” says Hannah Adesina, from Nigeria (#17 in the series). Immigrants are here “to demonstrate the best of ourselves, manifest our hopes and dreams,” says Brenda Aroche, from Guatemala (#13 in the series). And Ping Chu from China (#12 in the series) encourages us all in saying, “We need to build up a united country. This is the United States, right?”

The United States has an individualistic culture with an “I” oriented English language. Even though that is the case, the immigrants featured in this book have taught me that when we work together and support one another, WE can become our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

When Chinese New Year celebrations took place on February 1, 2022, the same day that Black History Month began, I learned that 2022 was the year of the tiger. I realized that 2022 couldn’t be a more perfect year for us to launch this book with a symbol of bravery, courage, and strength on our side.

Joe Kutchera is the author of four books and the founder of Latino Link Advisors where he develops digital marketing and content strategies, with an emphasis in reaching the U.S. Hispanic market.

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The Dairy Bar in Scott’s Addition closes after 76 years; Tang & Biscuit to take over with new concept

After over 76 years in business, The Dairy Bar has closed its doors in Scott’s Addition, but new life is planned for the space.

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Photo: The Dairy Bar

After over 76 years in business, The Dairy Bar has closed its doors in Scott’s Addition, but new life is planned for the space. The restaurant, which opened in 1946 as The Curles Neck Place (when owned by Curles Neck Dairy) and was renamed The Dairy Bar in the 1980s, was a mainstay in the constantly-changing neighborhood. It ultimately succumbed to the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, according to a post by owner Corey Martin, who purchased the business from longtime owners Bill and Tricia Webb in 2020:

To our valued patrons:

It is with heavy heart that the Dairy Bar has shut down. It has been somewhat of a Richmond Landmark since 1946. COVID placed a heavy hit on the Dairy Bar and once reopening was allowed the decline in sales along with increase in wages as well as food costs proved to be all but impossible to show a profit for a business with such tight margins. Once we were made aware that the former Landlord had sold the property we were pleased to find that the new buyers were literally business people from Scotts Addition neighborhood [sic]. They worked with us to allow an amicable and smooth transition. We so appreciate having the opportunity of meeting so many wonderful and colorful people both the patrons as well as our dedicated employees

The new owner Martin was speaking of is Stanley Shield Partnership, which bought the building and adjacent properties totaling 1.5 acres earlier this year for $7 million, according to Richmond BizSense. While there are currently no known plans to redevelop the property, the firm has developed nearby mixed-use projects including The Scout on Myers Street.

Neighboring shuffleboard bar Tang & Biscuit, which opened in 2018, announced today it will be taking over the space and plans to create a breakfast and lunch spot with a “funky diner feel” called Biscuits & Gravy.

No word yet on when renovations will take place or when the space will open.

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Dive In For Shark Science This Summer

Learn about Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Baby shark! Mommy shark doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Mommy shark! Daddy shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Daddy shark!

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Sharks are one of the oldest and most successful predators ever to have lived, but their millions of years of existence still haven’t given humans enough time to overcome fears about the misunderstood animal. In a new touring exhibition on display at the Science Museum of Virginia beginning May 28, guests will learn that sharks have more to fear about humans than we do about the fascinating aquatic creatures.

In “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey,” guests will trace millions of years of evolution, come face-to-face with the great white shark, learn the true impact of the shark fin trade and gain a new level of respect for sharks of all shapes and sizes. The exhibition features shark models cast from real animals, a collection of real teeth and jaws, and extremely rare fossils — some up to 370 million years old.

“Often, what we don’t understand, we fear,” said Virginia C. Ellett Director of Education Timshel Purdum. “The fact that sharks are mysterious combined with decades of media hype has made us scared to dive into their underwater world. In this exhibition, guests will see that sharks are majestic, diverse, powerful and supremely adapted for their environment. Most importantly, they will see that humans are the real threat through practices driving dozens of species to the brink of extinction.”

Photo provided by Science Museum of Virginia

Created in Australia by Grande Experiences and an international team of experts in sharks, marine biology and oceanographic cinematography, “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” is the only comprehensive shark experience to tour the world. An immersive walk-through gallery utilizes cinema-quality SENSORY4™ technology and features 45 minutes of incredible high-definition underwater footage of sharks in their natural habitats.

“Learning about jaw-dropping shark adaptations and incredible behaviors will go a long way toward helping guests face their fear,” said Purdum. “We’re celebrating all things shark this summer, and I’m confident our enthusiasm for these amazing animals will not only entertain, but also change perspectives.”

Whether they are filled with fear or fascination, the innovative out-of-water shark experience will have guests hooked from start to finish.

Photo provided by Science Museum of Virginia

To complement the exhibition, the Science Museum is offering ocean-themed demos and educational activities throughout the building and hosting Science After Dark events and Lunch Break Science presentations. In addition, the Science Museum is showing the giant screen film “Great White Shark” in The Dome this summer and is hosting “JARS: Sharks on Loan,” a touring exhibition featuring dozens of shark specimens in jars from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary.

During regular Science Museum operating hours (9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.), admission to “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” is available through a combination ticket that includes access to the exhibition as well regular Science Museum exhibits. Admission is $21 for adults; $18.50 for youth (ages 6 – 12) and seniors (ages 60 and older); and $15 for preschool-aged children (ages 3 – 5). Discounts are available for teachers, military personnel and EBT cardholders. Science Museum members receive free admission to the exhibition. Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets at smv.org.

Not only is the Science Museum reopening seven days a week when “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” debuts, but to give guests even more chances to see the exhibition while it’s in Richmond, the Science Museum is also offering extended hours June 3 through September 2. On Fridays, the Science Museum will remain open until 8 p.m. “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” will be the only experience open after 5 p.m., and admission is only $10 during those evenings.

Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” is on display at the Science Museum through September 5. It was created and produced by Grande Experiences and is generously sponsored locally by Markel and GEICO Philanthropic Foundation. Shark-related summer programming in “The Forge” is sponsored by Brandermill Animal Hospital. Educator-led cart activities this summer are sponsored by The London Company.

Photo provided by Science Museum of Virginia

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