Go Do This: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the ballet

What it is

I want to say that you’ve definitely heard of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka one of the most popular Shakespearean plays of all time. But who knows! With Betsy DeVos as the head of our educational system, I can’t tell what anyone knows or doesn’t know.

But seriously, though, if you’ve never heard of it, that’s fine. I’ll sum up:

Midsummer is a beautiful play about fairies and humans and kings and queens and mischievous scamps. There’s real love and fake love and plays within plays…it’s really the perfect thing for a pick-me-up during a season of never-ending bad news.

Elena Bello and Fernando Sabino in rehearsal, 2017

The Midsummer BALLET includes the musical stylings of Felix Mendelssohn and the choreography of William Soleau. And this is all well and good, but the really neat thing that Richmond Ballet’s production includes is…narration!


That’s right, humans with voices will be adding the Bard’s gorgeous words overtop of the gorgeous dancing and the gorgeous music (Richmond Symphony in the house!) and the gorgeous costumes. It’s so gorgeous, I may just throw up!

The ballet is always above and beyond expectations when the Symphony’s added to it—there’s something thrilling and just more in-the-moment about the live music, and the dancers seem to be animated by it. And with narration? WILL WE EVER RECOVER?

Who’s Behind It?

My favorite tiny dancers, Richmond Ballet produced this same ballet back in 2008, to much acclaim. (The photos in this piece that feature costumes are from that production.)

I spoke to Valerie Tellmann-Henning, who plays Hermia alongside her real-life boo Kirk Henning. She was, in a word, enthusiastic. “I get to play a lover with my lover!”

Val had a lot to say about the performance of her friend and colleague Elena Bello, who plays Puck. “You can’t even tell if she’s a creature, if she’s a boy or a girl, she just is adorable.” She also loves Fernando Sabino as Oberon (and envies his costume—“He wears a little leotard and a big ol’ cape and he has glitter in his hair, he has to look like something that’s not mortal, so he’s just kind of perfect…you know?”).

Maggie Small and Matt Frain in rehearsal, 2017

You know what, let me just put all of Val’s words here, so you can truly get the sense of her. It’s way better in person than I can do justice with here, but you’ll just have to imagine it.

“Midsummer is hysterical, everyone should really come because it’s hysterical. I do love doing comedy…

“…Helena and Demetrius are Cody and Trevor (also lovers). I get to play Hermia so I’m just the prim and proper and polite Southern little belle [said with sarcasm, in real life, she is more “very funny and straightforward lady”]. And I just run around doting on Lysander, and I just go weak in the knees. Hermia just follows him around and never speaks her mind, just like me. [again, sarcasm. Is there a sarcasm font?] Elena comes out with the magic flower and puts the magic potion in Kirk’s eyes and he falls in love with Cody, and then the real Val comes out and I get all “Get away from my man!” Cody and Trevor are adorable, she just runs after him and he wants nothing to do with her, and then he gets the potion and wakes up and is all about Cody. She is hysterical in this as well.

“Maggie [Small] is Tatania, and she’s stunning, she looks so beautiful. She does a great job of being a queen with all her little fairy minions around her, and she looks great with Fernando as we all know. That chemistry is bangin’. Matt Frain as the donkey, and it’s tutu much, ha ha. He really just goes to a whole new level. He’s got donkey moves down pat. He’s real shy of Tatania at first, but she coerces him to dance and at the end he falls in love with her, of course.”

Val explained to me that there’s a lot of little ticks and nuances in the choreography that help the ethereal folk seem more ethereal, the way the fairies breathe, the way the elves turn their heads. “So the dancing is classical dancing but obviously it’s got these little quirky things added to it, which is fun for the dancers.”

From the 2008 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

There’s a sweet little RB story involved, in that Anthony Oates had been in the 2008 production as a little changeling boy and now is dancing in this production as a grownup elf. The years, they do fly by!

“We have the spirit of glitter in our soul, but after we leave there’s going to be glitter everywhere. I feel sorry for the Carpenter cleanup crew.”

Where it is

The Carpenter Theatre at 600 E. Grace Street.

When it is

This weekend only. February 10 at 7pm, February 11 at 2pm and 7pm, and February 12 at 2pm.

How much it costs

$25 – $125. You can buy tickets online or by calling the box office at (804) 344-0906.

Other things to note

There are various decks around Carpenter, and street parking. The former costs up to $10 and the latter costs nothing. Or, you can take the bus. Or, you can take a cab.

Val tells me this is a very family-friendly show, but I wouldn’t necessarily take kids that are too young. These ballets tend to be fairly long and the shine might wear off after the first hour—that is, unless your kindergartener is a whole lot different than mine.

Shop Ethically and Choose to Do Good in 2017

Change how you approach shopping, and make a commitment that’s much easier than you think (and does more good than you know).

We met Rupa last year when we were working on this story about Fashion Revolution Day, and we’ve shopped 100% ethically ever since. It was so life-changing that we asked her to write up something that might help our readers buy with the same principles they hold close in other areas of life.

Think about the last thing you bought. What were the three factors you considered before purchasing that product?

Got them? Good. Hold on to that thought…

I believe that each of us have impactful purchasing power, and that our choices matter. We are all consumers with an increasing responsibility to purchase thoughtfully and to minimize the harm caused to people and our planet.

The key to making this choice is knowledge. Getting that knowledge takes just a little bit of effort (thank you, Google), but the reward is worth it.

Let’s say, you want to buy a white T-shirt. Easy, right? Most stores carry plain white tees. But what’s the real story behind how each one is made? You can find out in three easy steps by reading the labels, the tags, and researching the brand.

  1. Does your shirt’s label tell you what country it was made in? Probably, and you should care because the country is the starting point of the journey the shirt took to get into your hands. And knowing that will help you start thinking in terms of real people. A person, an actual person in an actual country made that T-shirt.

Different countries have different regulations on manufacturing, and often, clothes are made in countries with the least amount of red tape. In other words, the working conditions many American companies encourage in developing countries to bring us cheap clothing wouldn’t be tolerated in our country. Why tolerate those conditions in others?

  1. Does it tell you how it was made? Maybe. If it says Fair Trade Certified, you know the person who made that garment is being treated with respect and dignity. If it says nothing, then you want to make sure the person who made that tee is not suffering in some way. Working in an unsafe working condition where the building could collapse, getting paid far below a living wage, being underage or separated from their family to make ends meet are just a few examples of sacrifices and suffering endured by the people that make our clothes.

Unfortunately, the apparel industry is plagued with these types of issues, and taking a look at the brand’s Code of Conduct/Ethics page available on their website will give you insight. Make sure the codes are self-enforced and not something to which the brand must adhere. Transparency is the key, and the more detail they give, the better. Brands who have made a commitment to ethical manufacturing are very proud of that fact, so you should have no trouble finding ethical information, if there is any to find. If you’ve been searching on their website and coming up short, that’s not a good sign.

  1. Does the shirt’s label tell you what materials it was made from? This is almost a given, and it tells you a lot. For example, 100% organic cotton is A LOT different than just 100% cotton. If the label says “GOTS certified”, then you know the cotton is chemical-free and the water was properly treated, which creates safe conditions for farm workers. Conventional cotton uses large quantities of insecticides and pesticides, nearby water supplies are often polluted from the dyeing of textiles, and farm workers suffer from serious health problems due to overexposure to chemicals. Get to know your materials, because there is an increasing appetite for sustainable materials that use fewer natural resources and generate lower impact on our environment. If you don’t know the material (or even if you just need a refresher), take a few minutes to educate yourself on how it is made!

Now, let’s go back to the three factors you considered before purchasing your last product. Let’s assume that both cost and quality made your list, or some similar factors. Now, take whatever you had for the third option and replace it with “IMPACT”. Everything we purchase, from toothbrushes to T-shirts, makes a positive or negative impact on the environment and people. I believe that if everyone were given a choice they would always choose to make a positive lasting impact.

Buy within your budget, buy things you truly love, buy knowing you did good. Next time you need to purchase something, make a thoughtful choice to find out the story behind the product by reading the labels, the tags, and researching the brand.

Ethical shopping involves one or two extra steps, but each of us has the knowledge to succeed literally at our fingertips. Make a commitment to buy responsibly this year, and vote with your dollars.

Love This is a mobile boutique out of a vintage Airstream Trailer inspiring consumers to make ethical shopping choices. Curators of goods that do good, we highlight brands that place equal value in the design of their products as they do their social, environmental, + economic impact.

What’s this Saturday’s “March on Monument” and Why Should You Be There?

Let me answer your question with a question: Do you feel that Richmond should show that it is an inclusive place to live and visit? Do you like a pleasant walk and an opportunity to connect with volunteer groups that might be able to use your help?

Before you get confused, this article is not about the Women’s March on Washington, it’s about this weekend’s March on Monument in RVA.

Like many of us, Melissa Brooks and Beth Fuchs found themselves with their jaws on the floor as the General Election results became clear. It felt like we were on course to reverse any progress we’d made in the efforts to secure the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, practicers of all sorts of religions, and LGBTQ individuals. They also experienced the same electric jolt to do something, anything, that would help.

Over the next few weeks, little groups focusing on various inclusivity efforts started springing up alongside calls to help out existing groups. The Women’s March on Washington (set for January 21st) was established, and signups reached impressive levels within days. The energy was good, but it felt scattered, and these two friends wondered what could be done to help people, women in particular, to connect the dots.

Where, in Richmond, could they find kindred spirits with which to organize? How could they all come together to make a statement that our city has a thriving community of welcoming individuals? What would show the nation that Richmond is determined to remain a safe haven for its citizens as well as its visitors?

Well, a giant peaceful gathering sure might do the trick!

What is this gathering of which you speak?

The March on Monument is an event that Melissa, Beth, and some other fine folks have organized for us. Thank you, Melissa, Beth, and folks!

They’ve done all the confusing and often frustrating permit stuff, raised the money for those permits, organized volunteers, secured a great program of speakers and a whole slew of volunteer organizations to come have a presence, and they’re spreading the word themselves.

All we gotta do is show up!

Where: The March begins at the Lee monument on Monument Avenue and N. Allen Street

When: This Saturday, January 14 from 1:00 – 3:00 PM

Objective: Connect social justice-minded Richmonders with other social justice-minded Richmonders, give volunteer organizations a chance to get their word out, and show the rest of Richmond that they’re accepted no matter who they are.

Who should come?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, this event is for you:

  1. Do you want people to feel like they are accepted in Richmond regardless of their sex, color, or creed?
  2. Do you worry that this may not always be the case?
  3. Are you a woman and/or a person who believes that women should be on an equal footing with men? (Bonus! If you answer this one positively, congratulations, you are a feminist! Maybe you had no idea!)
  4. Do you want to know what you can do in your community to make a difference?
  5. Do you feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start?

Well, come on down to Allen and Monument, friends, because that’s your starting point.

In the words of march co-organizer Melissa Brooks, “Start here, come here, be here together. Let others hear and see you, and hear and see others. Let Richmond see you.”

“That’s a power move that women have not traditionally taken,” she continues. “Women are in the background, they’re behind the scenes, they’re working. We want to say, ‘Here we are, and we have concerns. We’re not going to go quietly in the night. It’s really a unification for men and women.”

What’s going to happen?

Beginning at 1pm and lasting until 1:45pm, you’ll have an opportunity to walk around and talk to some folks from various volunteer organizations. Then, a few strong and inspiring women will take the stage.

The lineup includes:

And then we march, walking the eight blocks to the Boulevard. Bring a sign, bring your friends, bring your family, bring your neighbors (particularly the ones without transportation), and…don’t bring your dogs, please.

Then at the end, newly elected State Senator Jennifer McClellan will do her motivating thing (and she is very motivating!), sending us all off for a life that will have more connections, more ideas, and more solidarity.

Let’s just get this out there, what if I voted for Trump?

Listen, you are welcome. If you answer any of those questions above positively, then you will show the powers that be that intolerance has no place here. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, it just matters that you show them you mean business.

What will I get out of this?

You’ll know that there are things you can do, and that you aren’t alone. You will show others that they aren’t alone. You will feel hope and you will pride. And then maybe you will go get a tattoo to commemorate the experience and benefit Planned Parenthood. Not required, but pretty cool.

Mister Davies Goes to Richmond: One Day Staring at Virginia’s Electoral College

What actually happens during an Electoral College signing frenzy in Virginia? And why don’t they call it a frenzy? That would be a lot more fun.

On Monday, December 19th, 2016, I was fortunate enough to be able to take two hours off of work at lunchtime and watch Virginia’s Electoral College from a seat in the Senate Gallery at the Virginia Capitol Building with my friend John. In mid-November, we’d both gone through the extremely difficult ticket application process of sending an email asking “Can I have a ticket please?” The tickets came in the mail about a week before the big show.

I was eager to go, not because I expected anything abnormal to happen, but because I realized I knew nothing about the process or what actually would happen. Virginia law is extremely vague on any rules about the Electoral College and I wanted to see for myself. This is a vestigial but essential component of our constitutional republic and the general attitude towards it seems to be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

On the big day, I met John by the George Washington Statue after catching several Electrodes and Christmas-hat Pikachu on the north end of the Capitol grounds. We walked downhill to the visitors’ entrance on Bank St. where we navigated around protesters with whom I largely agree. We passed through security1 and proceeded through the labyrinthian halls of the Capitol building until some helpful workers guided us to the Senate Gallery elevator.

As we passed through another metal detector, the guard gave us a brief rundown of the rules:

  • No talking
  • No standing
  • Nothing hanging anything from, or leaning over the front edge
  • No flash photography
  • No electronic transmission (i.e. no iPhones)

The Gallery seats about 100 people and every one of them was breaking the no smartphone rule. There was tweeting, facebooking, Pokémon GO playing (not by me), and general internetting. The people pretended to hide it from the guards and the guards pretended not to notice.

The proceedings began with pleasantries from James Alcorn, Chairperson of the Virginia Board of Elections, who then invited Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kelly Thomasson, to give us a history lesson on the Electoral College. Then Virginia Supreme Court Justice William Mims swore in Virginia’s 13 Electors as constitutional officers, promising to support both the Constitution of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Now, the next part was super exciting for a parliamentary procedure nerd like myself. As far as I can tell2, there are no standing rules for Electoral College business. The Electors had to create their own rules from scratch! The first Elector alphabetically, Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg, was made temporary president by default, and presided as the Electors elected themselves a President and Secretary. They then adopted their order of business, which happened to be handed to them by the bureaucrats in the room, but, but they could’ve adopted whatever order or business or rules that they wanted! If the Electoral College had wanted to, they could’ve required a minimum of one hour debate in the form of Hamilton-style rap battles. They didn’t, but they could have. And that makes me happy.

What actually happened was that they called for a Roll Call vote. Each Elector stood up, stated their name and where in Virginia they are from, and casted their electoral votes for Hillary Clinton of New York for President and Tim Kaine of Virginia for Vice President. Some just cast their votes, others gave little speeches first. Everyone said “historic” a lot.

Then the signing. Oh my lord the signing. The Electors had to sign a ton of documents and a ton of copies of those documents. The President of the Electoral College summed it up by saying ”you’re going to feel like you’re buying a house today.” Instead of take-one-pass-it-down, each Elector signed all thirteen copies of one document, then the stack was passed to the next Elector, until all of them had finished that document and then they’d start the same process with the next document. This took the vast majority of the two-hour session. Even Supreme Court Justice Mims was playing on his phone during this part.

When the signing finally finished, the President of the Electoral College adjourned the meeting, and the Electors were invited by a representative of the Library of Virginia to view their archive of the Electoral College vote of 1792, which includes a signature from Patrick Henry. John and I filed out of the Gallery with the rest of the observers and went back to work.

I’m glad I went. While I think an amendment to eliminate the Electoral College completely and elect our President by direct popular vote makes more sense and is more fitting with the concept of ”one person, one vote”, while we have this system we should pay it more mind. Most of the rules of the Electoral College are by tradition, not written laws. In a future December, 13 Virginians, while somewhat bound by oath, could pretty much do whatever they wanted for good or for evil. This is the system we have and we should either change it, or give it the attention it deserves.

  1. Apparently, my ID badge for my state employer allows me to skip this security line. Who knew? 
  2. I’m not a legal historian or scholar, I’m just a layperson who does cursory searches of http://lis.virginia.gov/. Please send me a note if you know of exact rules I missed. 

Go Do This: GardenFest of Light 2016

It’s back, and it’s a good one. Here’s why we recommend it for you and/or your family.

What it is

GardenFest of Light is a winter wonderland slash Main Street Electrical Parade slash garden tour put on by Dominion and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Only this year, you can add another slash to that—GardenFest of Light reminded me very strongly of Rainbow Road. You know, that super-tough stage at the end of each MarioKart game that mesmerized you with its multi-colored beauty but was quick to drop you into space if you made any sudden moves?

Wait, don’t be scared, GardenFest doesn’t drop you into space, unless you count a wayward child who might wander into an unlit spot and start wolf-howling (like mine does) until you find them.

Basically, you buy a ticket, walk through a sea of light exhibits (that is, made mostly with tiny string lights) in all sorts of shapes and sizes, buy some hot chocolate halfway through, and basically let your children run around in the dark with their little pink cheeks and dangling mittens.

This year’s theme is Living Color, and it’s simply gorgeous. Pinks, blues, reds, yellows, greens, whites, purples—it’s all there and it’s pretty disco-y delicious. This isn’t exactly a Christmas thing. There’s no lit-up Santa, no reindeer, it’s not that thing that happens up at Meadow Event Park. It’s truly a work of art.

That thing at Meadow Event Park may be awesome, by the way, I don’t really have any idea.

Who’s behind it

Dominion, the people who deliver our electricity, and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the people who bring us a lot of beautiful flora and even fauna (those butterflies!). Also a ton of volunteers who help set up all the lights.

Where it is

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is at 1800 Lakeside Avenue on Northside. If you’re arriving from the south, keep right, even though you’ll be turning left. There’s a sudden turn lane situation at Hilliard that screws me (and everyone else in front of me) over every time. You won’t miss the entrance, there are police officers helping to direct traffic, and it’ll be where everyone else is going as well.

When it is

Nightly admission through January 9, excepting December 24 and 25. Members get in free on January 9! Hours are 5 – 10pm.

There are also various nights in which events happen, like caroling and crafting and all sorts of things. Check those out here.

How much it costs

If you’re a Lewis Ginter member—something I highly recommend—you greatly benefit with a deeply discounted ticket. Member adults are $7, non-member adults are $13, kids are $5 (members) and $8 (non-members). Littles under 3 are free.

It can add up to an expensive night, particularly if you partake in the hot refreshments. I’d argue that it’s worth it, my child thoroughly enjoyed himself, and not just because there was a room with an impressive model train situation.

You will take this exact photo, I would bet money on it.

You can buy tickets ahead of time online, but you’ll have to pay a convenience fee. You might as well just buy them on-site. The lines aren’t that long.

You do not need cash at the hot beverages stand or anywhere else. Hooray, 2016!

Other things to note

There are free cruisin’ strollers that I recommend making use of if your child is under three. It’s a ton of walking and potentially a ton of cold walking. If they get tired and refuse to move their little legs anymore, you’ll have to do a LOT of carrying. Plus it can be an easy way to keep track of them if they start wilding out.

Lewis Ginter is doing a social media contest, and you can win a membership and other stuff! More about that here, but basically you follow @lewisginter on Instagram, post a pic, and tag them as well as #GardenFest. Good luck, and be careful around those sharp Rainbow Road turns.

Party on the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge!

The T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge will officially open this Friday, December 2nd.

Photo by: sandy’s dad

I’ve officially decided that the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge (aka the T-Pot Bridge) is the first piece in a next-level Richmond that we’re about to see unfold before us over the next couple of years. A seemingly undoable task—to build a new bridge over the James River, one that’s specifically not for cars!—has now been proven totally doable, and this Friday it opens to the public.

Join Mayor Jones (what’s the over/under for a Mayor-Elect sighting?) at 5:45 PM down on Brown’s Island for official ribbon cutting business, followed by an on-river view of the Grand Illumination at 6:00 PM. Unless you are a drone, this will be the first time folks have watched the City turn its lights on from this particular point in Richmond.

More than just a sweet spot to hang out, hold hands, and gaze at our city, the T-Pot bridge provides a much-needed bike and pedestrian connection from the Southside to downtown. It’s a project we can check off of our Riverfront plan. It’s a major piece of infrastructure that almost everyone is stoked about.

The T-Pot Bridge is some next-level urbanism! And it’s just the beginning.

Go Do This: RVA Tonight Christmas Spectacular

Feeling like the past month or so has crushed your soul? Fear not, RVA Tonight is here to reinflate, featuring Levar Stoney, Natalie Prass, Eric Slick, and more.

What it is

It’s that time of year again. It’s the time of year when radio stations start playing Christmas music 24/7, shopping malls turn into what we can only imagine the North Pole looks like, and Starbucks…uh, explodes. This is also the time of year that every country-wide late night talk shows throw in some sort of holiday twist, and our own Richmond talk show is no exception.

Wait, Richmond has a late night talk show?

Um, yes. RVA Tonight is a two-and-a-half year running show, formatted like any other great late night talk show with one-liners, special guests, and live music. They’ve hosted local celebrities like Todd “Parney” Parnell from the Richmond Squirrels, Doug Orleski creator of RVA Coffee Stain cartoons, Mike Henry (voice of Cleveland Brown? Anyone?!), and even Governor Terry McAuliffe.

And what’s a great late night talk show without a great late night talk show host? Enter: Beau Cribbs. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s interesting, and he’s personable. Plus, he looks darn adorable in a Santa hat.

The RVA Tonight Christmas Spectacular will feature local musician and global phenomenon Natalie Prass, her boo/accomplished musician and composer/songwriter Eric Slick, and our favorite future mayor, Levar Stoney. Plus, some surprise special guests! (I have no idea what that means.)

This Christmas special might not bring the warm innocence of A Charlie Brown Christmas, or fill you with the holiday glow of It’s a Wonderful Life, or spring eternal hope like any Hallmark Christmas movie ever. But it’s witty, entertaining, and will probably make you laugh hard enough to make your round little belly shake like a bowl full of jelly.

It’s been a rough month, folks. Get some comedy back into your life.

Who’s behind it

Who else but those crazed, holiday-obsessed comedians at the Coalition Theater.

Where it is

The Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary Street

When it is

Friday, December 2nd at 8:00 PM

How much it costs


Other things to note

Hey, it’s one night only, and unlike any other late night talk show, you can’t DVR it. Or find it on Hulu. So get your dang tickets already!

Someone We Respect: Why Rachel Burgess Backs Berry

We asked people whose opinions we respect to tell us why they’re voting for whom they’re voting.

With only hours until the election, the race has narrowed. Many have picked their candidate, but there are many who have still yet to decide.

And it makes sense, we have two good choices in Berry and Stoney. I made up my mind on who I am voting for by thinking about what it will take to effectively address the biggest challenges facing our city, successfully attract young professionals and new businesses, run City Hall, and, in the end, unite all of us together. The answers to these questions lead this 33-year-old Millennial to see the advantages in a 62-year-old Boomer.

1. Effectively address the biggest challenges facing our city

A recent scientific survey conducted by the Chamber confirmed what everyone already knows—the biggest challenges facing our city are poverty, education, reducing crime, economic development, transportation, etc. However, this survey also uncovered something about these challenges that surprised many of us. Across all nine districts, City of Richmond residents want the next Mayor to address all of these major challenges on a regional basis. Across the board nearly 4 in 5 of us said we should be addressing transportation systems, public transit, economic development, poverty, and workforce development as a region. Why? We have all come to realize that these issues now effect all our jurisdictions and that they are just too big to effectively address alone. To be effective, we must act as a region the way we did when we built the convention center, ballpark, RMA, etc.

Berry or Stoney? One of the reasons we don’t effectively work well as a region is that our leaders don’t really know and trust one another like they did two decades ago. Berry knows and has the trust of our regional leaders. As Deputy City Manager and Chief of Staff in Richmond and as the County Manager of Hanover, Berry has spent decades building working and trusted relationships with county leaders. In fact, he mentored many of them. No surprise, Henrico has already offered their support to him in helping fix the Rapids billing system. When Berry calls everyone to the table to work on these most pressing issues, everyone will come.

Stoney’s 15 or so professional years have not been focused on Richmond and on understanding the challenges and building the key trusting relationships needed to address our challenges with regional partners. We don’t have time to wait as trusting, get-it-done relationships take time to build…like decades!

2. Help turn around Richmond Public Schools

In the Chamber study we learned that three quarters of respondents give the school system a grade of C or lower, citing the poor equipment and facilities. It is no question improving schools is one of the number one issues the new mayor needs to address.

The survey said our priorities, when it comes to turning around Richmond public schools, are to 1) work with City Council and the School Board to set clear expectations of funding based on results, 2) create a 5-year predictable source of funding (currently, the budget is created on an annual basis) and 3) identify areas where the School System can save money.

Collaborating with City Council and the School Board will be key in establishing clear funding expectations and developing predictable sources of funding.

Berry or Stoney? Berry already has great experience bringing people together and making things happen. Whether it’s a festival or his work while in Hanover where one of the many things he did was negotiate a long-term water deal with the City. More importantly, while Berry was in Hanover he helped them win approval for the largest school bond referendum in the County’s history. This bond allowed Hanover to build new schools, improve existing schools, and maintain its place as one of the best school systems in the state.

Jack has the experience and ability to bring people together to effectively address this top priority. And as he has the experience to tackle #1 (above) and #4 (below) it will allow for a clear path to focus time and money on improving schools.

3. Successfully attract young professionals and attract new businesses

I study demography for a living. The future will bring us relatively fewer younger people and relatively more older people. Cities are already starting to compete to become hot spots for young professionals. In economic development jargon, they call this new focus “placemaking.”

The new economic development model is to attract the people and the businesses will come—not the other way around.

Berry or Stoney? Berry was among the country’s first economic development leaders who invented placemaking—the festivals, the parks, the events, and even the RVA logo. Stoney has not had the opportunity to work in this placemaking space—to study what and how to attract young people and businesses.

4. Run City Hall Like a business

The City of Richmond municipal government is a big business—a $1 billion business. That’s B, as in Billions of dollars. Running this kind of sizable enterprise requires experience, wisdom, and grit. Grit doesn’t mean cleaning house, but it does mean ensuring that the best people are in a role for which they are qualified and accountable to goals and standards.

Berry or Stoney? Berry was the Deputy City Manager of Richmond. He knows the city’s budget and business of the city better than all of the candidates combined. He ran Hanover County, a $400 million business with 1,000+ employees. How could we possibly expect a 35-year-old with little business experience to run a $1 billion business? I couldn’t do it. None of my friends could.

5. In the end, unite all of us

On November 9, the unprecedented divisiveness of Election 2016 will be behind us. The road ahead will require a leader who can quickly unite disenfranchised communities.

Berry or Stoney? Berry will represent all of us equally. He grew up in Lynchburg where his mom was a civil rights activist and the first white teacher in an all black school and his father worked in city government. It was a regular occurrence for them to have African American families over for dinner—in the 60s in Lynchburg this was a big deal. Berry was the first white board member of the Metropolitan Business league. Berry is someone who knows how to collaborate, who can reach across lines and bring people and even our region together.

Stoney’s youth simply has not given him these kinds of life experiences and relationships to do the same. They will come, but we don’t have time to wait.

6. Berry has the best chance to win

The biggest threat to this election is Joe Morrissey, who as the Times-Dispatch recently detailed, is “a skilled politician who has smothered his own potential under decades of personal and professional misconduct.” He is not the leader we want, need, or deserve.

Berry or Stoney? Unfortunately, we have a system that does not rely on a popular vote to decide who becomes Mayor, the candidate must win 5 of 9 districts. If not, then it goes a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes citywide. A special election will be held December 22, and the candidate who again wins 5 of 9 will become mayor.

In the Chamber poll we see that Jack clearly has the lead in Districts 1, 2 and 4, and a recent survey shows Jack with large margins in the 3rd—with a significant decrease in Joe’s numbers. No polls show Levar winning any districts. The best Levar can do is get us to a runoff. If the large number of undecideds and the former Baliles supporters rally around Berry, especially in the 5th district, then he can win this outright—no runoff necessary.

All of this leads me to Berry. Please know that I have respect for Stoney, but at 35, he is not the man for this hour. There is too much at stake and too much that requires an experienced manager and leader. Someone with a proven track record who we know can make the tough decisions.

Once Berry is elected, he should find a key role for Stoney—to groom him for our future. If Stoney really loves RVA, he’d jump on it and become our Mayor-in-waiting. From what I have heard about Berry, it won’t be a long wait as Berry just wants to get us pointed in the right direction and not make a career (or second career) out of being a career politician.

Someone We Respect: Why Theresa Kennedy Backs Stoney

We asked people whose opinions we respect to tell us why they’re voting for whom they’re voting.

First, let me say that I love this city. I moved to Richmond in 2003, just after turning 24, and immediately felt like it was my home. I became an adult here (as, upon reflection, I was decidedly not an adult at 24), met and married my husband here, made many of my best friendships here, and had my children here. I am committed to the city of Richmond, to raising my family here, and to being a part of its vibrant community.

And that’s why this year’s mayoral election is so important to me. Because I am entrenched in this city, I want the best leader possible for it. I want a leader who cares about things like schools—about integrating them (for REAL this time) and making sure every kid at least gets an opportunity at a fair shot.

And I want a leader who wants to actually take on City Hall and make it a vibrant, forward-leaning, agile organization, because right now it’s at least 20 years behind in both technology and process, which makes execution poor (or unreliable at best). Getting personal property tax bills marked as “past due” after never receiving a “pay by” bill gets really frustrating year after year. And it’s absolutely ridiculous that a city that wants to attract businesses takes an inordinate amount of time to issue business permits.

I want a leader who won’t just invest in making Richmond a great place to visit (because festivals! Races! Restaurants! Events!) but will invest in ensuring that Richmond is a great place to LIVE and raise families—for every resident, not just for the wealthiest ones.

And I believe the leader that can deliver on all of these goals is Levar Stoney. Hs vision for the city is lockstep with my hopes for it. And I get it—he’s young. He’s two years younger than me, a fact that cut me deep when I first learned it (my late thirties are hitting me hard). And he’s arguably less experienced than someone with 40 years of work experience. But he’s smart, forward-thinking, has lots of support, and is driven.

Yes, he’s going places; yes, he has a long career ahead of him—this does not mean he’s not right for Richmond right now. It means that, because he has the longterm health of this city in mind, he’s perfect for Richmond right now. He doesn’t just want to make the city better for the next few years of his administration—he wants to set the foundation to take this city into the future. He wants to do what I wish leaders had been able to do 30 or 40 years ago.

You’re right. I’ve gulped down the Levar Stoney Kool-Aid. I am totally on the Levar Stoney bus. I am riding this train to Election Day.

But here’s reality: none of this matters. Who you want to win most of all is meaningless. Because there is a huge wrench in this plan—Joe Morrissey is, by all accounts, leading in a scary number of districts.

Yes, that Joe Morrissey—the one who was disgraced in 2013 and forced to resign from state office for having sex with a 17 year old (he was 57 at the time).

Joe Morrissey, who moved to the city not because he loves it but because he wants to resuscitate his political career and reputation by becoming its mayor. Joe Morrissey the liar, who sent out a “Democratic Ballot” mailer to 30,000 city residents earlier this week, implying that he’s the Democratic Nominee for mayor (he’s not).

We cannot have this man leading our city. He’s not only disgusting, but he will set Richmond back in all of the growth it has experienced over the last two decades.

But here’s the rub: Richmond’s mayor isn’t elected by popular vote. Richmond’s mayor is elected by district—whomever can win five of Richmond’s nine voting districts wins, regardless of popular vote. If no one candidate achieves plurality in five districts, there is a run-off between the top two vote-getters.

What does this mean for Stoney? Well, based on the only recent scientific poll (released by the Richmond Chamber on October 15—results available here (PDF)), the city is thoroughly divided. Jack Berry leads in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th. Joe Morrissey leads in the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th. Stoney, however, is in second place in every district (with 38% of participants in the solidly undecided category and Stoney and Morrissey leading those who are undecided but leaning towards a candidate). This data points to Stoney being the only candidate who is attractive in all districts. The only candidate who can truly unite the city and the only candidate who can defeat Morrissey.

Berry is a well-respected, highly qualified, and committed public servant. I would not be upset to see him as mayor of our city—he clearly loves this city and has invested a great deal into it. He has lots of experience and a great business mind. This doesn’t, however, make him marketable to the city as a whole. It makes him relatable to businessmen and citizens with socio-economic advantages, but how can those who already feel like the city government has failed them trust someone who has never been in their shoes?

Stoney grew up without advantage. He understands what it’s like to want more for yourself and for your family. He can relate to those in the city who have limited faith in their city government’s ability to meet their needs. Yet, he’s also gained the trust of many powerful people—Terry McAuliffe tapped Stoney to be Secretary of the Commonwealth, despite being the youngest person to ever fill that position.

Joe Morrissey is vile and ill-suited for our city. However, he seems to be marketable to a large portion of our city. He’s well-known and his slogan is that he will fight for you—a very attractive proposition for a large portion of the city that feels (often rightly) to have been forgotten or ignored by City Hall.

In order to defeat Morrissey, we need a candidate who can relate to the residents who back Morrissey as well as a candidate who appeals to Berry backers. Stoney is a well-respected, highly qualified, and committed public servant who is relatable across the board. This makes him the smart choice—especially for anyone in a currently contentious district (FYI, districts 3, 5, and 7 are the battlegrounds).

Your vote is more than just who you want to win. Your vote is ensuring that the worst candidate doesn’t win by default. Choose wisely, my friend.

Racism sucks: Where does RVA go after blackface?

In the wake of Bopst-gate, what are our next steps? Tiffany Jana assures us that there ARE next steps, and it’s up to us to take them.

If you’re at all involved in Richmond’s social media, you’ve probably heard about Bopst-gate and the unfortunate blackface costume choice that a local music booker wore to work. The incident sparked much debate about the implications of blackface in 2016, the wearer’s intentions, his moral character, and whether or not the community should accept his multiple apologies.

I’ve seen everything being thrown around, from white privilege to reverse racism. Social media has been the vehicle of much distress for the offender, and I can’t even say people are hiding behind screens as they are lashing out under their real profile names and letting Bopst and everyone else know exactly where they think he and his supporters should go.

Some are mad at the perpetrator. Others are mad at people of color and the sympathizers who are calling Bopst out and choosing not to forgive him…yet.

But racism is nothing new in Richmond. Racism is in the bones of this city, but a great many people—myself among them—work diligently to purge this great city of its present and historical ills.

So the damage is done. Blackface was donned, yet again, in 2016. (Incidentally, we warn people about this every Halloween and for the life of us cannot understand why anyone still has not received the memo.)

In my opinion, the most heinous crimes included Balliceaux’s failure to hold an employee accountable for a brand-scourging, customer-alienating choice (they should have sent him home immediately) as well as people standing up and making light of Bopst’s reprehensible behavior.

Why do I name these as the biggest offenders and not the original sin?

Because people do racist shit all the time. Ask any person of color whether they have witnessed or heard anything racist lately, then sit down for awhile as they laugh at you and spill a laundry list of offenses. Don’t get me wrong, what Bopst did was a hot freaking mess. He resurrected a stereotype that was invented to mock, demean, and humiliate African Americans. Blackface helped cement the notion that black people are less than human, and this dehumanization helped non-black people feel OK about doing horrible things to my people without remorse. So yeah, what Chris Bopst did was really bad.

But here’s where 2016 comes in. We are supposed to know better, and therefore do better. Gone are the days where laughing at your racist uncle’s jokes is OK. If you let your friends say racist, sexist crap and you laugh or remain silent–YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. Yes, I just yelled at the likes of Balliceaux and anyone else who still thinks it’s OK to remain willfully complicit in the degradation of others. If you saw Bopst that night and you laughed or said nothing, shame on you.

So really, where do we go from here?

We have to talk about this stuff openly. I know it’s hard—conversations like those are probably among the most challenging discussions you will ever have. But if you ever want to see a day where Richmond isn’t divided by class and race (and yes, it still is–concentrated poverty, segregated schools, and neighborhoods), then you must get over your fear of being uncomfortable and find some folks you trust to have safe conversations with.

Oh, you don’t know anyone different from you with whom you trust enough to share your deepest bias and questions? There’s the problem. If we continue to surround ourselves with people just like us, we will always be part of the problem. That’s why I just wrote a book on this very topic.

Think of a book like mine as a practical guide for all the well-meaning people who actually want to identify their biases and do something about them. And I suggest you look into doing just that. I offered this same advice to an RVA entrepreneur who stuck his nose into Bopst-gate and ended up causing irreparable damage to his brand. The name of the company sounds a lot like Swirly Turd Biscuit Symphony (STBS), and the owner feels like total crap for his misstep. He spoke out of turn, by most accounts seems genuinely remorseful, and will hopefully seek out some brutally honest discussions (and read my book).

However, like Bopst, STBS must apologize to RVA and the people he offended. Then the words of atonement must be followed with sincere and meaningful action. That’s where my opinion diverges from many of the people on social media in the Bopst debacle. Interestingly, it’s mostly white people who insist that everyone, including blacks, need to instantly forgive Bopst.

I was pleased to see the number of people (black, white, and others) who recognized that it’s not their place to force people to forgive. And while we appreciate the votes of confidence regarding Bopst’s character and past choices, that does not absolve his racist behavior. That said, everyone deserves forgiveness, but Bopst needs to show up in RVA and use his privilege and influence to further the conversation and action against racism and bias. That’s what true atonement looks like. If he does that, my forgiveness will be earned.

Imagine if every hate crime could be amended with a simple apology? Wouldn’t that be nice and easy? Sure. But is that really a meaningful display of contrition? I think not.

We all need to get out of our own way if we are going to live together as allies and work together to improve the state of our city. Old racist and sexist patterns do not have to play out generation after generation. You can break the cycle now. If each of us commits to owning our part in supporting or undermining systemic racism, we will one day be able to tell our kids that racism was a thing we obliterated back in the old days, and that the idea of favoring one skin color over another was absurd as the idea that the world is flat.

Will you do your part? Will you identify your bias and work to address it? Will you use your personal or professional power and privilege to destroy systemic bias wherever you see it? (No disruption of bias is too small.) Will you stop being complicit when you hear racist, sexist, homophobic banter? These are your responsibilities to yourself, your neighbors, the next generations, and your city.

Tiffany Jana co-owns TMI Consulting, is a really dang pleasant person to know, and just published a book on all this stuff. It’s called Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships across Differences. You can get it via that link or head over to Chop Suey! OR, listen to Tiffany read it via Audible.com. Whichever medium you choose, we suggest you look there for guidance on how to eliminate your socio-cultural blindspots. We’re getting our copies like, right now.