RICHMOND, Va. — After admitting to wearing blackface and the controversy that followed, the first stop on what was supposed to be Governor Ralph Northam’s listening tour went on without him.
The chapel service at Virginia Union University “Faith, Identity and Social Justice:” commemorated the Richmond 34, a group of VUU students who were arrested after participating in a sit-in at a Richmond department store.
A face missing in the crowd was Gov. Ralph Northam. Yesterday, in a tweet Northam wrote that he wouldn’t come to the event to respect the Student Government Association’s wishes for him to reschedule. Instead of attending, the governor is hosting a breakfast for the Richmond 34 Friday morning at the Executive Mansion.
While the student body didn’t want Northam present, some members of the Richmond 34 did. In a letter, Elizabeth Rice re-invited Northam writing, “I was appalled when I learned that the SGA president of Virginia Union was attempting to speak for the “Richmond 34″ in denying you.”
Rice did address this during the event, saying she wanted to work with the students in the future and respected having their voices heard.
Still, she thinks there’s something to be learned from listening to others.
“I think this would have been a good opportunity to have dialogue and as a teaching tool to many, for the young people at Virginia Union as well as myself to find out where he was, what was he thinking?” Rice added. “My gut feeling is that he deserves a second chance at least to be heard.”
Despite not being there, the governor’s presence was felt. Speakers, primarily graduates of VUU, addressed the blackface controversy numerous times.
“What’s been going on in the state of Virginia has been like a nightmare,” former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones said. “Nobody wants to be known as a state where insensitive racial indiscretions are considered protocol.”
Overall, the message sent inside the chapel was to respect the voices protesting and work to find ways to move forward together.
“After blackfaces are wiped clean, we still have to look eachother face to face,” Dr. Hakim Lucas, the President and CEO of Virginia Union University, said.
Friday afternoon, there will be an expungment hearing at John Marshall Courthouse in Richmond which could get rid of their charges.
“We have criminal records that have been floating around for 58 years,” Rice said.
Rice plans to attend the breakfast tomorrow with the governor. She intends to ask him questions about the rest of his planned events and hopes to bring some questions from the VUU SGA as well.
We have requested more information about the governor’s listening tour, and are still waiting for a comment from the Governor’s office.