Every year, C-VILLE publishes a power issue. It’s usually a rundown of local real-estate moguls and entrepreneurs, tech tycoons, arts leaders, and big donors. This year’s issue is a little different—most of the people and groups listed here aren’t the richest folks in town. They don’t own the most land, they don’t run the biggest companies. But when things got really rocky, they stepped up, and exercised the power they do have to help those around them. This isn’t a comprehensive or objective list, of course, but we hope it highlights some of the many different forms that power can take in a community like ours. —Dan Goff, Brielle Entzminger, and Ben Hitchcock
The Organizers: Black Lives Matter movement in Charlottesville
There’s a revolution brewing. Activists all over the country and the world are taking a stand against police brutality, and Charlottesville is no different. Over the last few weeks, local black activists young and old have organized events in support of the national Black Lives Matter movement and its associated goals, including a march from the Charlottesville Police Department to Washington Park and a Defund the Police Block Party that marched from the John Paul Jones Arena parking lot to hold the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street. Other organizations such as Congregate Charlottesville and its Anti-Racist Organizing Fund are supporting the activists calling for defunding the police department. Little by little, change is happening—on June 11, Charlottesville City Schools announced it will remove school resource officers and reallocate those funds for a new “school safety model.”—D.G.
The Documenters: C’ville Porchraits
How do we preserve art and community during a pandemic? It’s been a question addressed by many creatives, perhaps none more successfully than the creators of Cville Porch Portraits. Headed by Eze Amos, the “porchrait” takers, who have photographed 950 families outside their Charlottesville-area homes, also include Tom Daly, Kristen Finn, John Robinson, and Sarah Cramer Shields—all local photographers in need of work once the city shut down. The group has donated $40,000 to Charlottesville’s Emergency Relief Fund for Artists. “This is for everyone,” says Amos of the project, which has been successfully emulated by other photogs, including Robert Radifera.—D.G.
The Musicians: The Front Porch
As most concert venues were struggling to reschedule shows and refund ticket money, The Front Porch, Charlottesville’s beloved music school and performing space, wasted no time in pivoting to COVID-friendly programming. Executive Director Emily Morrison quickly set up Save the Music, a livestreamed concert series that brings performances by local artists like David Wax Museum and Lowland Hum to the comfort and safety of your home. If you haven’t tuned in yet, there’s still plenty of time—as the city tentatively reopens, Morrison recognizes that live music will likely be one of the last things to return, so she’s extended Save the Music to late August.—D.G.
The Innovator: Jay Pun
All restaurant owners have had to get creative to keep their businesses alive during the pandemic, but almost no one has been as creative as Jay Pun, co-owner of both Chimm and Thai Cuisine and Noodle House. Pun has gone further than just a pickup/delivery model by starting a virtual cooking series on Instagram and Facebook Live, and selling kits to be used in tandem with the lessons. He’s also donated significant amounts of food to UVA health workers, and most recently has brought other Thai restaurants into the conversation: A recent discussion with the proprietor of famed Portland institution Pok Pok focused on food, but also touched on the issue of race in America.—D.G.
The Reporter: Jordy Yager
Through his work as a Digital Humanities Fellow at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and as a reporter for multiple local news outlets, journalist Jordy Yager addresses equity or the lack thereof in all its forms. This is showcased most notably in his Mapping Cville project, which takes on the enormous job of documenting Charlottesville’s history of racially restrictive housing deeds, but also through in-depth coverage of Home to Hope, a program dedicated to reintegrating formerly incarcerated citizens into society, and other studies on the redevelopment of Friendship Court and the day-to-day lives of refugees. Yager’s also extremely active on Twitter, retweeting the content of community organizers as well as his own work, and keeping his followers up to date on, well, almost everything.—D.G.
The Safe Places: The Haven and PACEM
Since the onset of the pandemic, the places that serve some of our community’s most vulnerable members have ramped up their efforts to keep guests and staff safe. Downtown day shelter The Haven has opened its doors to women who needed a place to sleep, while also continuing to provide its regular services, including daily to-go meals, with cleanliness and social distancing measures in place.
PACEM has remained open, serving more than 40 people per night, even though its volunteer staff is smaller than usual. Guests are screened for virus symptoms, and they’re given face masks, among other safety precautions, before being admitted to either the men’s or women’s shelter, where there’s at least six feet between every cot. Though it had to move its male guests out of a temporary space at Key Recreation Center on June 10, PACEM will offer shelter for women at Summit House until at least the end of the month.
Thanks to funding from the city, county, and a private donor, PACEM has also housed 30 high-risk homeless individuals in private rooms at a local hotel, in addition to providing them with daily meals and case management. Men who still need shelter after leaving Key Rec have been able to stay at the hotel for at least 30 days.—B.E.
The Sustainers: C’ville Mutual Aid Infrastructure
One of the most heartwarming nationwide responses to COVID-19, and all of the difficulties that came with it, was the widespread creation of mutual aid networks. Charlottesville joined the trend in March, creating a Facebook page for community members to request or offer “time, money, support, and resources.” Since it was launched, the page has gained hundreds of followers, and posts have ranged from pleas for a place to sleep to the donation of a
half-used Taco Bell gift card. The page’s moderators have also shared resources such as a continually updated list of when and where food-insecure community members can access pantries. Though it came about through dire circumstances, the C’ville Mutual Aid Infrastructure network is proof that our community looks after its own.—D.G.
The Nourishers: School lunches
Before COVID, over 6,000 students relied on our public schools for free (or reduced price) breakfast and lunch. To make sure no student has gone hungry since schools closed in March, Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools have given away thousands of grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches to anyone under age 18, regardless of family income. With the help of school staff and volunteers, both districts have set up dozens of food distribution sites, as well as sent buses out on delivery routes every week. During spring break, when CCS was unable to distribute food, Pearl Island Catering and Mochiko Cville—backed by the Food Justice Network and area philanthropists Diane and Howie Long—stepped up and provided 4,000 meals to kids in neighborhoods with large numbers enrolled in free and reduced-price meal programs. Even though students are now on summer break, that hasn’t slowed down staff and volunteers, who are still hard at work—both districts plan to keep the free meal programs going until the fall.—B.E.
The Superheroes: Frontline workers
After Governor Ralph Northam issued his stay-at-home order in March, most Charlottesvillians did just that: stayed at home. But the city’s essential workers didn’t have that luxury. In the language of Northam’s executive order, these are employees of “businesses not required to close to the public.” Frontline workers’ jobs vary widely, from health care professionals to grocery store cashiers, but they all have one thing in common: The people who do them are required to put on their scrubs or their uniform and go into their physical place of employment every day, while the rest of us work from the safety of our sofa in a pair of sweatpants. Their reality is one that the majority of us haven’t experienced—and the least we can do is thank these workers for keeping our city running.—D.G.
The Reformers: Commonwealth’s attorneys/Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail
The area’s commonwealth’s attorneys are some of the most powerful people you might never have heard of. During normal times, Albemarle’s Jim Hingeley and Charlottesville’s Joe Platania have tremendous influence over sentencing decisions for those on trial in their localities. They’ve both worked toward progressive reforms since taking office, but since the pandemic took hold, they’ve accelerated their efforts.
The effect has been especially pronounced at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. Under the guidance of the commonwealth’s attorneys and Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer, around 90 inmates have been transferred to house arrest. As prisons across the state have fought coronavirus outbreaks, the ACRJ has yet to report a single case among those incarcerated.
“It’s a shame that it took this crisis to motivate the community to get behind decarceration,” Hingeley said at a panel in May, “but it’s happened now, and when the crisis has passed, we’re going to work to continue doing this.”—B.H.
The Voices: Charlottesville Twitter
“Twitter isn’t real life,” some say. (Most often, they say it on Twitter.) But Charlottesville’s ever-growing group of dedicated tweeters has recently used the platform to make real-life change.
The synergy between social media and protest is well-documented, and the demonstrations against police brutality that have taken place across town have been organized and publicized on Twitter, as well as on other social media platforms. Meanwhile, people like Matthew Gillikin, Rory Stolzenberg, and Sarah Burke have used Twitter to call out the police department for botching its collaboration with state forces and dragging its heels on revealing important budget details. And Molly “@socialistdogmom” Conger—perhaps Charlottesville Twitter’s most recognizable avatar—continues to digest and interpret dense city government meetings for the public, making real-life advocacy easier for everyone.
The effect is felt on UVA Grounds, as well—this month, tweeters shamed the university into changing its new athletics logo to remove a reference to the school’s historic serpentine walls, which were designed to conceal enslaved laborers. After UVA abruptly laid off its dining hall contract employees in March, outraged tweeters raised tens of thousands of dollars for those workers, while pushing the university to create an emergency contract worker assistance fund. And recently, Zyahna Bryant drew attention to UVA President Jim Ryan’s limp response to the protests that followed the death of George Floyd, when she tweeted her resignation from the school’s President’s Council on University Community Partnerships. Keep tweeting, people. It’s working.—B.H.
Updated 6/24 to clarify which organizers were responsible for recent demonstrations to support Black Lives Matter.