STRAIGHT NO CHASER
Dear Richmond. In my conversations with Mr. Lazarus I feel that I was clear in stating that I became an Enrichmond board member in October of 2017. Once I accepted a position as an employee I was no longer a board member. My position as Community Ambassador began May 2021. The purpose of the article was to inform the public that the city is moving in good faith regarding partner renumeration. Not a forum for litigation or absolution. Yet, the response to that article comes off as an attempt to throw shade at me and my family work. You found documents pertaining to my board membership. However, someone neglected to "discover" documents that show when I became a salaried employee. Most people know you cannot be an employee and a board member at the same time. After working as an electrician's apprentice during covid, it was a joy to work beside other Richmonders on the cemetery grounds. Hosting volunteer groups and working with descendants daily. Our goal was to maintain the work of volunteers. Despite selective photojournalism and secondhand accounts to the contrary, I believe that we were effective. In regards to the critique of “securing an agreement with VOF”. Tell me where in Mr. Lazarus’ article is the implication that I was compensated in any form? Additionally, our family foundation’s ongoing transition doesn’t involve “cemetery maintenance”. My personal work has been that of a volunteer since July of 2022. The contractor used came directly by recommendations from people at Woodland Cemetery. I worked hard to find several options in order to maintain the upper section of Evergreen during the growing season. I’m proud that an excellent licensed Black contractor was found with experience mowing and maintaining grounds around the city. So is it your contention that permission is needed from the Descendants Council to cut the grass? The very grounds that were highlighted by Mr. Palmer’s online photos. Photos that claim to show “shameful overgrowth” were being cut monthly during the growing season under my supervision. Safe and clean access was being maintained with the help of the men Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, Daniel #7 Masonic Lodge, Military Vets from The Mission Continues, and descendants that called me every week. I was not compensated for my time. Nor did I ask to be.
So I can only speculate why a libelous and disparaging claim is being directed to my family's leadership. Leadership that to date has received no public funding. So are you sure you want to suggest backroom dealings even though it appears that your organization previously received a copy of the VOF contract? By throwing shade at me when you know the truth shows that someone in your organization is willing to cross, draw and move the line at their own discretion. I don’t believe this describes the majority of your members. Your charter and intention is both honorable and neccesary to the community. I applaud those that keep the focus on making things better.
As Enrichmond staff were let go I personally reached out to have discussions with both The Friends of East End and friends of mine on the Descendants Council. Through honest conversation, many have been hopeful that all of us can return to the real business at hand. While others recently ignored my online communication and also informed me by text that “...to talk to you again, it will be in a public forum.” Which may refer to my dealings with Enrichmond. But I still remain here to offer help regarding the cemeteries. Which, as stated in the title of my interview, my “determination” supersedes my status as “the last board member”.
It shouldn't be complicated. I’ve seen the great work being done at Woodland Cemetery. Whose CEO and members have been more than helpful to me and my recent efforts. But at this very moment, Woodland is not receiving needed funding because of a campaign of half truths and innuendo directed to halt public and philanthropic funding. Important work that goes beyond the scope of volunteers is being held up because a handful of folk outside of government have taken it upon themselves to act as a self appointed homeowners association for African American cemeteries.
A major part of this division is the strawman concept of “who actually owns or owned” Evergreen and East End Cemetery. The smoke surrounding Enrichmond’s financial woes have no bearing on how any foundation legally handles real estate, insurance liability and civic responsibility. Am I now, by Brian Palmer’s previous accusations, the owner of Evergreen and East End? Of course I am not. Neither was any individual under the now collapsed umbrella of Enrichmond. In my opinion the 2017 ownership transfer of Evergreen from a private owner ro Enrichmond insulted a select few of those involved. But neither side had a handle on what was to come. The nonprofit industrial complex may have had the structure. But the descendants, scholars and volunteers had heart and years of skin in the game. Both concepts were needed for success.
But it wasn't until the trifecta of McQueen, McLellan and McEachan secured small funding for cemetery maintenance that a basic per-grave maintenance plan was even possible. Something the private owners never had. For some, this is where the line was drawn. But valid concerns about ownership and procedure shouldn’t continuously hinder the manual clearing of our sacred grounds.
The animosity exhibited by some in the descendant community unjustly mirrors the righteous anger over slave burial grounds. But as one descendant exclaimed on a zoom meeting, “There are no slaves buried at Evergreen or East End. We buried our own''. I like to say that these cemeteries were “FUBU”. So ask yourself, why are some people determined to equate the disrespectful burying of enslaved people by white supremacists to more than a 100 years of ceremonial burials of African American families in Richmond? Please understand. I know that engagement must become a constant practice. I also acknowledge that some feel that Enrichmond’s descendant engagement wasn’t sufficient. But to say that it never occurred at all is disingenuous. Especially after some decided to boycott those very meetings. Once again, I agree with Mr. Palmer regarding many things. There must be better systems for financial transparency. Public documents behind online paywalls don’t sit well with me either. I also agree that the stewardship structure, owner liability and honoring actual descendants warrant continued open discussion. But while those issues are being worked out, cleaning and infrastructure improvement must continue.. Even if it is at a slower pace. I am confident that the city administration is up to creating a better paradigm in the near future.
The initial article was a report on the current state of the cemeteries and what is going on with partner reimbursement. It is necessary for the public to know that there is movement in actions by myself and the city of Richmond to remunerate the partner groups. Whatever is discovered about the financial fiasco that was Enrichmond it can not be allowed to delay that reimbursement. Nor should it result in Evergreen and East End Cemeteries becoming a forest again. That was the purpose of the article. Not another opportunity for some folks to litigate in the press.
All organized volunteer groups are still welcome. You can connect with me online at www.RichmondPlanet.com or call the permanent phone number for The Cemeteries at Evergreen, (804-402-2940) You can also check www.handsonRVA.org this spring for volunteer opportunities at all of our African American cemeteries.