VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Following weeks of protests over racial inequality and separate incidents of violence at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, business, faith and civic leaders have come together to form a new initiative aimed at changing the tide.
“Listen, Learn, Love VB,” will “fast-track the diversity and inclusion conversation,” according to a release sent out by the group. Their ultimate goal is to rebrand the City of Virginia Beach as a “Sanctuary for Human Rights.”
The 2019 Something in the Water festival helped flip the dynamic of what had previously been a weekend with a negative connotation in the community. For years College Beach Weekend brought thousands of students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to the Oceanfront, where they were met with a heavy police presence because of a history of violent incidents.
“How do we get that Something in the Water type of feeling that said ‘we understand our city has a unique history but we try to put that to rest, put that to bed,’ said Councilman Aaron Rouse, one of the founding members, about the purpose of the group during a council meeting Tuesday. “We are open, we are inclusive, we are a city that values everyone. That values black lives.”
The group hopes to eventually hold live events and encourages businesses to lead the way in creating inclusionary spaces to “engage the gap in racial/civil disparities, economically and
“Virginia Beach needs to lead in this conversation,” said Richard Maddox, who owns several Dairy Queen businesses in town. “We’ve ignored this for too long and we want to stand up and be the strong loud voice our city needs to be. We are asking the entire business community, civic organizations and residents of Virginia Beach to join this conversation.”
There is a focus on acknowledging the pain black citizens in Virginia Beach are feeling and a commitment to do better.
“Demonstrate to the world that Virginia Beach understands how to care for its people and visitors,” the release said.
“To listen to what my family has been through, my experience … you can’t understand or learn until you actually listen,” said Jaketa Thompson, a public relations professional who is black.
There is also hope the effort can cut down on the violence seen at the Oceanfront. While police have beefed up patrols, if successful, Listen, Learn, Love will also play a roll in keeping the community safe.
“Strong communities … could make police obsolete,” said Jim Cervera, the former Virginia Beach police chief. “In other words the stronger the community, the more the community works towards public safety … the better things are for the police.”
The founding members also include Councilman Guy Tower (Beach District); Robby Wells, executive producer of Something in the Water; Donna MacMillan Whitaker and Mike Culpepper, managing partners of Venture Realty Group; Mariah and Mike Standing, owners of Watermans Restaurant; Laura Habr, owner of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro; Monique Adams, executive director of 757 Angels; Nneka Chiazor with Cox Communications; the Rev. Jason Knight of Mount Olive Baptist Church; Kate Pittman, executive director of the ViBe Creative District and Dr. Amelia Ross- Hammond, a former Virginia Beach Councilwoman.
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