Local partnership aims to hand a child a toy, and in turn, hand the child a chance at a better life


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The pandemic, as it approaches year two, has exposed and exacerbated disparities that have been hiding in plain sight for decades.

Dr. Antipas Harris is the founder and president of the Urban Renewal Center in Norfolk. He is also a former Practical Theology professor at Regent University in Virginia Beach. The URC website chronicles the region’s racist past.

(Photo courtesy: Dr. Antipas Harris)

“We go back to slavery. This region had one of the worst slave patrols in history… We can talk about redlining during Jim Crow or we can talk about the desegregation of schools and the negative impact or the Norfolk 17, the development of the St. Paul’s Quadrant, or we can talk about some of the [current] issues of food insecurity or economic depression in our communities,” said Harris.

Some of the Norfolk 17

Harris is on a mission to bring smiles to young faces that face challenges. He has partnered with The Communities in Schools program which identified 1,200 local children who are in need of additional services to help them survive and thrive.

“There are so many children who are struggling with the emotional challenges coming out of the pandemic; they just want to have fun. They just want to play. For many of them, their families … don’t have the resources,” he said.

He will collect toys Tuesday evening during an After Work Social at New Realm Brewing in Virginia Beach. He will then connect with hundreds of families to hand them toys — and also offer them a hand at escaping a difficult past.

Harris’s escape route starts with the arts. One of his partners is the Baila Fuzion Dance Company.

“There are so many children, African American children in particular, who don’t have access to the arts. There’s so much raw talent… We can re-channel that energy and that talent in a constructive way if we partner with some of the wonderful resources in the arts that we have right here that children don’t have access to, “said Harris.

For more information on The Urban Renewal Center’s programs, send an email to info@theurcnorfolk.com. You can also find information on the Center’s Instagram page: @theurcnorfolk.

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