Last night’s City Council meeting was to be dominated by discussion of the re-bricking of the Downtown Mall but that was upstaged by the public comment period. First came Pastor William Coles who is the founder and president of the African American Male Forum. He gave a report of his group’s efforts to address issues facing local African Americans. Then came former homeless shelter director Joshua Bare to update council on everything he continues to do with the homeless, including the news that he has received funding to look for a site for a permanent shelter.
After local resident Raymond Mason discussed discrimination against black males in the city, Karen Waters of the Quality Community Council rose to talk about the recent killing of black male Joshua Magruder on Sixth Street SE. "It’s easier to get a gun than a job in this city," she said, while questioning Charlottesville’s commitment to providing security at public housing sites. Behind her sat a number of teens from the neighborhood where 19-year-old Magruder was shot. They stood to show their support for Waters’ words, then sat back down to wait for the councilors’ response.
Eventually, the forum was all councilor Holly Edwards after the mayor asked her if she had anything to add. A few sentences into what started out as a typical response, Edwards broke into a statement on community solidarity that had her breaking down into tears on a couple occasions while baring her soul. It was a rare but moving moment that left even my eyes moist. The following were (most of) her words:
To Pastor Coles and Joshua Bare thanks again for coming forward to remind us of the work that’s done in the community and the work that continues to need to be done, and my condolences to the Magruder family. It frames things differently because there’s so much work that we need to do as an entire community that it makes some of the discussions that we have and some of the decisions that we make seem so out of place. We have to get back in touch with what’s important and what we value, but we seem to miss that until there’s a loss in the community. I want us all to take advantage of this moment to decide what we all can do, what we all can do to create a sense of community in every neighborhood.
The moment was powerful enough that when the council eventually voted to go forward with the re-bricking of the mall, they added a directive to explore hiring locals to do the work. “I’d like to think there would be an opportunity for a lot of people,” Edwards said.