CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – One brick at a time.

Ronald Whitehead, 51, using skills passed from generation to generation, understands the importance of having a strong foundation.

On June 8, 2021, Whitehead installed the first brick in his journey to build civic involvement.

At the age of 50, he voted for the first time on Primary Day, which happened to be his birthday. His rights were restored shortly after the completion of a three-year prison sentence for non-violent crimes that were related to his history of substance abuse.

(WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

“For the first time, it was awesome, it was amazing because I felt like I really made a difference,” said Whitehead, who meets with young people in his community to encourage them to become business owners who vote and participate in the civic process.

Former Gov. Ralph Northam granted Whitehead the right to vote, serve in public office and serve as a notary public.

For the past 10 years, under Democratic and Republican administrations, governors in Virginia have righted some of the wrongs of mass incarceration by expediting the process to restore the rights of convicted felons.

But in a move that was unannounced, Republican, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has slowed down the process by requiring felons to apply for restoration.

In a letter sent to State Sen. Lionell Spruill (D) earlier this month, Kay Cole James, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, explained that the state will research each application and provide further information that will be used in the consideration process.

Regina Mobley: Is this Jim Crow 2.0?

Spruill: Yes it is Jim Crow 2.0. I believe he’s trying to set us back, especially those of my particular race.

Spruill responded to the letter from the Secretary of the Commonwealth to ask for details but he said the response was been insufficient.

“When did you do it? Why did you do it? What are the criteria? They have not answered that yet,” Spruill said.

(WAVY Photo – Regina Mobley)

Whitehead and the state senator say the Youngkin policy is unjustified.

“The governor has made a terrible mistake, but I’m hoping to meet with him at the veto session and ask him to reconsider,” Spruill said.

James also wrote that a roundtable discussion will be held in April where advocates can learn more about the new process.

Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, said he is practicing grace and ensuring public safety.

“The Governor firmly believes in the importance of second chances for Virginians who have made mistakes but are working to move forward as active members of our citizenry,” Porter said. “The Constitution places the responsibility to consider Virginians for restoration in the hands of the Governor alone, and he does not take this lightly. 

“Restoration of rights are assessed on an individual basis according to the law and take into consideration the unique elements of each situation, practicing grace for those who need it and ensuring public safety for our community and families. The Department of Corrections and the Secretary of the Commonwealth work with the appropriate agencies to restore an individual’s rights.”

Spruill said the public safety angle is nothing more than a racist trope from a man with presidential aspirations. In a recent town hall event on CNN, when asked whether he will seek the Republican nomination for president, Youngkin told a live audience he is focusing on his current job.