The Bulletin

Black lawmakers say Northam’s membership in racial reconciliation group lacks substance

By: - March 8, 2019 11:56 am

Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

From The Bulletin, the Mercury’s blog, where we post quick hits on the news of the day, odds and ends and commentary.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus say they’re not impressed by Gov. Ralph Northam’s involvement with a racial reconciliation group led by former Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“Glad they didn’t call me – matter of fact don’t call me until you have some substance,” Del. Lamont Bagby tweeted in response to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article detailing Northam’s membership of the 60-member group.

“Don’t know another way to say it & don’t know Gov McDonnell – he was before my time but miss me with the self preservation/privilege,” Bagby wrote in the same tweet.

Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, offered a similar sentiment, tweeting, “Let’s not talk about it let’s be about it, Redemption/reconciliation is a journey not a destination.”

The group, which includes other elected officials and leaders from all over the state, plans to organize events about race relations and help change inequitable state practices and policies, according to the Times-Dispatch.

“He stayed the whole meeting and spoke at the end,” McDonnell told the newspaper. “He said, as he’s said over the last couple of weeks, that he really wants to be a leader in this area of racial reconciliation.”

Northam’s communications director, Ofirah Yheskel, tweeted in response to the article too: “This isn’t the only vehicle for equity work, and we’ve never said as much.”

Northam has said he’ll commit the remaining years of his term to racial reconciliation and healing after a photo on his medical school yearbook page was discovered to have someone wearing blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

He’s made some attempts at proving that commitment by announcing a listening tour and apparently reading the book “Roots.”

“Part of addressing our divide is understanding history, but the larger part is the policies that tear down the institutionalized racism we’re talking about,” Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, wrote in a tweet, saying Bagby “hit the nail on the head.”

“Economic equity, like access to capital with non-predatory interest rates, expanded access to the ballot box, and real criminal justice reform that includes the restoration of rights and ability to reenter the workforce without a black mark that haunts you forever – not just window dressing – are just a few things that we all need to focus on NOW,” Jones wrote in a series of tweets.

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.