Samantha Willis headshot
Sourcebook 2016 editor and Richmond magazine online editor, Samantha Willis. (Photo by Rob Hendricks)
Growing up in Hanover County in the ’90s, I saw a subtle type of segregation. Each community — black, white, immigrants, the religious and the unaffiliated — kept mostly to their circle. Even in my high school, everyone knew their place, and they stayed there. “Why are you hanging out with them?” a friend asked in disbelief when I dared to eat lunch with the mostly white, “Goth” girls in the cafeteria. “Turn that stuff off!” another friend cried when I played a CD featuring flamenco music instead of the “black” music that I was, apparently, supposed to be confined to. I remember fights between the self-professed “rednecks” and the black kids on some school mornings when we all should have been learning. This was not so very long ago, but thankfully, I see the tide turning.
No longer is Richmond’s identity confined to “the former capital of the Confederacy,” or “that city” you pass through on the way to larger, brighter Northern or Southern destinations. Richmond is making its own mark on the country.
Our native sons and daughters are among internationally recognized musicians and artists. Our food scene is thriving under the care of chefs who are garnering national press. Our ever-evolving historic neighborhoods are architecturally rich and desirable places to live. Progress in education and public policy might be slow, but it is steady, and Richmonders themselves are fostering an appreciation for the people, foods, arts, ideas and beliefs coming to us from all corners of the globe.
Richmond needed a facelift. We needed to smooth the deep, divisive lines left from a time when acceptance and inclusion were the exception and not the rule, when we clung tightly to an “us vs. them” mentality. We now recognize that “us” includes all of us — gay, straight, black, white or purple, rich, poor, come-heres and born-heres, and countless other labels. Have we completely dealt with the ramifications of our past? Do we live in a totally post-racial, all-accepting, politically correct Richmond? Of course not. We have more work to do, and we might always have more work to do. But all this work is paying off.
So just what does the new face of Richmond look like? It wears the gentle smile of residents from many nations, happy to call the city their new home. It peers over the mighty James River with eyes that have witnessed the civil rights movement and seen one of its own become the first African-American governor in the country. From its mouth, it tells stories of persecution and of progress in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and countless other tongues.
The new face of Richmond looks like you.
It looks like me.
It looks like anyone who comes to the region with hope in their hearts and a determination to leave this place better than they found it.
Welcome to Sourcebook 2016.
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